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Diversity’s all the rage these days, and with good reason. Those who embrace the concept–and it seems odd that in the 21st Century anyone would opt not to–lay claim to a diversity of opinion as well as in demographics. Different backgrounds, the theory goes, lead to different attacks on a point of strategy, paving the way to unique business solutions. And, oh yes, they say, it’s the right thing to do. Ron Whitley, an 11-year veteran of Cushman & Wakefield, has been chief diversity officer since 2006 (he was managing director of HR prior to that), reporting directly to president and CEO Bruce E. Mosler. Chicago-based Whitley embraces all of the above rationales, but he throws one of his own onto the heap: Diversity delivers markets beyond the traditional reach. Now, there are no numbers to back this up, no glowing ROIs attributable directly to a diverse workforce, and the proof he provides is anecdotal. But he’s working on those numbers, he says, knowing that the numbers will prove the theory. In the meantime, Whitely continues to push the case for diversity through example.

GlobeSt.com: To what extent is the push for diversity an exercise in political correctness?

Whitley: I wouldn’t have taken the position if it was a push for political correctness. I report directly to our CEO, Bruce Mosler, and he and I had complete agreement that diversity in our firm would be a good deal based on business opportunities for our firm.

Everyone has an opinion about political correctness, but if the push is based on the business opportunity, it takes care of everything else. When you talk about diversity, you’re talking about inclusion, and for us it means expanding our reach on the business-development side of the house, whether it be taking a look at new clients or doing something different in terms of your advertising reach. We’re the first commercial real estate firm to advertise with an African American magazine. Black Enterprise, for a lot of African Americans, is like Fortune.

This is what I mean when I talk about expanding our reach to develop new business opportunities. Toward that end, I have also attended the National Hispanic MBA conference and Hispanic Chamber of commerce events. All of this allows us to reach out to people with whom this industry has not interacted on a regular basis.GlobeSt.com: And how is the business diversity shaping up?

Whitley: Interestingly enough, many of the calls I have received–largely as a result of the ads in Black Enterprise–have been from people with their own small boutique looking to form a relationship with Cushman & Wakefield. We couldn’t get that reach, regardless of what networking we did, the campuses we visit or any other outreach we do. In terms of boots already on the ground, we already have a partnership with Concordis–eight minority firms we partner with to do real estate deals. These relationships are important because these new markets are different. We are also a huge sponsor of many of CREW network involving the recruitment of female talent.

In addition, there’s a female owned firm, JRT, with which we have a partnership–an alliance much like the relationship with Concordis. That strong networking structure certainly helps with the acquisition and retention of female talent.

GlobeSt.com: Different how?

Whitley: Take Harlem, for example. Shawna Menifee, who is an African-American broker in our New York City office, has relationships in that market and, frankly, can leverage being an African-American female with a day-to-day opportunity to reach out to that market. As another example, there’s an African-American marketing firm that does a lot of work for the auto industry. One of our brokers has reached out to this client and we’ll end up doing their real estate. The bottom line is that women or people of color through their contacts and networking have the ability to allow that to happen. It’s as simple as that.

GlobeSt.com: Can you quantify how much diversity efforts have added to C&W’s activities?

Whitley: It’s a really good question and we’re working really hard to identify and measure that, but we are not quite there yet. But you have to be able to define the value-add of this work, and when you can’t put a hard number to it, it’s a problem.

GlobeSt.com: At the end of the day, it’s about talent, not about diversity for its own sake. How do you marry those two human resources goals?

Whitley: The approach is to expand our reach as it relates to talent acquisition. And to grow our own. We bring in diverse candidates and make them go through an internship as their first step in their indoctrination to C&W. Then we stay in touch with them and bring them back at a junior-level position once they graduate. Then the focus becomes one of retention. Through coaching, mentoring and professional development–almost like a minor-league baseball team–we grow our own.

Once you bring in a broader, more diverse group of talent–including Asian, Hispanic, African-American and female talent, recruitment in this industry is about reaching out to your own networks. This talent brings in a knowledge of people who may know people. And that’s how you do it. It won’t be effective unless you commit to it over a five-, seven- or 10-year period.

GlobeSt.com: What does the C&W demographic look like?

Whitley: Over the past four years we have made tremendous strides in increasing the number of women and people of color in our organization. I personally have focused on increasing that talent base in two areas–brokerage and appraisal. Those are the two areas where we generate the majority of our revenue. I steer away from numbers, but I’ve been surprised and pleased at the progress. And this has occurred at our middle-management and senior-level positions as well. I want us to do better and we will, but if you look at the industry over all, the percentage of minorities doing real estate deals is at around 2%, and we’re much higher.

GlobeSt.com: But numbers, as you said, would help prove the point. Otherwise it’s just a claim.

Whitley: I would prefer not to put a number to it but the increase in women and minorities we have in those two areas–brokerage and appraisal–reflects a stronger number than the national industry average.

GlobeSt.com: Do you think the industry gets it?

Whitley: I think they do, but on the other hand, there’s the old adage about your words reflecting your actions. There are parts of this industry that are entrenched in doing things a certain way, and it’s challenging to break old habits and do it differently. This is a business that is clearly relationship-driven. Being very candid, we as people tend to be comfortable with people who are similar to us, and that clearly ties into this business. It does hinder outreach. When business is done outside your respective office–whether it’s on the golf course or private club, you’re with people who look like you. That has to change.

GlobeSt.com: The odd thing here is that the major players all have a person like you. But your presence speaks to the need to force the issue.

Whitley: Correct. But on the other hand, for those who have a chief diversity officer, there’s a point person who is not only driving the initiative but also doing the coaching and expressing a different point of view that others wouldn’t hear otherwise. He or she is creating new relationships and going to different venues to bring in talent. If you don’t have someone in that position–to give you that point of view and get you a meeting with someone who looks different or has a different point of view–you’re not going to make any progress. And if the or she has the ear of the CEO, you can direct and guide him, push him and hold him accountable in this very important work.

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