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3 Steps To Developing Diversity In The World Of Real Estate

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Participants in the NYC-based Real Estate Associate Program's class of 2016.

Diversity and inclusion in the commercial real estate (CRE) industry – along with most other leading industries in America – have seemed to move at a snail’s pace. During my 25 years in the industry, I’ve seen firsthand that firms simply aren’t doing enough to recruit diverse candidates.

For a nation that prides itself on inclusion and tolerance in and out of the workplace, ethnic diversity among CRE companies is astoundingly low. White men hold 77.6 percent of CRE senior executive positions, according to the 2013 Commercial Real Estate Diversity Report. Hispanic men hold 2.9 percent of the estimated 13,773 senior-level jobs. For Black males, that number drops to 1.3 percent, or just 178 jobs. There is a clear need for firms to invest in effective diversity recruitment.

Recruiting diverse candidates is not a zero-sum game. While we have long accepted that diversity is prudent when it comes to managing financial assets, CRE organizations are failing to apply that same philosophy to their human capital. Professional ranks of developers and brokerage companies should include the “growth stocks” of the future – talent with diverse skill sets and perspectives that can reap future dividends.

So what are we doing to address this? Nearly 20 years ago, a visionary former corporate real estate executive, Mike Bush, noticed that developers consistently failed to hire candidates from minority groups. When he challenged them on that failing, he heard the typical response: “We would be glad to hire minorities if we could just find qualified individuals.”

While other industry leaders pointed to a pipeline problem, Mike got to work. He founded a professional development initiative called REAP (Real Estate Associate Program) that would bridge the gap between talented minority professionals and CRE companies, providing educational and networking opportunities in the form of a 10-week bootcamp-style program in eight major U.S. cities.

REAP recently completed another successful year of classes in Atlanta and New York City. I was honored to speak at the graduation ceremony for the 2016 NYC program. The experience inspired me to take a step further in encouraging CRE professionals to take actionable steps to diversify our workforce. Here are three strategies I recommend we all take back to our organizations.

1. Think “portfolio management,” not “political correctness.”

These two terms evoke entirely different reactions in the corporate community. This brings us back to the diversity paradox in business: Diversifying financial capital is an imperative, while diversifying our human capital is an afterthought. This thinking suggests that recruiting diverse candidates is somehow an exercise in political correctness. We must challenge that mindset by making sure hiring managers understand the financial returns of differing perspectives and skill-sets that diverse candidates bring to our business.

2. Leverage technology to recruit.

I found my first job in commercial real estate because I went to a university where the company was recruiting on campus. But the reality is that on-campus recruiters are missing out on talented individuals by relying too heavily on candidate pipelines from too few schools. CRE organizations can cast a much wider and higher-value net— and do so more efficiently— if they use online recruiting tools to reach a more diverse talent pool.

3. Diversify the real estate supply chain.

Nearly every Fortune 500, mega retailer, major healthcare organization, and university has a commercial real estate supply chain. That supply chain becomes most visible when one of those organizations decides to lease, buy, sell, or develop commercial space and other properties used to support their operations. Beyond investing in diversifying our immediate teams, HR professionals and CRE leaders should be encouraging the developers and brokers that solicit them to do the same.

I hope I’ll continue to see enlightened CRE executives reject the timeworn cliché that there’s no pipeline of diverse candidates. Programs like REAP reinforce the reality that great candidates are out there, and it’s an exciting time for CRE organizations to connect with them. Only then will we all be able to realize our full potential.

Images courtesy of Project REAP

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