Expanding CRE Networking Organization Offers Support To LGBT Community
Commercial real estate is often criticized for its lack of diversity, but one growing organization is out to ensure the industry both welcomes and promotes its LGBT members.
“Many members of the LGBT community enter CRE as a hidden minority and do not have a group of peers with whom to network,” Boston-based Federal Realty Investment Trust Vice President of Asset Management Bryan Furze said. “GREG offers a safe space to interact with others that share a common bond to find mentors, peers and friends to count on in the challenging and competitive world of CRE.”
The Gay Real Estate Group, or GREG, is an LGBT CRE networking organization founded in the early 1990s in New York City. The Lesbian and Gay Real Estate Group, or LGREG, is its West Coast counterpart in Los Angeles. Furze was initially a member of the New York group and saw firsthand how the organization was instrumental in connecting a group of people that often felt unwelcomed by the industry. He has since decided to open a chapter closer to home in Boston.
“I’m hopeful GREG is going to be much bigger across the nation,” Furze said. “GREG and LGREG are starting to build momentum as more people hear about them.”
Furze, who was featured last year in Bisnow’s “Smashing The Lavender Ceiling” report on being LGBT in CRE, said the profile helped connect him with more gay and lesbian members of the industry. Seeing the success GREG has had in New York and Los Angeles, he is now trying to expand the organization’s reach in places like Boston and potentially Chicago. He will host the Boston launch Sept. 12 at Federal Realty’s Assembly Row, a transit-oriented development in Somerville, Massachusetts.
“My goal in Boston is to start in a collaborative way and get a feel for what people want this to be,” he said. “I think we have a good range of people from the executive level to younger people just starting out.”
While the Boston branch is in its infancy, Furze has connected with the leaders of GREG and LGREG to learn how to build and operate the group. The New York group requires candidates to be sponsored by existing members and go through an interview process before being admitted. Leaders say this is to maintain quality and ensure members get the most out of the group.
“This establishes if a potential member will be active, are they going to contribute and are they someone who will give back,” New York-based Osborn Law partner and GREG co-chair John Osborn said. “This is so substantive, and if you had people who weren’t up to that level, they wouldn’t get much out of it.”
Osborn said the New York organization includes members working on marquee projects throughout the city like Moynihan Station and Hudson Yards. While the group originally focused on high-level members of the industry, GREG has expanded in the past five years to include young leaders under the age of 35.
“In doing that, we decided to have a mentorship program. It’s turned out amazingly well in getting people jobs as well as career advancement,” Osborn said. “Essentially, we match people up, which takes some sifting through to find an existing member who can [be] meaningful.”
The group has partnered with City University of New York to provide mentorship for LGBT college students. GREG also offers programming on different asset classes in the industry, promotes legislation to provide LGBT senior housing and even holds discussions on what the climate is like for those who are out in the workplace.
While LGREG on the West Coast doesn’t have the interview process or annual dues mandated by the New York group, its co-founder said it shares the belief in how important strong programming and networking is for the industry’s LGBT community.
“What we deal with in CRE is it’s still very much an old boys’ club where there are some challenges to being gay. I think there’s still some homophobia and, at times, people aren’t completely welcome,” Los Angeles-based RealtyMogul Chief Investment Officer Christopher Fraley said.
Fraley, who was also featured in “Lavender Ceiling,” said his LGBT network has helped speed up deals by connecting him with developers he might not have otherwise known. LGREG also promotes programming and mentorship like the New York group, and he has high hopes for what could come from Furze’s efforts in Boston.
“They’ll probably be surprised at how many people there are,” Fraley said. “There aren’t a ton of benefits to being LGBT in CRE, and, if you can have a network of people and be part of a community, at some point in your career, you should find that pretty helpful.”