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Shaping the Future of Diversity and Talent in Real Estate Investment Management

By Melanie Domres, BentallGreenOak

Parity on the Rise

It is not news that the identity of the real estate investment management industry has long been characterized by its predominantly homogenous workforce. Yet in my fourth decade, I can affirm that change is accelerating. In the first part of my career, I was often the only woman in the room. Later, women began joining the industry but only in certain disciplines and rarely as the lead of a function or a company. Real signs of change have started to arrive with a recent, dedicated focus on parity that had never before existed. Pledges have been taken and strides have been made to make the industry more diverse for women, Black, Indigenous, and people of color, with a goal of making the industry look like the stakeholders and customers it serves. In late 2021, my organization, BentallGreenOak (BGO) joined CREW Network’s Pledge for Action to Advance Women and DEI in Commercial Real Estate; a CEO-driven initiative to advance women and elevate actions that encourage greater DEI in the commercial real estate industry. And we intend to stand by our word.

BGO is proud to be the industry leading change agent, hiring 400 female and minority employees over the past two years, improving the diversity of our global team significantly. Even further, we recognize that it is not just about getting good people in the door – it is about keeping them and ensuring they are engaged and empowered to do their best work. That is why BGO made a concrete commitment to gender parity in all titles and ranks by 2030 with a specific goal of at least 30% representation of women at the most senior ranks. Achieving this goal equals meaningful change and makes me proud to be a part of this organization.

A Seat at the Table

No matter the current progress, there is more to diversity than hitting numbers and targets. For the real estate community to attain true diversity, we should consider the following courses of action:

  • Expanding focus to socioeconomic diversity: The inequity of socio-economic representation is tangible in our industry. While we know better decisions are made with more perspectives at the table, have we saved a seat for someone who actually grew up in an apartment or in workforce housing rather than in a suburban single family home? We must cultivate a new generation from economically diverse backgrounds to expand the voices shaping the future of real estate.
  • Evangelizing real estate as a career: Our industry must become better at highlighting and publicizing its incredible array of career paths. From working in private equity to general contracting to property management to capital markets , the range of careers is limitless and requires every sort of talent. Still, when I say I work in real estate, most people assume I sell homes in my neighborhood instead of working for a global firm managing more than $80 billion with 27 lines of business around the globe.
  • Creating a support system: BGO has excelled at launching internal employee resource groups (ERGs) that create community and build a network for the more diverse talent pool that it is hiring. I’m pleased to co-chair our Women’s Network, which offers programming for its members that focuses not just on professional development but on generating meaningful connections between women at our company across our many offices.

Built to Lead

Much has changed in my 35 year career – technology advancements, amenities, design, geographical shifts – but what has not changed is that real estate remains a people-centric business. At the heart of the business, our customers choose to lease because they want to form and be a part of a community.

Finding the right employees to carry the culture throughout the community and at the corporate level goes beyond their years of experience on paper. It lies in their talent and potential. To access this talent pool fully, BGO created an initiative called Built to Lead, an internship and early-learning program in traditionally excluded and underrepresented communities to create talent pipelines and access to careers in commercial real estate that were not have been possible before.

In this business, success comes from understanding the goals and needs of everyone. Successful real estate investment managers must balance the objectives of consumers, operators, partners, investors to achieve outperformance throughout an investment lifecycle. We must enable more opportunities for diverse minds with a wider-range of lived experiences to bring their strengths forward, and elevate a new generation of holistic thinkers who are flexible, empathetic, and unafraid to fail.

Melanie Domres is a Managing Director of Asset Management at BentallGreenOak and the Sector Head for Multifamily with responsibility for overseeing the asset management team and operations of the U.S. multifamily portfolio of 10,000 plus units.


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