“A strong DE&I function should outlast the leader,” says Nashunda Williams, Global Head of DE&I at commercial real estate giant JLL.
With this in mind, she is busy putting together a sustainable framework or, as she terms it, “operationalising” JLL’s DE&I function. Williams explains: “Operationalising our DE&I function is helping us achieve more fundamental and long-lasting change. We’re creating systems and processes that don’t depend on one leader to succeed.”
The first step in building this sustainable framework has been to formalise roles within DE&I across the regions that are also part of a centralised global team. Williams and her team have conducted listening sessions and focus groups to hear directly from employees. They also consulted leaders from the company’s Business Resource Groups (BRGs), comprising more than 20,000 employees worldwide.
“Our BRGs are a big part of our culture, and we look to them as trusted partners as we shape our strategy,” said Williams.
JLL’s company culture encourages employees to take advantage of leadership opportunities outside their day-to-day roles. Williams is a perfect example of that. Williams has been a leader at JLL for the past six years, first as a technology advisor for the Work Dynamics business and, most recently, as an IT business partner within JLL Technologies (JLLT). She also led the Black Professionals Network’s national team, which had chapters nationwide. Both opportunities allowed Williams to hone her leadership skills and fulfil a passion for DE&I.
This, together with her DE&I involvement over her 20-year technology career, made her the ideal choice for JLL’s Global Head of DE&I. She was delighted about the opportunity to make a difference for many generations to come.
“I came into this space feeling encouraged by what had already been done to advance diversity, equity and inclusion across our firm. JLL’s leaders are committed to continuing our progress toward greater gender and ethnic diversity. I feel honoured to be taking that work to the next level and developing a sustainable framework.”
When asked what key skills are required for the job, Williams noted that, just like baking a cake, you need several ingredients. For Williams, these ingredients are strategic thinking, programme management, data, change management, creativity, and communication. Influence and interaction with different leaders were also crucial.
“A DE&I strategy is only successful if the organisation’s leaders are ready to champion it with employees,” she asserts. “It’s important that leaders can communicate the strategy and engage with and learn from diverse audiences, from entry to executive levels.”
Top-level commitment to DE&I
The fact that Williams reports directly to the CEO underlines the company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. However, she emphasises that implementation from both senior and middle management is key to DE&I success.
“When top leaders model the right behaviour, it influences middle management to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace culture,” said Williams. “These middle managers shape the environment and daily experience of employees, making them key contributors in driving organisational change and producing tangible results.”
Williams recognises there’s a great opportunity for the real estate sector to become more diverse and is intentional about increasing the diversity of JLL’s workforce.
“JLL created an early careers team focused on attracting entry-level talent, with intentionality around diversity,” said Williams. “Our intern class this year was more diverse, so we’re already seeing the impact. We’ve also launched training and development programming to enable us to retain and invest in diverse talent.”
Attracting diverse talent
Focusing on entry-level talent is essential to helping the real estate industry move forward and embrace DE&I. As Williams points out: “It’s common to see real estate professionals become aware of opportunities through a friend or family referral. I hope that in the future, they’ll hear about paths to real estate through new avenues, such as college workshops or events.”
“We’ve seen great enthusiasm for the early career programme from the next generation,” said Williams. “Engaging with college students and raising awareness about the opportunities at JLL will continue to be a priority for us as we do our part to help create a more diverse talent pipeline for the real estate industry.”
As progress has been made, Williams understands more work is needed and will remain focused on creating meaningful and long-lasting change.