Latinx and Hispanic CRE Leaders Determined To Open Opportunities For The Next Generation
As the population of Latinxs and Hispanics in the United States has grown in recent decades, their growth in leadership positions in commercial real estate has been less robust. The current generation of Latinx and Hispanic leaders in the industry is keen to change that.
Formal programs are important, they say, but are not the entire picture. Equally important, if not more so, is to let young workers know that upper-end careers in CRE are possible for those with solid people skills and strong motivation to succeed. Current leaders are trying to be more visible role models, but also helping the rising generation form the connections they will need to rise in commercial real estate.
"Hispanic" refers to native speakers of Spanish or people in the U.S. with Spanish-speaking ancestry and is the term used by the Census Bureau. "Latinx" is a gender-neutral variation of Latino and Latina, and refers to anyone of Latin American origin or ancestry.
"Young Latinos should absolutely consider careers in commercial real estate," Paper City Investments Managing Member Gardner Rivera said. "For two reasons. One is that the industry is very entrepreneurial and rewards the focused and innovative, regardless of race."
New Jersey-based Paper City Investments specializes in market-rate and affordable multifamily development.
Second is that the Spanish-speaking community is underserved, Rivera said.
"Being a bilingual real estate professional allows you to bridge a gap in service and helps you grow communities because you understand firsthand their needs," he said. "There are so few minorities, especially Hispanics, in commercial real estate that your success will be an example for others looking to enter the business."
Hispanic employment in the real estate industry as a whole isn't far behind the number of Latinxs in the U.S. population as a whole, according to Equal Opportunity Employment Commission data.
In its 2018 survey of more than 3,500 real estate businesses with more than 100 employees, the EEOC found that about 16.9% of all workers in the industry (NAICS-2 Code Sector 53) are Latinx or Hispanic, roughly comparable to the total Latinx or Hispanic share of the U.S. population, which is about 18%.
Yet the overall numbers mask a disparity in the industry. Leadership positions in the industry still skew heavily White, with most Latinxs or Hispanics in lower-end, less-skilled jobs. The number of Latinxs or Hispanics in executive positions is about 4.3% of the total, compared with 88% White, while Latinx or Hispanic midlevel managers total about 10.2%. By contrast, about 37.2% of laborers in the industry are Latinx or Hispanic, while 26.4% of service workers are Latinx or Hispanic.
The hotel industry is a particularly stark example of that disparity, according to Reveille Hospitality Chief Investment Officer Marco Roca Jr., who notes that less than 1% of hotel owners in the country are Latinx, while the workforce is about 40%. His company specializes in developing hotels.
"Young Hispanics that I meet often believe the hotel industry is limited to being housekeepers," Roca said. "It's a little sad. They don't realize the vast array of rewarding positions in the industry. You get work in great buildings in interesting parts of the world."
Changing that kind of perception is one of his goals, Roca said. That involves a lot of effort, but he says it is worth it. Introducing the next generation of Hispanics to opportunities in CRE involves both formal programs and informal mentorship.
"Hispanics benefit greatly from internships and college programs specific to the commercial real estate industry," State Street Realty President George Pino said. "No student should ever be trapped in a failing school or job that doesn't meet his or her individual needs."
For its part, Pino said, State Street works to increase economic opportunities for Hispanics or Latinxs by providing internships that often are pathways to commercial real estate jobs.
Often formal programs to recruit Hispanics to CRE come in a wider context of increasing the participation of all minorities and women in the industry, both through organizations as well as large companies.
"We want to cast a wide net to attract talent," BOMA International President Henry Chamberlain said. "We've organized a diversity inclusion committee with BOMA International because want to reflect the markets we're in."
The committee has been tasked by the organization to provide specific recommendations on how to facilitate industry diversity and inclusion through policy development, education and training, Chamberlain said.
Those kinds of initiatives are well and good, Hispanic and Latinx industry leaders say, but it is up to CRE companies themselves to make the most difference by providing role models, helping the rising generation create industry connections and persuading them that CRE is a good place to be.
Through his and his father's participation in the Latino Hotel Association, Roca said, they provide high school students help with college applications, recommend hospitality programs for them and otherwise act as mentors.
"We made ourselves as accessible as possible," Roca said. "They can call us. We want them to know that the industry might be a good fit for them since hospitality is part of the DNA of Hispanics."
Because of systemic racism and unconscious biases, Hispanic or Latinx workers, like Blacks, are underrepresented in architecture, engineering and construction, McKissack & McKissack CEO Deryl McKissack told Bisnow in an email.
"That's even as concern grows in our industry over a shrinking qualified labor pool," she said. "We must be active participants in developing creative strategies to attract, hire, train, retain and promote Hispanics. That includes fostering internships and mentorship programs to recruit at colleges and universities that attract Hispanic students."
Encouraging the younger Hispanic or Latinx generations to pursue a career in architecture starts with representation, HKS Director of Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Yiselle Santos Rivera said.
“While mentorship and sponsorship are essential aspects of our engagement, representation within our own firm is critical," she noted. "You need to be able to see yourself seated at the table and in leadership positions. We’re always evaluating how we can do better in that regard.”
As part of its more formal recruitment effort, HKS has partnered with Cristo Rey Dallas College Prep, a Catholic high school that serves a diverse student body whose families have limited financial means. Through a corporate work-study program, HKS contributes toward students’ tuition fees and pairs them with HKS employees to expose them to the design field, along with other areas that may draw their interest, such as accounting and information technology.
As for persuading rising young talent that CRE is a good place to be, the bottom line is certainly economic gain, but it is about more than personal enrichment for minority groups.
"Once you get your foot in the door, it takes a ceaseless work ethic to succeed," Lee & Associates-North San Diego County Associate Alma Miluso said. "That should come naturally for young Hispanics who are used to overcoming barriers and working hard to achieve their goals."
Being in real estate is like running one's own business, Miluso points out, and many times it is precisely that, and a goal worth pursuing in and of itself.
"And just like any other business, with the time and effort requirements, comes many benefits," she said. "I personally enjoy a large amount of freedom and flexibility to pursue work and clients that I care about."
Ownership is a form of economic equality, Rivera said.
"Purchasing property with others in your network is a proven way to create sustainable wealth," he said. "Several immigrant groups used this method of pooling resources to get a foothold on the American dream. Passing along assets and how they were built ensures that the community thrives over generations."