Addressing Diversity, Committing to Change

by Jim Connor, Duke Realty chairman and CEO & Warren Thompson, Duke Realty board member

This is the year that we wish would come to an end. Unfortunately, the end of this year doesn’t mean an end to a deadly global pandemic, politically charged divisions or heightened racial tensions fueled by injustice, disparities and hate speech. While we can’t control a virus, we can control the spread by wearing masks and avoiding large crowds. No matter where we land on the political spectrum, we can bridge differences with civil discourse. We root out racism and injustice by exposing it and calling it out as wrong. When those ugly truths about racial disparities and injustice in our nation were brought to light, we at Duke Realty knew it had to be addressed.

Nearly 20 years ago, Duke Realty made a long-term commitment to foster a diverse and inclusive culture by launching the Duke Realty Diversity and Inclusion Council. The Council is credited with implementing various recruitment and career development initiatives. Our commitment to D&I comes from leadership. One thing that makes us proud is our diverse board of directors. It is with their help and those of our D&I Council members that we launched a series of panel discussions to address the racial inequality and challenges that Americans, our own associates continue to face.

In my career, I have been in the majority in any board room, in any office, in any meeting. So, I knew that I needed the advice of my peers. I cannot pretend to know what it’s like to grow up in a Black community or to feel undervalued or dismissed as lesser than. Unfortunately, some of my peers do. I called on fellow Duke Realty board member Warren Thompson for his perspective.

 

As a person of color in an industry led predominantly by white males, I know what it’s like to be the ‘only’ in a room. Fortunately, I am not the only person of color in Duke Realty board of director meetings and I know that Jim is doing his part to ensure Duke Realty is a diverse and inclusive company. When he came to me with the idea of immediately and directly addressing the national racial injustices that played out for the world this year, I said “do it.” The best way to expose the issue and affect change is starting with honest conversations.

Duke Realty has now hosted two panel discussions open to all associates and even some colleagues outside the company. In the first discussion, several Black associates from across the country gathered virtually to share their experiences growing up and what it’s like being Black in America today. The second panel discussion included people of color who have risen to executive leadership positions in the commercial real estate industry. These are leaders committed to creating a more diverse workforce at their respective companies and in the industry. Sharing experiences and ideas is just a start.

The truth is discrimination exists and our peers of color are experiencing it in their communities. However, Duke Realty is a company that has embraced cultural and racial diversity and where discrimination is not tolerated. This remains true to our culture. Despite divisions in our communities, the company is a place where all are valued and welcome.

Yes, there is more we can do. In fact, we are striving for a more diverse leadership team through recruitment efforts and internal career development and mentorship programs. Additionally, we will help feed the talent pipeline by partnering with colleges and universities to help create a more diverse pool of applicants for Duke Realty and commercial real estate jobs. Finally, we will continue to have the honest conversations that spark change and pledge to continue to be leaders for that change in our industry.