Despite the headlines, the influx of a younger
generation of professionals isn’t the only thing
shaping the future of commercial real estate.
Many more demographic forces are at play,
and savvy businesses are taking notice.
Traditionally a “buttoned-down” industry, CRE is shifting to a
more relaxed corporate look that mirrors Millennial and tech clients, RETS Associates principal Kent Elliott recently told sister
publication GlobeSt.com. Elliott observes that the industry’s traditionally conservative profile has made this shift over the past five to
10 years. His reasoning is thus: because Millennials are the largest
group in the workforce now, and we’re in the middle of a highly
competitive job market, CRE recruiting and retention efforts are
greatly focused on them. Not only do they have an approachable
style influenced by Silicon Valley’s trendy, progressive culture, but
Millennials view dressing less formally as a “perk.” According to
RETS, CRE has evolved from an environment requiring conservative attire to a blend between “business smart” and “business
casual,” depending on the occasion. However, Elliott says, there
will always be the diehards that never change.
In looking at the younger generation, Parveen Sandhi, global
senior HR manager for Avison Young, says Millennials’ preference
for technology has resulted in a huge shift from print materials to
online information sharing, as well as a shift in communication
styles. Social media—Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and the like—
are common, with links to images and additional information.
“The ability to communicate remotely rather than meeting in per-
son has also become more prevalent,” she says. “The younger gen-
eration is more heavily dependent on, and savvy with, technology.”
In addition, a greater focus is being placed on work-life balance
and on wellness initiatives, and making sure that work is an enjoy-
able place rather than just a means to an end. “This approach has
become a huge part of our culture at Avison Young,” Sandhi notes.
“There are great ideas being brought to the table and fresh new
perspectives on how to conduct business. Overall, the entry of this
generation into the workforce has been a positive experience.”
But Millennials aren’t the only ones bringing change to the
workplace. At Thornton Tomasetti, when the international engi-
neering and building-solutions firm talks about diversity and the
changing workplace, it thinks beyond young professionals and
beyond the traditional idea of diversity.
Brazil, who has repeatedly been recognized as one of the top
100 most influential women in business, explains that Thornton
Tomasetti’s ambition is to achieve a broad “diversity of diversity.”
That, she says, includes gender, culture, ethnicity and other attributes, but also acquired characteristics such as experience and
education. “The firm’s many disciplines, services and geographies
are another type of diversity,” she points out.
The firm’s ever-evolving suite of services, offered through its 10
integrated practices, results from and exemplifies the “diversity of
diversity” to which it aspires, explains Brazil. “Through them, we
work to create an environment where experts in many fields work
together to develop solutions that are greater than the sum of their
parts.” She adds that in order to be the global driver of change
and innovation, the firm must be inclusive and diverse—both in
the customary sense of gender and race, as well as in background,
education, experience, culture, age and sexual orientation. “To
ensure the strength and resilience of our organization, we must
reflect the diversity of the communities and clients we serve.”
In 2016, Thornton Tomasetti’s board of directors established
I+D2, a committee on inclusion and diversity, formally recogniz-
ing the critical role these attributes play in creating an environ-
ment where innovation can thrive. Its mission is to become a
driver of change. “We are committed to creating an inclusive and
diverse culture in which all our people can realize their full
potential,” explains Brazil.
The I+D2 effort is structured with a small working group that
leads initiatives, a larger committee that defines objectives and
oversees the work and a still-larger advisory group that provides
feedback and guidance on direction and priorities. Goals defined
for the effort this year include: increasing new hires from underrepresented groups by 10%; reducing attrition among underrepresented groups by at least 10%; and improving the favorability
rating in the firm’s inclusion survey.
“Means to achieve these goals include ensuring diverse slates
for recruitment, tracking local inclusion and diversity metrics to
establish baselines for each office and making I&D part of every-
thing we do,” explains Brazil. “We started in 2017 with a few small
but significant and measurable goals. We also began the longer-
term effort of recognizing and addressing unconscious biases and
creating an atmosphere of trust. Those foundations are essential
to ensuring our continued progress.”
Due to this, the company has become more responsive and
resilient. “Our clients are very diverse as well, by gender, geogra-
phy and culture,” she says. “We find we better serve our clients
when we reflect their diversity.”
Brazil explains that when the company adds services or exper-
tise, they don’t do it for the sake of getting bigger but, because
each service complements the others, for the purpose of making
the overall organization stronger and more valuable to its clients.
“When members of our technical staff rotate through different
practices, they bring a richer experience to each one they join.
The same holds true for geography: when an engineer from Los
Angeles spends a year living and working in Abu Dhabi or
Christchurch, she or he gains a broader understanding of our
business from diverse perspectives.” Mixing it up this way, she
adds, creates an environment where new ideas thrive and helps to