Diversity in RE finance, part 6: Fair promotion creates access to senior roles

LaSalle’s Amy Klein Aznar says company culture is crucial when it comes to increasing diversity.

Amy Klein Aznar
Amy Klein Aznar

In September, Chicago-based manager LaSalle Investment Management announced an initiative in its US business to commit up to half a million dollars on a five-year programme to provide black and Latin American students with $10,000 scholarships and a mentor from the firm’s executive team. The aim is to bring on at least one student each year as a summer intern, with a view to hiring them on a permanent basis.

In Europe, LaSalle is also thinking about how to create a more diverse business. In 2015, it created a diversity board to devise a plan of action, provide a governance framework and ensure diversity and inclusion was a strategic focus for the firm. Chairing the board is the head of LaSalle’s debt and special situations division, Amy Klein Aznar.

She says the work has included monitoring diversity and inclusion data; initiatives such as a parents and carers network; and organising celebrations around events such as Black History Month and National Coming Out Day.

Klein Aznar believes entrenched hiring practices across real estate teams, including debt businesses, have resulted in the current make-up of the industry. “It happens by accident,” she says. “Leaders find themselves with too many people from the same university in their teams. To promote diversity, you need to be on the front foot.”

Klein Aznar says she has had success in building a diverse debt team. However, she admits it can be difficult finding a range of experienced candidates in the specialist field of finance.

“As an industry, we need to be more targeted towards ensuring people from diverse backgrounds want to get into a specialist field like this. We need to be sure we are sending people to recruit from a variety of schools. Right now, the more senior the role, the more challenging it is to find people. This is about building a pipeline for the future.”

LaSalle reports that, in 2019, it recruited 50 percent women across a broad range of roles and levels. It adds that it invests significantly in recruitment efforts to attract and hire from diverse backgrounds. These efforts include presenting balanced shortlists, helping hiring managers to overcome unconscious bias, and running junior hiring programmes to broaden the recruitment pipeline.

“This is about building a pipeline for the future”

Amy Klein Aznar
LaSalle Investment Management

Klein Aznar argues that ensuring business environments enable people from different backgrounds to progress is critical. “The big challenge is helping people to access senior roles. We’ve spent a lot of time looking at our promotions process, making it more transparent and more balanced. It’s had an impact.” She says half of promotions in 2019 were women, up from roughly 30 percent the previous year.

Most of the success to date has been in gender diversity. Klein Aznar points out that 40 percent of LaSalle’s board members are women. She adds that changes to company culture have helped make it a better place for women to advance. “A lot of women are lost to companies when they go on maternity leave, so we’ve done a lot to make it easier for women to come back. Last year, 85 percent of those who went on maternity leave came back. We’ve worked on career coaching, increasing flexibility, for example.”

Yet just as LaSalle’s US scholarship programme is specifically targeted at racial minorities, Klein Aznar says it is important to ensure that more than gender diversity is being actively promoted. She points out that gender is easier to measure than factors such as a person’s socio-economic background or sexual orientation.

Ultimately, says Klein Aznar, organisations like hers – which raise capital from, and lend it to, external businesses – cannot afford to ignore diversity. “Our clients are more diverse. It improves performance to have a more diverse team.”