Episode 318: Building a DEI Team With Nadine Augusta, Chief DEI Officer at Cushman & Wakefield

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Episode 318: Building a DEI Team With Nadine Augusta, Chief DEI Officer at Cushman & Wakefield

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Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrell, founder of Workology.Com as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools, and case studies for the business leader, HR, and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.

Episode 318: Building a DEI Team With Nadine Augusta, Chief DEI Officer at Cushman & Wakefield

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:00:26.01] Welcome to the Workology Podcast. This podcast is part of a series that’s focused on diversity, equity and inclusion, and HR. The Workology Podcast is sponsored by Upskill HR and Ace the HR Exam. The DEI series on the Workology podcast is powered by Align DEI and Ginger.com. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are not new ideas in the HR and corporate arenas, but in recent months, the importance and significance of DEI in the workplace has gotten leaders throughout corporate America to think about what doing the right thing in the community looks like. For many of us in HR, this means we’re not taking DEI initiatives to stakeholders. Those stakeholders are coming to us and looking for answers, and we must be ready to respond. Today, I’m joined by Nadine Augusta. She’s the chief diversity equity and inclusion officer at Cushman & Wakefield. Nadine has more than 20 years of experience in financial services, half of which has been in leadership roles in diversity and inclusion. Prior to assuming her current position, she was the Head of Diversity and Inclusion for the Americas at Goldman Sachs, where she led town engagement, equity and inclusion efforts. Before that, Nadine worked at The Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation as the Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion and Corporate Social Responsibility. She has held various positions at Bank of America, including Senior Vice President of Global Diversity and Inclusion. Nadine, welcome to the Workology Podcast.

Nadine Augusta: [00:01:58.56] Thank you. Thank you. I’m very happy to be here.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:02:02.04] You have worked in a lot of different leadership roles in the corporate world. Can you talk to us about how your early experience led you to working in diversity, equity and inclusion?

Nadine Augusta: [00:02:14.90] Well, absolutely, thank you for this question. There are several early experiences that led me to where I am today, and I’m talking early elementary school and I go back that early in, you know, you’ll see you’ll see the reason why. I was previously asked a similar question and I talked about my very thick Jamaican accent, which speech therapy did away with. See, I was originally from Jamaica, West Indies, and immigrated to the U.S. when I was nine years old. In response to your question now, though, I am going to speak about a different experience. I’m going to talk about when I was in elementary school. At that time, I was a product of school desegregation in Providence, Rhode Island, which is where I immigrated to from Jamaica. I was bused from the neighborhood that I lived in on the south side of town to a middle to upper-middle class neighborhood in a much nicer part of town, which had, you know, well-maintained school with large manicured school grounds. And I remember it being a scary and confusing time for me, and I got some very clear messages that from that experience that stayed with me and really informed so much of, of, of my world and where I am today. I got the message that my race was a deciding factor in a lot of things the type of school I went to, the resources the school had and the quality of the education I got. There were some big differences between a school that I was going to prior to being bused to this much nicer school in a much nicer part of town. I was different and I was, I got the message that I was different and, and less than, right? That difference really equated to being less than, for me, at that time. And I learned about inequality, inclusion and exclusion, even though I didn’t have the language at the time to, to, to put to what I was experiencing. And it’s not a surprise to me when I think about and reflect on that period in my life that I am where I am today.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:04:48.13] Wow, what a powerful story, and I think it’s a great example of how experiences in your life help shape the future path for, for your career and, and such a personal story that you can really use to just help shape where, where at Cushman & Wakefield and, and the work that you’re doing is moving forward.

Nadine Augusta: [00:05:14.83] Absolutely.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:05:16.42] So you are Cushman & Wakefield’s first DEI Officer and you were tasked with building out your DEI team. I wanted to ask you if you could talk a little bit about how you began the process and what you have been looking for in a team. What, what does the make up or how did you take the approach to build out a DEI team?

Nadine Augusta: [00:05:36.88] Yes, of course. Of course. I spent my first few months at Cushman learning about the company, our business, meeting senior leaders and employees at all levels of the organization. I issued a DEI survey to gather input and feedback from all employees to to really help me to understand what the biggest opportunities and challenges were from a DEI perspective. I poured into our demographics data, our movement data, our core representation, recruiting promotions, attrition information by demographic groups, right? So looking at it for, by gender, by race and ethnicity and so on. This really helped to lay the ground groundwork for the strategy that I built. I also want to mention that I did spend quite a bit of time with my HR colleagues to gain an understanding as to where we are from a talent lifecycle processes perspective. So again, recruiting development, internal mobility, promotions and how we were doing with diversity, equity and inclusion throughout those processes. And so all of what I just mentioned really laid the groundwork to help me to understand what our biggest opportunities and challenges were for diversity, equity and inclusion progress with an organization. And it also informed the global strategy that I built for our company, which I reviewed with our board of directors earlier this year and got the green light to move forward with. So I defined my team based on the types of skills, capabilities and expertise that I believe necessary to execute against the strategy that, that, that will be moving forward with to help us to advance our diversity, equity and inclusion effort. And, and I started to pull that team together, and there are some very specific roles that, that are part of the team that I’ll, that I’ll just share a high level on right now.

Nadine Augusta: [00:07:43.69] So I have a team member who’s responsible for governance, which is all about building the DEI infrastructure, right? This is a new team, new organization within the company. We have to establish ourselves, our reporting and data management. There’s these mini different projects that, that, that, that we are going to be leading forward that are very specific to driving DEI initiatives within the organization. There’s our infrastructure, so standing up our websites and so on. So that’s the DEI governance person. I have someone who is responsible for our employee resource groups and for external partnerships to really help to ensure that, that those efforts are strategic, that they’re impactful and that they’re where we need them to be to, to help support the work that we want to move forward within the organization. And the other role is around our supply diversity, which is a very important focus for our clients and for us. And so we hired a head of supply diversity who has a matrix reporting line to me. As well as this role I’m really excited about is a role that is very much focused on DEI business development. And this role is very much focused on working closely with our client facing teams to, to really integrate DEI in our client pursuits and to and to leverage it to help deepen our client relationships. So very much focused on the client side of, of, of my work.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:09:25.84] I love this and thank you for sharing because I think a lot of HR leaders, diversity, equity, inclusion leaders, managers, CEOs who are listening to this podcast are saying, OK, how do I set up my diversity, equity and inclusion department? What do the people, what types of roles and the responsibilities that they’re taking on? So even just a small snapshot. I think is so valuable in helping others be able to move forward in their DEI efforts.

Nadine Augusta: [00:09:53.54] Absolutely. And what I shared a, you know, really just, you know, a handful right of, of, of roles. They’re definitely looking to grow the team. I didn’t talk about the coverage that we’re looking to ensure we have on the ground in India and APAC, right? So, so, so we are really committed to ensuring that we have the resources in place to, to really drive, help drive our efforts forward.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:10:19.37] What are the pros and cons of being the first member of the company’s leadership team focusing on DEI?

Nadine Augusta: [00:10:25.16] Yes. You know, I thought about I thought about this question, and I must say that there’s, there’s definitely a lot more pros than cons from my perspective of being the first member of the company’s leadership team focusing on DEI. The one thing that I will say is that Cushman & Wakefield has been, even though there wasn’t a Chief Diversity, Equity and Enclusion Officer in place, the firm has been focused on DEI for, for, for a number of years now. We have a robust network of employee resource groups in place already. We have done quite a bit of work on really advancing our efforts around women at the firm. And with that said, we currently have women currently represent about 42 percent of our people managers, 40 percent of our new hires, 39 percent of our total workforce, and 33 percent of our board of directors. So there’s, there’s a lot there to be proud of. With that said, we have a, we have a lot more work to do and we know that, hence, the, the decision by our leadership and the board to put this role in place and to hire, hire me into the role. So the, the other thing that I would say is that. This role, Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer reports to our Chief Operating Officer, so you tend to see that these roles sit in the HR organization. Cushman & Wakefield was really intentional to ensure that this role had a seat at the table at the highest leadership table in the company. I’m a member of the global management team and I report to the Chief Operating Officer as I said. So our Chief People Officer is my peer. And so, so when I look at all of that and I think about the work that, that lays ahead of us, I do feel like there’s many more pros than cons, you know, in sort of where I sit in the organization and being the first in this role.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:12:39.20] From the perspective of your current role, can you talk to us about how your company’s leadership team is structured and the size of your team and, and who you report to directly?

Nadine Augusta: [00:12:49.45] Yes, absolutely. So I’m a member of the global management team for the company, which reports to Brett White, our CEO, and his direct reports. So our Chief Financial Officer, the COO who I report to, as well as the president of our company. And so the global management team consist of about 14 senior leaders and business leaders across the organization. I present to the board of directors on our strategy and progress, likely twice a year. That is what it is this year, and we’re likely going forward be that. I am in the process as I shared of building my team, and I currently have 14 members. As I mentioned, one focus on governance around better data and reporting, building our infrastructure and project management for DEI initiatives. Have a team member that’s focused on our employee resource groups and our external D partnerships just to ensure that we are optimizing all of our efforts in those areas. I have a team member that is responsible for supplier diversity, who actually sits in procurement and has a matrix relationship to me and a team member that is responsible for DEI business, business development, very much working with our client facing teams. So this organization, this diversity, equity and inclusion organization really reports up to the, the senior most leadership of the organization and has a seat at the table for, on our global management team.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:14:43.33] I believe this is an important distinction, and one of the reasons I wanted to ask is because I think a lot of people are, are in these, are in DEI roles and they’re thinking about, OK, who do I report to and, and, and how do I work with the executive team to keep them apprised of programs, plans and strategies?

Nadine Augusta: [00:15:02.80] Absolutely. It’s one of the things that, that really attracted me to the role is how intentional the leadership here at Cushman & Wakefield was to make sure that the role had a seat at the table and was really positioned to drive, to help drive change in the organization.

Break: [00:15:23.80] Let’s take a reset. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell and you were listening to the Workology Podcast, sponsored by Upskill HR and Ace the HR Exam. This podcast is part of our DEI series on the Workology Podcast powered by Align DEI and Ginger.com. We’re talking about diversity, equity and inclusion with Nadine Agusta. She’s the Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer at Cushman & Wakefield.

Break: [00:15:49.93] Every employee has different mental health needs, from preventive behavioral health coaching to therapy and psychiatry. Ginger offers effective, convenient mental health care for any level of need. All from a smartphone. Learn more. Visit Ginger.com.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is Everyone’s Responsibility


Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:16:08.42] Your company is one of the largest commercial real estate firms. How do you apply DEI to an industry vertical like commercial real estate?

Nadine Augusta: [00:16:18.62] Yes. So you know, I look at the work that we’re doing at Cushman & Wakefield, and to your point, Cushman being so well positioned in the industry. If we’re truly committed to driving change within the organization to advancing diversity of our population from the most senior levels in the organization on, on all, all the way down. If we are truly committed to this work and make progress here, I think it has a knock on effect to the industry. So I think, you know, as I, as I thought about this question, the way I look at it is that, you know, we’re, we’re going to continue to do what, what we have planned to do. This organization is committed, I believe, it’s committed. That’s why I joined. And we are well positioned to make change and to, and to drive progress. And the leadership in this organization are, you know, in lockstep with me in terms of making that happen. And we believe that that will have a direct impact on the industry. As well, We, you know, part of my approach in doing this work is, is to look for opportunities to partner with our peers and to partner with others in the industry to really raise the visibility around the benefits of diversity, equity and inclusion in the industry to, to, to really shine the spotlight on where we are now as an industry and where we need to go to ensure that we continue to be a vibrant, you know, and robust and sustainable and profitable industry for, you know, many, many, of course, years to come. And so we will be very much focused on finding and partnering with others in the industry to really advance, advance that goal.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:18:28.58] You have been quoted as saying diversity, equity and inclusion is everyone’s responsibility. Can you elaborate a little bit on this?

Nadine Augusta: [00:18:37.73] Yeah, absolutely. One of the misconceptions in this work is that when you hire a Chief Diversity Officer, it really is their responsibility to get the, get the work done around diversity, equity and inclusion, you know, ensure that the organization is more diverse in its population, in the policies you have in the organization, and are able to to really represent that with our clients and within our communities. And that’s very much a misconception. Really, this work requires everyone and not just those that are doing the hiring or making the business decisions in the organization. Of course, that’s essential. Our leaders are essential in driving change in organization. They’re the ones that are doing the hiring of our talent. And so they are the ones that can make the decision to hire a more diverse pool of talent into the organization, for example. But it does actually require every single employee, regardless of level in the organization for true change to happen. We all have to be committed to it. We all have to be committed to our own learning and development. We have to be committed to being on this journey together because if, if, if all of our employees understand the value of diversity, equity and inclusion and understands why we are focused here and what the benefit is for them, whether they’re a, you know, regardless of their gender, regardless of their race or ethnicity, then we can make progress together without the sort of collective ecosystem within the organization working together. I just don’t think true, lasting, sustainable progress is going to happen. We really do need the full ecosystem of the organization to work together to enable sustained systemic progress.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:20:51.26] Awesome. I appreciate your insights there so much. I wanted to move on to initiatives, so talking about any planned initiatives or things that you’ve been working on since you started at Cushman & Wakefield in December of last year.

Nadine Augusta: [00:21:05.19] Yes, absolutely. So, of course, I’ve been very much focused on getting the strategy off the ground, building my team and really ensuring that we have the scaffolding around our employee resource groups to enable them to be much more effective, much more impactful and feel supported in the work that they’re doing to engage employees and to bring really interesting and robust programming to the organization. And so those have been my key focus. Outside of that, it’s really been building infrastructure. It really has been getting our data, our people data to a place where we’re able to report out to the organization and really track our progress and be able to, you know, shine some transparency into how we’re doing and what our plans are. And so, you know, from here, it really will be focused on training and we’ve been working on identifying and vendors that we will use to help us advance our DEI training with an organization globally. We are in a process of, of building our DEI curriculum. And so a lot of what you hear me say is, is, is really focused on laying the foundation to, to be able to do those initiatives within the organization that will touch all of our employees that will make some lasting impact.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:22:40.41] Well, you’ve done a lot already and I’m thinking about the training that you’re going to be doing and the work for the organization in the areas of DEI, you’re going to be having and facilitating a lot of conversations which are going to make people uncomfortable, and especially when it comes to leadership, what is your approach to someone who is part of the leadership team about getting comfortable, being uncomfortable?

Nadine Augusta: [00:23:08.04] Yeah, you know, it’s, it’s this work is all about that, getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. And it’s just that I have had many conversations since joining the organization, you know, on this topic. I truly believe that for change to happen with diversity, equity and inclusion at Cushman & Wakefield or at any of our companies, the the challenging the status quo is necessary and challenging. The status quo is uncomfortable. It’s, it’s uncomfortable for those who are doing the challenging and really uncomfortable for those who are really vested in maintaining the status quo, but it’s necessary for change to happen. At the same time, I do believe that it’s a balancing act, right? I think this work is an art, not, not, not necessarily a science. And so you don’t want to alienate our leaders while at the same time we do want to push and we want to we want to challenge them and we want to ensure that they are stepping outside of their comfort zone more times than not. But again, it’s a balancing act, right? And so growth happens when you’re in this space, and so embracing it will make it less painful. And so these are the conversations that I have with leaders. And it’s not always easy and I choose my battles. We often say we meet our leaders where, where they’re at. And so I meet, I meet the leaders where they are at and continue to push and challenge them to get further and they challenge me as well. So I do see this as a two way street, but the challenge in the status quo and being comfortable with being uncomfortable is, is really, I think, the underpinning of this work and it’s necessary for growth and real change to happen.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:25:07.53] I love that. Well, I want to thank you so much, Nadine, for taking the time to talk with us. Is there anything you wanted to leave the audience with before we go?

Nadine Augusta: [00:25:16.56] Yes, there is. I, you know, I shared with you that, you know, in my role, I report to the Chief Operating Officer of the company. The our Chief Operating Officer is, is my peer. I believe that for this work to truly progress, whether it’s at Cushman & Wakefield or anywhere else, the partnership between DEI and HR is really essential. It’s essential for systemic change to be possible. You know, I really wanted to highlight that my job as Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is to help the organization infuse greater diversity, equity and inclusion throughout our workforce, our workplace and of course, you know, with our clients in the marketplace. And this requires systemic change, and I cannot say that enough. And that really is not possible without the strong and consistent partnership with, with HR. It’s critical. You know, it’s a critical enabler in this effort. And so as a, as a DEI practitioner, one of the things that we, we often say to each other is that HR can, can oftentimes be the barrier to greater equity and inclusion. And I don’t, I don’t think that that’s the intention of, of HR. And sometimes we see that tongue in cheek. And it really is because there is a requirement or a recognition that a lot of the change that needs to happen, that our employees will feel, that our organization will, will experience has to happen in our, throughout our talent lifecycle processes. And that’s the go to for, for, for people. And that requires change and oftentimes that requires HR to change. So I just wanted to, I really just wanted to highlight that because I do think that it’s a critical component. The partnership between HR and DEI, whether HR sit, whether the DEI sits within HR or sits outside of HR, it’s just critical for change in diversity, equity and inclusion to be possible within Cushman & Wakefield or any of our companies.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:27:35.12] Well, Nadine, I really appreciate you taking the time to chat with us. We’ll link to your LinkedIn profile and some other resources so that people can connect with you and learn more about Cushman & Wakefield and the work that you’re doing in the area of DEI. So thank you so much.

Nadine Augusta: [00:27:51.38] Of course. Thank you so much. It was really a pleasure to spend this time with you and your audience.

Closing: [00:27:57.08] Conversations about leadership and culture are extremely important, and I believe we need to be having more of them because these conversations spark change. As HR leaders, we can support our company leaders with resources and training that can open up their DEI initiatives and your DEI initiatives in a way that sets your company up for long term success, while also setting an example of what doing the right thing looks like. I appreciate Nadine’s experience sharing with us today on the Workology Podcast. I really appreciated her frank talk about how she’s setting up her diversity, equity, inclusion department, the people’s, the players and really who she’s reporting to within the organization. Thank you for joining the Workology Podcast, sponsored by Upskill HR and Ace the HR Exam. The DEI series on the Workology Podcast is powered by Align DEI and Ginger.com. This podcast is for the disruptive workplace leader who’s tired of the status quo. I know that’s you. My name is Jessica Miller-Merrell. Until next time, visit Workology.com to listen to all our Workology Podcast episodes.

Closing: [00:29:10.10] Personal and professional development is essential for successful HR leaders. Join Upskill HR to access live training, community, and over one hundred on-demand courses for the dynamic leader. HR recert credits available. Visit UpskillHR.com for more.

Connect with Nadine Augusta.



– Nadine Augusta on LinkedIn

– @CushWake on Twitter

– Episode 314: DEI and Preparing Students for the Workforce with Ariana González Stokas

– Episode 310:  Measuring DEI and Systemic Change With Traci Dunn

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