Soma Mohanty Garg, head of human resources at JLL Asia Pacific, sheds light on how diversity initiatives are empowering business growth.
Q. Why did JLL start looking at diversity as a business imperative
At JLL, diversity is not just a business imperative; it is a pillar of our values system. The corporate real estate industry, in Asia Pacific (APAC) and elsewhere, has traditionally been a male-dominated industry.
However, as our customers start changing and becoming more diverse they expect their partners to be more diverse as well. We realised that our client-facing teams needed to change to reflect this new reality. And where better to start than with gender?
Q: Can you share JLL’s initiatives around diversity?
In 2014, Anthony Couse (now Asia-Pacific Chief Executive Officer) became our regional head of diversity. In order to address the need to be more diverse and have more women in our firm, JLL set up a regional Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Council led by Couse. This group includes representatives of both genders from our biggest markets and business lines. The council’s conversations resulted in a number of initiatives aimed at increasing the role that women play within JLL.
Bringing about change requires that we first change the organisational culture, but this does not happen overnight. Our Unconscious Bias training programme was instituted to sensitise employees at all levels to the biases we may hold, and train leaders to manage organisational processes without bias. Aimed at addressing existing bias against women employees, this has subsequently impacted corporate practices, awards, recruitment, talent assessment, promotions and training.
Our Talent Development and Mentorship programmes for women intend to groom women for leadership roles, where international directors mentor regional directors who in turn mentor national directors. This has resulted in a more diverse talent pool that includes more women at a senior level.
Lastly, the Gradual Return To Work (GRTW) programme was set up to encourage maternity breaks and offer flexible work practices.
The results of these initiatives have been encouraging. In the last two years, we have increased diversity by about two to three per cent in our top ranks. Women comprised 16-17 per cent of our director population then, but this is now about 20 per cent. Our efforts around hiring, promotion and development are also starting to pay off.
Q: How has encouraging diversity impacted growth and business outcomes?
All initiatives must tie back to ‘why is this good for business?’ We used feedback from our customers, and we looked at research, which showed that diverse teams are 30 per cent more successful when it comes to pitching for new business.
A study of ten APAC economies found that firms with at least 10 per cent women on their boards enjoyed average Return On Equity (ROE) of 15.4 per cent, compared to 11.8 per cent for those that did not have any female representation. This further proves that diversity matters and makes a business impact. Diverse organisations are also more successful in attracting and retaining talent and enabling innovation to flourish. Promoting gender diversity signals a win-win for everyone involved.
As our clients’ transformed the way they work – with representatives from both genders – they also expected us, as partners to increase female representation in our client-facing panels. And even as they responded positively to our diverse teams, their feedback motivated our employees even further.
Around 50 per cent of the graduate market is women, and our conscious focus on diversity has widened the pool of talent available to JLL since we are now concentrating efforts on hiring more women at all levels.
At the global level, we are one of the few US companies who have at least 30 per cent female board representation. This, in itself, is a substantial sign of our genuine commitment to diversity.
Qualitatively, as a result of our Unconscious Bias training programme, many employees have begun incorporating incremental change in the way they work. We have launched our Male Champions of Change campaign, where the male employees pledged to include more women on panels. We host focus groups with women to examine the issues they face and to evaluate what will enable change. In addition, when we increased the number of women in client-facing roles, our clients acknowledged and appreciated it.
However, it is difficult to quickly move the needle on gender diversity. The correlation between our strategies – gender balance and revenue growth – may take years to be visible, but research proves that diverse organisations ultimately deliver better business results.
Q: What is the impact of such diversity initiatives in the Asia Pacific?
Diversity is a long-term process and we are driving a change in corporate culture by broadening our approach in delivering a coherent and impactful message in the APAC region. The first step is to raise awareness and encourage our colleagues to start thinking about diversity and to create a conversation around it. Ultimately, we expect the entire industry to be more adept and flexible at delivering exceptional service as we move towards a more diverse and inclusive workforce.
Having said that, the APAC region is highly complex and its business landscape is constantly evolving. One of the most important points that we must consider is that a particular approach to diversity in one country may not necessarily work in another; instead we must learn to identify the unique challenges in each market and tailor our approach accordingly. Ensuring relevance is the key to driving change and we must customise our efforts depending on governmental policies, societal acceptance and the maturity of the industry in the region.
Q: What is the key takeaway on gender diversity for businesses in Asia Pacific?
Diversity as an issue needs considerable investment of time and effort. This cannot be ushered in overnight and we have to be realistic about that to really make a difference. Most of these initiatives are driven by the business and so, one has to be prepared to listen, learn and create programmes that are relevant. At JLL, by focusing on this, we challenge our leaders to make a personal commitment to driving change.
Many companies are examining the possibilities of having more women as directors and country heads. We are too, though we haven’t specified a target and quota. We’ve started with gender diversity but as the market matures, we will expand to other kinds of diversity in terms of education, race, religion, and age groups.