Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Commercial Real Estate: Best Practices and Common Challenges

By: Mirle Rabinowitz Bussell, Ph.D., Risa Itow and John Tavares

Release Date: September 2023

The U.S. population has grown steadily more diverse, and this diversity is increasingly represented in the composition of the workforce. However, the commercial real estate (CRE) industry has historically seen below-average levels of gender and racial diversity, and it now faces a looming talent shortage as baby boomers age out of the workforce. In this context, diversifying the CRE workforce is not just a matter of social good but also one of necessity. Embracing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) can help firms access a wider talent pool, improve worker retention and better understand the markets they serve.

The NAIOP Research Foundation commissioned this report to identify best practices for promoting DEI within CRE firms. The study draws from existing studies on DEI, as well as interviews with a representative sample of practitioners at CRE firms that have pursued DEI initiatives. The authors also interviewed faculty and staff at undergraduate and graduate real estate programs to examine how universities are working to diversify their programs and how firms can partner with them to expand the talent pipeline. Findings from this report include:

  • DEI initiatives require the support of a firm’s leadership to be effective. The most successful initiatives engage employees in the creation and implementation of DEI policies and address DEI at all levels of seniority.
  • Mentorship is one of the most effective ways to facilitate the career development of employees from underrepresented groups. Some companies are embracing the concept of sponsorship, in which mentors actively work to identify opportunities that will advance mentees’ careers.
  • Employee resource groups are frequently identified as a popular and effective mechanism for employees from underrepresented groups to find community among their coworkers, improve employee retention and foster an atmosphere of belonging.
  • Firms in the early stages of developing DEI policies and smaller firms with limited resources can benefit from collaboration with external partners such as industry organizations.
  • Data collection and analysis can help larger firms better measure their progress toward specific DEI goals.
  • Companies can partner with colleges and universities to diversify their recruitment pipelines. Attending career fairs, supporting scholarships, sponsoring attendance at industry events, mentoring students and making guest presentations are all effective strategies for building relationships with future CRE professionals.



* Research reports are complimentary to all audiences. Webinars are free for members and paid for nonmembers.