Did that really just happen?” I thought to myself as I left a lunch meeting. I was surprised, and yet sadly, not surprised. Though progress has been made, gender bias still reverberates throughout the business world. Recent anecdotes from talking with female friends across the Commercial Real Estate industry include: a female was asked to attend a pitch because “It would look good to have a woman there;” the viability of a female interviewee for a leadership position was challenged because “there was a perception that women with young children will have less time to pay attention to company needs;” and a male leader concluded a meeting with “Thank you, gentlemen,” without acknowledging that two women contributed to the conversation.
These types of incidents still occur across our industry despite efforts from the C-suite to make inclusion and equity a strategic area of focus. I am proud of the strides my company and industry have made, but there is still an incredible amount of work to be done. The responsibility does not rest solely on the C-suite’s shoulders. Sure, change starts at the top, but it must permeate through every water cooler chat, cubicle interaction and office happy hour.
Change needs to come from the top down and the bottom up. Those at every level of the corporate food chain have some power to make an immediate difference and help prevent death by one thousand paper-cutting comments.
While we are all capable of affecting this change, standing up for what’s right and breaking centuries’ worth of societal behavior takes guts. So how does one work to combat (often unconscious) bias in what can sometimes be an intimidating environment? Back in 2009, I posed this question to some of the top female executives of the world’s leading commercial real estate firms. I was a graduate student at MIT, writing a thesis on how these women were able to navigate barriers and advance their careers. Twelve years later, their advice still applies to many underrepresented groups across all industries, not just women in Commercial Real Estate. Below, I’ve shared some of their timeless wisdom to provoke thought and inspire progress toward equity and inclusion.
Know why achieving a diverse and inclusive workforce matters. Beyond fundamental legal and moral obligations, organizations have much to gain from the addition of diverse talent. Those with diverse and inclusive environments are more likely to attract, retain and inspire the most qualified individuals. Additionally, numerous studies have shown a direct correlation between diversity and a company’s financial success.
Educate yourself on how to recognize and prevent your own biases. People of all backgrounds have conscious and unconscious biases. Understanding and recognizing bias is a critical component to addressing and preventing it. There are countless educational resources out there (among my favorites, LeanIn.Org).
Build a network of allies and mentors. We all benefit when colleagues connect to share ideas, show each other the ropes or provide each other with new opportunities. This type of support can be especially impactful for the underrepresented groups who are less likely to receive career guidance from managers and senior leaders. There is great power in numbers and in building relationships with those who have a “seat at the table.”
Be fearless and take risks. Part of progressing as a society means consciously accepting risk. While it might feel uncomfortable to speak up in the wake of a bias-fueled incident, addressing it appropriately and head on will help pave the way for a more inclusive culture.
It is this wisdom and assumption of risk that has allowed me and my network of allies to confidently combat incidents such as those mentioned earlier. Assert that you would be thrilled to join a client pitch because of your value. Question why having children would be a mark against a new-hire candidate of any gender. Pipe in “…and ladies too,” to a colleague who only gives thanks to the gentlemen. And finally, hire her because she is the strongest candidate for the role—and tell her that and anyone else who may claim otherwise.
Jodie Poirier is executive managing director for Colliers (Greater Los Angeles).
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