CRE Must Do More to Ensure Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Now Is the Time to Listen, Learn – and Act

The below op-ed was originally published in Banker and Tradesman on June 28, 2020

Now is a pivotal moment in history where society’s attention is finally focused on what we have collectively ignored for far too long – hundreds of years of brutality, racism and inequity throughout the United States of America. While COVID-19 has pushed us into unusual and unprecedented times, the systemic issues being protested were with us long before the pandemic.  

As an industry, commercial real estate is predominantly white and male. While steps have been made in recent years to begin to address this, more must be done. The collective voice of our industry is strong – and must be used to amplify voices that are not heard. It is incumbent upon industry leaders to bring attention to these injustices and to commit to real change for this critical sector of the economy.  

NAIOP Massachusetts, The Commercial Real Estate Development Association, applauds the peaceful protests that have occurred around the country and here in the commonwealth. Diversity, equity and inclusion are a priority for our organization and our leadership, but we recognize that we can and will do more to advance change across the industry.  

Small incremental change is no longer enough. Real change will happen when all companies – and senior leadership – commit to creating a more diverse and inclusive industry. It will not happen overnight, but the industry must be unified in making diversity, equity and inclusion a priority. 

What Must Be Done 

NAIOP urges the professionals and companies in the commercial real estate industry to start with the following action steps. 

Listen and learn. Business leaders like to think they have all the answers. However, now is a time to listen, learn and acknowledge how deeply embedded racism is in the United States. This does not mean asking the Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) in your company for their advice – seek out professionals who specialize in this space and commit to being an active part of any company dialogue. Internalize what you learn and address it in your professional and personal interactions. 

Engage leadership. Change must come from the top. While human resources professionals are an important piece of this work, hiring BIPOC is just one piece of the puzzle. In order for the industry to diversify itself from entry-level positions to the C-suite, and change the culture, company leadership must be at the table, advocating for BIPOC employee success and committing to long term change. 

Support MWBE businesses and the organizations that empower them. After too many years of hearing that there were no people of color in commercial real estate, Dave Madan created the Builders of Color Coalition (BCC). It convenes minority real estate professionals in Greater Boston’s building sector to leverage access to development projects. Its 500 members include developers, investors, architects, attorneys, bankers, contractors and brokers working across a wide range of firms, from family-owned enterprises to multinational companies. The Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, also known as BECMA, led by Segun Idowu works to advance the economic well-being of Black businesses, organizations that serve the Black community and Black residents of Massachusetts. These organizations are critical to the success of businesses of color and will help the commercial real estate industry to create more diverse teams.  

These are just two examples of organizations that are working to address serious inequities in companies across Massachusetts. Seek out organizations, community groups and change-makers who have been working in this space for years and invite them to the table as you begin these conversations.  

Hold Yourself Accountable 

Create a career pathway for diverse talent. Talent recruitment programs designed to introduce high school and college students of color to commercial real estate are essential. The Commercial Real Estate Success Training (CREST) Program is a comprehensive initiative to support commercial real estate companies in their commitment to attract underrepresented college students of color and women to the industry through summer internships. The program, now in its fourth year, has placed close to one hundred students in internships and led to career placements in the industry.  

With broader industry support, more students can be placed in these internships. NAIOP is encouraging its members to support CREST by hosting an intern or committing to a financial contribution that will allow the program to expand. The Real Estate Exchange (REEX) Summer Program, sponsored by REEC, is a unique 10-day, academic-intensive experience for high school students created to expose teens of color to top-tier universities and career opportunities in business, entrepreneurship and commercial real estate. NAIOP is proud to support REEX and CREST and we will continue to urge members to seek out programs that target equity and inclusion and implement them. 

Be accountable. You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Create diversity metrics, set hiring goals and update them regularly. While numbers are important, they do not matter if the culture is not inclusive and supportive. Make both a priority – and hold yourself accountable for their success. 

This is by no means a comprehensive list of action items for the industry. These are simply near-term steps that should be the minimum requirement for all commercial real estate firms. In the coming months, NAIOP will be working with a subcommittee of its board of directors and a coalition of real estate trade groups to identify and advance further opportunities for change. We do not have all the answers, but we are committed to learning, listening and acting to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive industry. 

Tamara Small is CEO and Reesa Fischer is executive director of NAIOP Massachusetts – The Commercial Real Estate Development Association. 

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