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"Diversity" is overused, DEI initiatives refocusing on human engagement

NAREIM Talent Management meeting: Key takeaways

Oct. 27, 2022

ACT—Assess. Collaborate. Test. These are the key focus areas when it comes to managers refocusing DEI initiatives within their firms. NAREIM members discussed how the word “diversity” has been overused in many ways, focusing the attention on those who are different, but by doing so, continuing to separate them from other groups.

Employees who are “different” don’t want to be constantly labeled as such, said one attendee, they just want to be an employee.

The NAREIM’s Talent Management Meeting this week in Chicago shared best practices on how to address each aspect of the DEI initiative, as well as what is and isn’t working when it comes to these programs.

When structuring DEI plans, think to these questions to gain a sense as to where your firm is currently and where it is heading:

  • What are employees thinking and feeling?

  • What are some impactful changes the firm can bring to life?

  • How are you looking to revamp your current strategy?

  • In what ways can you weave the talent life cycle holistically into your DEI process?

Implementing and offering internship and mentorship opportunities at the firm is an example of expanding on the “E” and “I” portions. If lacking in diversity within senior management, pair up incoming employees or interns with someone they can relate to more instead. Sharing similar perspectives allows for a more open work environment where they don’t have to just “go with the flow,” one member said, but can voice their opinions and concerns more authentically and forge stronger relationships.

When searching for interns, it’s critical to think outside the box and not rely solely on referrals from Ivy League universities, and instead implement programs to find people of diverse backgrounds. Think of innovative ways your firm can dig into colleges that don’t traditionally offer these opportunities so people from other Universities have equal chance.

Members also brought up the issue with employee resource groups, which sometimes ask the most underrepresented people to solve the problems for those who are not, one member said. Instead, this needs to be implementing across the entire firm, to “sustain a workplace where everyone can be themselves and do their best work.”

Cultural engagement benefits flexibility and ensures inclusivity. Younger generations care more about the person sitting next to them, and with that comes the need for better collaboration and understanding across the board, instead of resting on the shoulders of one person with a DEI job title. “What are you doing to prime the environment of those today?” NAREIM members heard about how leadership development should go from a top down, middle up approach, reaching further into the front line to those who are managing most people.

It's not political to understand identities different than your own and learn about other perspectives and education employees. “it’s not political, it’s human,” said one member. DEI can lean into more societal aspects, but it’s important to understand why that is and open it up to discussion.

“Don’t check in on your X people just because you think it’s the right thing to do. If you don’t already have relationships with them, is it authentic?” It’s critical for managers to show they are there for employees, but don’t look to them to explain why it hurts them.

Presentations and the attendee list from the NAREIM Talent Management meeting are available to members. You can download the presentations from the meeting here.

Compensation & benefits

There was a stretch on compensation last year to bring more talent in the door, and many firms have become more transparent around pay, according to the latest findings of NAREIM’s annual Compensation & Global Management surveys, conducted by NAREIM and Ferguson Partners. 

Members discussed what was working and what was not working for many of their firms during the Talent Management meeting - including the involvement of leaders in the hiring process. Other issues discussed were hybrid models that lead to collaboration and connectivity, the idea of operations employees within vertically integrated firms not feeling parity with corporate staff (who may have the opportunity to be remote).

On benefits, the world has also changed. The discussion focused on new data around PTO, dependent care and remote work. According to the 2022 Compensation Survey,

  • Unlimited PTO: firms offering this increased from 23% to 30%

  • Remote work setup: increase from 5%-85% from 2020-2021

  • Return to office: increase from 5% to 24% offering gas/parking reimbursement

  • Dependent care: 8% to 22% increase

Cash is king! 

New employees aren’t searching as much for bonuses and increases at review time, they are looking for all benefits in the salary at the beginning. However, with a recession in the future, some firms are not wanting to be tied to bigger salaries, so they are opting for one-time bonuses instead. How do you communicate these challenges and changes to junior staff that haven’t lived through a recession? One member asked. How can we scale that to be teachable?

Other key takeaways from the NAREIM Talent Management meeting included:

  • How can we change the work environment to be more flexible and intuitive?

  • Design is a critical component of attracting talent back into the office. Creating spaces to conduct the brainstorming is key and libraries could be a secret design tactic to use vs just areas with desks/comfortable chairs.

  • Co-investment. The ability to co-invest in a firm's vehicles gives employees “skin in the game” and should serve as the fourth pillar of compensation and retention strategies.

  • Expanding co-investment opportunities beyond key professionals is challenging. The biggest challenges is change management and education of what's on offer - and avoiding a manual process. You need co-investment programs to be scalable, understanding the complexity of tax and regulations in different countries and regions, especially if you don't have internal, dedicated resources to do this. But there are vendors able to do this for you. 

  • By automating a co-investment program, you can expand access to your firm's funds thereby helping retention as well as create an in-house retail investor market for your vehicles. 

  • The co-investment program presented to members also highlighted the potential of creating a secondaries market between employees within one organization.

  • Health and wellness for working moms. 

  • What are you offering beyond traditional health rooms? Is there is a stigma to using corporate lactation suites/rooms? Is the wellness room doing double-duty as a lactation room? Do you have enough?

  • There is a cost to not providing facilities for working moms. 200% of annual salary is potentially lost through turnover and replacement costs when corporate offices have no private lactation spaces.

  • Vendors are emerging providing lactations suites in building common areas available for all building tenants - not just on a corporate by corporate basis.

  • Career development:

  • Career conversations: The skip step process. Whereby employees have the opportunity to talk to manager of their direct manager's (skipping one step up) for career advice. One member firm does this 1-2 times per year.

  • Make sure there is a distinct difference between career conversations and annual/mid-year performance reviews. Career conversations should never be held at the same time as a performance review. 

View the presentations, meeting agenda and attendee list here.

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