DEI: Still A Buzzword For Many Companies, But The ROI Is Real


CEO Kerri Davis shares how DEI isn’t just a buzzword at Fortress

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com

For countless industries, the topic of diversity, equity and inclusion remains trendy, especially during months that celebrate women and the LGBTQIA+ community. However, once all the PR opportunities have passed, companies notoriously allow these issues to fade into the background once again.

For those businesses that delve deeper into DEI, the benefits for both employees and the employer are tangible, and the ROI is real. The commercial real estate and proptech industries, specifically, should take a closer look at the value of DEI and its implementation.

According to a 2020 CREW Network benchmark study, women occupy only 36.7% of the commercial real estate industry, a percentage that has seen little change over the past 15 years. The study also points out that women continue to earn less than men, with a fixed salary gap of 10.2% and a staggering bonus gap of 55.9% between genders in 2020. For Black, Asian and Hispanic/Latinx women, that salary gap is even wider and burdensome.

The study—which included a total of 2,930 industry professionals identifying as women, men, BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ across all commercial real estate sectors—is telling of the state of the industry. But the research also shows that inclusion is clearly the remedy—and even serves as an advantage to businesses. In fact, it notes that companies who diversify outperform others in areas of earnings, governance, innovation and opportunity.

At Fortress, a property management software company I founded, DEI isn’t just a buzzword. It’s part of our mission. For example, our company has more women in senior leadership positions, unlike most CRE and proptech firms. In fact, our entire team embraces diversity across multiple areas—location, perspective, experience, ethnicity and more.
Why do we make such an effort to incorporate diversity?

1. Culture
We know that diversity is valuable to our bottom line, but that’s a topic for another day. What’s equally important to us is the impact diversity has on our company culture. Some companies contemplate DEI by considering only “butt in seat” or similar percentages, but this is a flawed approach. The end goal shouldn’t be to look good on paper. You can’t be truly diverse if you focus only on statistics rather than the potential of each employee sitting at the table. You must embrace a “free flow” culture that only exists through real dedication to seeking employees for their differences, not similarities.
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2. Transparency
One of our core values is transparency, and, to fully embrace this, we ensure that our team feels emboldened to join or even change the conversation. From as early as onboarding, all companies should urge employees to avoid monotony. You don’t want to find yourself sitting in meetings and nodding at everything said. Seek out unique insights and real dialogue—even the bad ideas. Without them, we are not challenged.

3. Innovation
Bringing together people of various backgrounds has always been the cure to stagnation. People—and companies—can only experience growth when they are exposed to new ideas and methodologies. Hire intentionally and bring in people who can challenge the norm—people who have diverse backgrounds and experiences because this is where ideas originate. If you want to advance your company, think more “all walks of life” rather than “fits the mold.”

4. Communication
You can’t change the conversation when you’re immersed in an echo chamber. While we all want to feel validated, being “comfortable” usually means you’re ignoring the peripheral. Tunnel vision can be detrimental—especially to smaller companies looking to make their mark on the industry. Fostering a company culture where each team member is empowered and encouraged to share their voice has the potential to unlock the real value of diverse perspectives and experiences. In any company, employees should feel empowered to explore the uncomfortable, have bold conversations and feel confident when bringing innovative ideas to the table.

5. Growth
You cannot create movement and growth without diversity, and innovation cannot be found in a room with people of all the same gender, ethnicity and background. McKinsey & Company, a firm specializing in diversity and inclusion, has published a multitude of reports showing that the relationship between diversity and the likelihood of financial outperformance has only strengthened over time. The reports consistently highlight the need for industries to create long-lasting, inclusive cultures and promote inclusive behavior for the benefit of all. We have spent a lot of intentional time cultivating a team that continues to meet and exceed our goals. This could not have been possible without our diverse culture, and it is something that I encourage all companies to pursue.

A renewed focus on DEI is essential for not only the industries where we operate but the business world at large. For us, making diversity and inclusion a priority has led to a phenomenal company culture that embraces transparency, innovation, communication and growth. With this intentional aim, we can all reap the benefits—both as companies and as individuals.

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