Survey Shows Widespread Acceptance Of LGBTQIA+ In CRE, But Ignorance, Discrimination Persist
More than a quarter of LGBTQIA+ people say they have faced discrimination at work in commercial real estate, according to the responses to Bisnow’s online survey last month, one of the first attempts at studying the population and experiences of the queer community in the industry.
Of the 227 people in the industry who took the anonymous survey last month, 168 identified as a member of the community, or 74%. Respondents were from all corners of the country and all parts of the industry, from construction workers in Boston to developers in Houston, finance executives in LA and brokers in Chicago.
More than 76% of queer respondents said they are out at work, while roughly 10% said they are only out to a few close colleagues, and 10% said they aren’t out professionally. More than half of the survey’s respondents said they hadn’t faced discrimination at work, but 25.9% said they had been discriminated against, while another 23% said they faced microaggressions but not outright discrimination.
Bisnow conducted the survey, as well as a webinar about the experiences and challenges of the LGBTQIA+ community in CRE, in partnership with LGREG, the Lesbian and Gay Real Estate Group, a networking organization with chapters in a half-dozen cities around the country.
“I was actually more surprised that half of the respondents didn’t experience any microaggressions,” said Chris Fraley, the chief investment officer at Realty Mogul and a co-founder of LGREG. “I was sad and disappointed that half of them did, but I was surprised that for half of them there was really no impact from [coming out].”
In addition to questions involving sexual orientation, Bisnow asked respondents demographic data to understand what cross-section of the industry is represented. The participants were roughly three-quarters male, and only three identified as trans. They self-identified as 86% White, 7% Hispanic or Latino, 5.3% Asian and 4.4% Black or African American.
Many wrote comments sharing their experience in the industry. An overarching theme was how far real estate has progressed in its acceptance of different sexual orientations.
“I definitely feel the work environment is a million times better over the last 10+ years,” said a New York City-based retail executive, a man with between 20 and 30 years of experience in the industry.
Some people said being able to bring their authentic selves to their jobs made their work not only more fulfilling, but has actually been good for business.
“I bring my full self to work each day which has transformed my career,” one male respondent, who works in CRE finance in Los Angeles, wrote.
“Thirty-plus years ago I did not feel comfortable with my orientation and I hid it in the workplace,” a male office broker in Chicago wrote. “Now, fast forward 30 years and over the past 15 or more, I have been 100% out at work and to clients and it has been beneficial to my business.”
Ryo Ishida, the founder of investment firm Rainbow Capital Partners and co-founder of the San Francisco chapter of LGREG, told Bisnow in an interview that being comfortable with one’s own identity in the workplace is consistently shown to drive better outcomes both for an individual and their company.
“I’m a firm believer in if you can just bring your authentic self to work, that shows up in productivity in work, that shows up in working engagement, it shows up in all the economic numbers,” Ishida said.
Roughly half of respondents were older than 45, and their comments reflected the drastic change the industry has undergone in a couple of generations. A female attorney in Boston said she had been out to close associates at work since the 1980s, but never told a client about her sexual orientation — until she came out to both the local bar association and her clients this year.
“It's nice to be myself as I end my career,” the woman wrote. “And still, for some, once I'm out, the focus shifts away from my (considerable) experience and ability.”
Many comments echoed similar feelings — progress toward acceptance has been substantial, but the dominance of straight White men in the industry, particularly in development and construction, has kept some LGBTQIA+ people more guarded about their personal lives.
“In development, it can be difficult identifying as gay,” a male Atlanta respondent wrote. “Though I have not experienced outright discrimination, I believe that many of the people I meet are uncomfortable with homosexuality. Only time will tell if that leads to being passed up when career growth opportunities arise.”
“I remain cautious to this day about what role my gender plays in the male-dominated industry of construction and real estate,” a woman between the ages of 35 and 44 in Boston construction wrote. “That is also why I'm holding off on disclosing my sexual orientation to my current employer. To be a non-butch lesbian in an office where ‘bro-culture’ abounds, I am anticipating a lot of inappropriate comments and treatment.”
Others echoed comments about the culture in their offices, saying they didn’t feel hostility, but they didn’t feel comfortable to be themselves.
“I'm not out widely at work, though it's more due to a personal privacy preference than any concern that it would be handled badly by anyone at the office,” said a female Boston marketing professional in the 25-34 age range. “But honestly, sometimes it's just easier to not want to be THE representative of the LGBT+ community (as far as I'm aware, I'm the only current one). It feels a little othering, and it usually comes with a lot of awkward questions from well-meaning people.”
Many of the respondents from the major coastal cities said they felt welcomed at their office and fortunate to work in cities more accepting of the LGBTQIA+ community. Some comments reflected how different the culture is in other markets.
“On one assignment in Orlando in 2014, my team was meeting with a commercial broker … When describing the city's neighborhoods, he stated that his brokers ‘follow the fairies’ to learn where the city's next hot neighborhood will be. I immediately quipped, ‘Well, as one of the fairies, I can attest to that.’” one respondent, a consultant with 30+ years experience, wrote. “His half-hearted attempts to backtrack as he picked himself up off the floor were priceless!”
“It's a good old boys network and as such they largely feel free to kind of joke about stuff like being trans or having a [nonbinary] identity,” a finance associate in Charlotte wrote. “There's not much reason to come out, so I don't have any experience there, but as a woman, it's becoming easier to see that white men in particular don't really respect my role and feel no real compunction in minimizing it in favor of male colleagues who are junior to me. It's hard being one of two women on our team, and has really brought home the microaggressions which feel like they could be sexist in nature, if unconsciously so.”
Sexism was cited by multiple respondents, including some men, as a more pressing issue in 2022 in CRE than discrimination based on sexual orientation.
“It’s worse being a woman than gay in real estate. Especially in NYC and LA,” one woman wrote.
“Believe it or not, I think it would be harder to be a woman in this industry than LGBT,” a White male vice president of development in Boston wrote. “Luckily I live in the Northeast, so I haven't faced any aggressive or even minor discrimination. My colleagues support me, their microaggressions come from a place of ignorance rather than malice. Good people in the industry writ large!”
The survey is far from scientific, but Fraley and Ishida said the lack of data on the LGBTQIA+ community in the industry has been a source of frustration as their organization has grown; it added chapters in Atlanta, Phoenix and Boston after the pandemic broke down traditional geographic networking boundaries.
“If there’s even a small number of folks that have felt they’ve been discriminated against, it’s a topic worth talking about, it’s a topic worth sharing stories about, and ultimately it’s a topic worth measuring so we can see if we’re trending in the right direction,” Ishida said.