Building Paths to Diversity

What are the most effective ways to foster an inclusive workforce? Cushman & Wakefield's global head of talent management and diversity shares best practices and discusses the firm's latest initiatives.

If someone had told me at this time last year that the world of diversity and  inclusion (D&I) was about to be turned upside down, I probably would have laughed.

If they had told me that people would come together with a powerful and cohesive voice to speak out on these issues…my jaw might have hit the floor.

The world has changed with the rise of #metoo and other movements. And this industry has changed. We’re starting to see real progress on a range of issues that have long plagued commercial real estate. There is a not-so-quiet realization that this change needs to not just continue, but accelerate. We are gaining momentum, so even if it seems that we could move faster, we are moving in the right direction.

At Cushman & Wakefield, the progress is tangible. Last year we welcomed 15,000 people into the firm, nearly half of them were women. We’re proud of this impressive accomplishment, but that doesn’t mean we’re complacent. A diverse and inclusive workplace goes way beyond numbers; it’s about diversity of ideas, engagement of those with varied life stories and experiences, and bringing it all together to deliver real value and innovation to clients.

Across our D&I programs, we’re looking at three key fundamentals to ensure success and to continue building on that success. First is leadership support. Without that support, you’re on a difficult, uphill journey. Second is smart recruiting that finds the right talent. Finally, building a holistic culture that captures the spirit of inclusion.

Inclusion Starts at the Top

Strong leadership messaging and modeling have been key to D&I progress at Cushman & Wakefield. Our CEO, Brett White, has mandated that all executive succession plans include diverse candidates for each position, as well as development plans to prepare them for future roles.

Our Americas D&I Council, led by CEO of the Americas Shawn Mobley, brings together influential leaders from the firm’s various business lines; the council is tasked with ensuring full integration of diversity and inclusion into our corporate DNA.

We also provide managers with training on fostering a respectful and inclusive workplace, which enables those who lead our people to model and support inclusive behaviors.

Smart Recruitment

Everyone knows the best way to get a job is through your personal network. According to, 70 percent to 85 percent of new hires are found through a network connection. That can be a real challenge to diversity, because it tends to create an environment in which the demographic makeup of the workplace keeps propagating a new version of itself. If your company suffers from “everyone looks the same” syndrome, and you lean on your team for recruiting, you’ll have no shortage of candidates who look alarmingly similar to your current employees. After all, they come with seemingly impeccable references, and they’re an easy hire.

To build a more diverse workforce, a company needs to look past this echo chamber and find a wider field of candidates. At Cushman & Wakefield, we train our hiring managers to look beyond the typical recruitment paths and reach out farther to actively find diverse candidates. For every open leadership role, at least two diverse candidates must be identified prior to starting the interview process. In addition, we have begun utilizing common interview assessment tools to remove bias from the process.

We’ve also launched a Veterans Initiative, a program to leverage the wealth of talent from the ranks of the U.S. armed forces. Veterans are a highly diverse, highly skilled group—and they help break us out of our traditional recruitment silo.

As Shawn Mobley wrote in a blog post, “While engaging veterans may be seen as philanthropic, or patriotic—and to some degree it is—it is in our own self-interest. We want veterans at Cushman & Wakefield because we want the best talent available. We want natural leaders. We want people who understand a high-performance culture. We want people who don’t settle for second best.”

Holistic Culture

Hiring a diverse workforce is only the first step. Diversity doesn’t work without inclusion. You can do everything in your power to recruit the best and the brightest, but unless they feel that they are part of the team and valued for their unique perspectives and contributions, they’re less likely to feel engaged and less likely to stay.

For this reason, Cushman & Wakefield has put a lot of thought into the “inclusion” side of the equation. We want all our hires to succeed, so we’ve set out to establish robust networks for our employees to ensure they have the support, mentorship, and resources they need to succeed and thrive at the firm.

We have self-directed, organically grown groups like Cushman & Wakefield Future Leaders, which provides networking and developmental opportunities for people navigating those challenging early years of their commercial real estate careers.

One of our most successful groups is the Women’s Integrated Network, or WIN. Its mission is to develop and support the talents of our female team members, and have a meaningful impact on the firm’s performance. By sharing information, best practices, education and experience, participants help one another develop leadership skills and career-advancing opportunities. There are currently 38 local WIN chapters across the Americas, with more than 1,800 members, and we’re now expanding the program globally.

Pride and Unity

And we’re soon to announce the launch of UNITY—an initiative that will bring together our LGBTQ+ employees through grassroots efforts, not only to engage with their peers, but to nurture a broader understanding throughout the firm of the LGBTQ+ community.

During PRIDE celebrations last year, we handed out t-shirts celebrating our LGBTQ+ employees, and ran a social media campaign. Demand for the shirts wildly outstripped supply, and the social media posts ranked among the top shared posts of 2017. This tells us that there is an audience both inside and outside the company for this kind of inclusive message, and that it resonates with many audiences.

We are also a global sponsor of Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) Network because empowering women can’t stop at our door—it needs to permeate the entire industry. CREW’s work to expand networking opportunities for women is unparalleled and sorely needed. Commercial real estate has historically had a reputation for being exclusionary and often intolerant.

Our new reality is that the industry is evolving, and its evolution is happening with the full support of employees at every level, including our most senior leadership. Change is never easy but, as we’ve shown, it’s both absolutely achievable and absolutely worth achieving.

Janice O’Neill is Global Head of Talent Management & Diversity at Cushman & Wakefield.