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JLL Helping Pay Off Student Loans, Offering Higher Broker Draws In Diversity Push

JLL is hoping to remove some of the barriers to entry for women and minorities.

Brokerage giant JLL is taking aim, with a collection of new initiatives, at some of the barriers that have made it difficult for women and minorities to enter and advance in the commercial real estate industry in the past.

The company announced Thursday it has formed a $4M fund to provide higher draws for entry-level brokers who are women and people of color, and it is rolling out a program to provide student loan support for new analyst hires in the capital markets team.

JLL is also expanding its partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities and has formed a new relationship with social impact platform Project Destined to help cultivate a pipeline of talent with backgrounds typically underrepresented in commercial real estate.

"Research will tell you that diverse talent, minorities and women tend to be disproportionately impacted by student loans,” said JLL Miami Capital Markets Office Co-Head Chris Drew, who is also on the firm's capital markets diversity, equity and inclusion committee. “We need to try to get folks that don't have the financial wherewithal to take a bet on themselves for a period of three years, we need to try and make that as easy as possible for them.”

While the student loan program is open to all new analysts, Drew said he expects it will lure more talented young people of color to the industry.

Lack of diversity has long plagued the commercial real estate industry, where there are few women and people of color in positions of power. Brokerage is no exception, particularly at the upper echelons. Bisnow analyzed the boards and C-suites of the 17 biggest brokerage firms in the country last November and found none had more than three people of color at the executive level, and almost a third had none at all. 

In a release announcing the new programs, JLL CEO of the Americas Markets John Gates admitted the industry has lagged behind others in reflecting the makeup of communities it serves but said these initiatives on recruitment, retention and talent development will go a long way to enact change.

“The business case for diversity is overwhelmingly evident and has a proven track record in other industries,” he said. "We’re ready to lead this journey for commercial real estate and accelerate industry efforts to unlock the potential of a more diverse, inclusive workforce."

More than half of the firm's hires in the capital markets, hotels, leasing and property management businesses hired in the first five months of the year at the company were from diverse backgrounds, according to a JLL spokesperson.

The national reckoning on race sparked by the murder of George Floyd last year has forced many real estate companies across the industry to examine their racial and gender makeup. Several firms have put in place new goals and targets to push forward with diversity, though not everyone believes that publicly setting hiring goals is the best approach.

Drew, for his part, said he doesn't believe in quotas as a way of increasing the number of people of color and women in the industry.

“I would rather have one person that's the right person that gets into leadership [rather] than hiring 10, 15 or 20 individuals, all of which are out of our firm or out of the industry in two years, just to say that we've met a quota or a certain numerical threshold,” he said. “The numbers are important, but being able to articulate what true change looks like over a sustained period of time is a little bit more important.”

Under its college loan repayment program — which was put into place earlier this year but only publicly announced this week — JLL will provide all new analyst hires in the capital markets team as much as $5K each year toward student loan support. Those accessing the program will be able to use a maximum of $15K toward student debt over their lifetimes.

Meanwhile, racially diverse people and women who are entry-level sales professionals will now be able to access higher draws at the firm as a result of a new $4M fund. A draw is an advance against future commissions. That program is being run alongside mentoring programs in the tenant representation, capital markets and agency leasing businesses.

“The $4M that has been set up has been set up to fund a higher-level compensation for entry-level sales professionals,” a JLL spokesperson said.

Specifically, the idea is that they will have a higher draw, giving those employees extra support and time to ramp up commission-based work.

Still, brokers' reliance on commission-based work, as well as the fact people need to spend several years building up a book of business and leveraging relationships, has long been considered an obstacle to women and people of color. Commission work has also emerged as one of the leading causes of gender pay inequality, Bisnow has previously reported.

Similarly, many minority real estate professionals have said the commission pay structure can put them off the industry.

“Coming into the industry as a first-generation college student, your appetite for risk is extremely low due to a lack of generational wealth,” JLL Senior Analyst Kenneth Gilkes told Bisnow earlier this year, adding that he decided to become an analyst with a salary instead of a broker to avoid the risk of commission-only work.

“The goal is to find a job with a good salary and benefits.”

JLL has also created a new fellowship program with the HBCU Business Deans Roundtable in order to increase awareness of the commercial real estate industry and career opportunities at JLL. The deans of schools will personally recommend students to JLL, rather than JLL relying on the typical methods like GPA rankings.

JLL has also donated $150K to Project Destined so far and formed a partnership with the program.

“The past year has created an urgency for actionable workplace change that addresses racial inequity and breaks down systemic barriers to entry for all candidates," JLL Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion Ingrid Jacobs said in a statement. "We believe our holistic approach to diversifying our talent pool will be a catalyst for lasting, transformative industry change."