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6 Ways You Can Help Make CRE More Diverse

Brookfield Senior Associate Mark Gaudette shows a model of Manhattan West to Project Destined participants.

Commercial real estate definitely has a diversity problem — race, gender, economic opportunity — and to thrive as an industry, leadership needs a sea change. Those with the power to hire and promote may need to recognize their own unconscious bias. Those who are doing the hiring may need to recalibrate their hiring processes.

But people without managerial rank or hiring power don't have to sit back and wait for change to come.

Here are six ways CRE professionals can directly help reach, inspire and support more candidates and colleagues of color.

1. Get Involved: Spend Time In The Classroom

“Wealth is generational. It just goes from one person to the next,” CBRE Diversity & Inclusion Recruiting Program Manager Davina Linguist said of commercial real estate. Accordingly, job candidates from economically disadvantaged backgrounds often don’t consider CRE, because they don’t have the financial cushion to start out as a young broker relying on unpredictable commissions, and because they may not be aware of other pathways into the industry. “That’s been the way for years, so being able to get minority candidates even interested in CRE has been a challenge.”  

According to Marshall Bennett Institute of Real Estate Executive Director Collete English Dixon, that begins with education.

“It’s really, really important to have real-world professionals in the classroom,” Dixon told Bisnow. “That sort of engagement does generate a lot of energy [for students] because you can actually talk to people about what they do and what they like and don’t like about it … I’ve marched untold numbers of Chicago-based industry professionals through our programs to share their experiences, and I think that is a real positive.

“How do you get into this industry? What are those roles? What kind of career paths are there? What kind of skill set do you need as a broker versus as a property manager? What is a property manager?” she said. “That complexity is a barrier.”

Those willing to share their experience with students can reach out to local high schools and to universities with business programs and offer their time and expertise. 

For more structured ways to get into the classroom, a number of programs are actively working to introduce young people to commercial real estate as a career prospect.

2. Get Involved: Project Destined

Project Destined is a New York-based nonprofit teaching inner-city youth and military families how to be active partners in sourcing and financing real estate investments through live training courses co-led by business and real estate executives. Participating students learn about the industry, create business plans, and even get a chance to compete Shark Tank-style for a percentage of investment profits from class projects in the form of scholarships. Co-founder Cedric Bobo is highly engaged in apprenticeship-style training.

Executives from Brookfield volunteered their time to teach Project Destined students in the Bronx project management skills and financial literacy. To help make up for the loss of internship opportunities caused by the coronavirus pandemic this summer, REPLI, Walker & Dunlop and Project Destined launched a nationwide paid, virtual summer CRE internship program focused on digital marketing for high school and undergraduate students. The Real Estate Board of New York also worked with Project Destined to launch a paid five-week program for a diverse group of 100 CUNY undergraduate students.

“We're building a new generation of real estate talent,” Bobo told Bisnow. “You hire in your mind who you think is available. Sometimes [people] don't think out of the box because no one shows you what's available out of the box. Our whole job is to show you what's available and demystify this talent.”

CRE professionals who love what Project Destined is doing can explore ways for their organizations to partner or just make a donation.

3. Get Involved: ULI’s UrbanPlan

The Urban Land Institute's program UrbanPlan, which is offered at leading high schools and universities nationwide as an advanced placement, undergraduate and graduate class, teaches high school students about the challenges and complexities of land use development via hands-on learning and engagement with local real estate professionals.

In the 2017-2018 school year, more than 800 volunteers donated nearly 4,000 hours to UrbanPlan programs across the country. 

4. Get Involved: The LEAD Program

The LEAD Program is a collaborative partnership between U.S. corporations, government agencies and higher education institutions that helps teach leadership and business skills to underrepresented, high-potential high school students from diverse backgrounds. Of LEAD participants, 100% graduate from high school and 99.9% are accepted into college with foundations in business and real estate from programs like LEAD’s Real Estate Exchange summer program.

Academic faculty and CRE professionals offer students hands-on instruction, site visits and guidance on competitive pitch presentations, helping shape the business leaders of the future. The program relies on donations.

5. Get Involved: Mentor Through CREW, NAIOP And Other Professional Member Organizations

Champions of gender diversity in commercial real estate by way of networking and mentorship, CREW recently announced an intentional effort to broaden its focus when it comes to diversity. “While diverse in many ways, we realized we were not as diverse as we wanted to be,” CREW Network President Christine Gorham recently told GlobeSt. “We realized people of color and people from diverse backgrounds faced different barriers and that we needed to open our own lens wider.”

The organization partners with HBCUs and other universities with diverse student populations to help make commercial real estate more accessible and to engage women in mentorships, internships and scholarships, of which they have awarded 900 to date.

Other CRE membership organizations are increasingly focused on similar work: NAIOP chapters partner with the Real Estate Executive Council to offer real estate-focused summer immersion programs to high school juniors and seniors from diverse backgrounds in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and elsewhere.

But bringing more diverse job candidates in at entry levels won’t solve CRE’s diversity problem: Black CRE professionals and people of color already working in CRE need their colleagues’ support and advocacy too. CREW, NAIOP and similar organizations help connect members with mentors and mentees, and for professionals who are not part of such an organization, they can still make a positive difference.

6. Get Involved: Be A Mentor Within Your Own Company

Support the retention and promotion of colleagues from diverse backgrounds without leaving your office if you can carve out some time to be a mentor.

Bjorik Mutize, an associate with CBRE's Twin Cities office, said the linchpin of diversity in CRE lies with “mentorship and connections.” 

“My mentor pulled me out of the weeds as the youngest and only Black broker in our Minneapolis office, and unfortunately not a lot of others get the same shot,” Mutize said in a recent #CREChat Twitter conversation about diversity. “We need trailblazers to create the path.”

Cushman & Wakefield Chief Information Officer and Chief Digital Officer Adam Stanley added, “Be present. Not just now but after the protests have quieted and the world goes back to the office. Look for someone in your company that is a person of color and find out what they do. Ask them their story, not just how they feel about George Floyd.”