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DEI real estate efforts ramp up, but more remains to be done – NJBIZ | Casual Expat

The concept of diversity, equity and inclusion dates back to the 1960s. As times have changed, what it represents has also shifted. But our current understanding of DEI has been in the lexicon for a while. Perhaps a point made clear by the fact that, according to The Global Real Estate DEI Survey 2021, 92% of commercial real estate companies worldwide have a diversity, equity and inclusion program or initiative. Outside of the companies themselves, professional associations and organizations are also working to initiate DEI efforts for their members and the wider industry.

And while not every course is the same — for example, 47% of GRE survey respondents said their company has a formal DEI program, while 45% said they have “some DEI initiatives and/or policies to improve Implement DEI” – the goals are shared in kind. “Speaking of diversity [in the industry] and how we can make things better for everyone and why diversity matters — not just because it’s a good thing, but good for business,” said Kristine Hurlbut, co-chair of the CoreNet New Jersey Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee. “It brings new perspectives and new innovations by being able to bring in these different people from different backgrounds who have different ideas and different initiatives.”

A key part of bringing in these new people is finding new people. But it’s also important to think about creating new scenarios. As Hurlbut pointed out, “Commercial real estate is all about relationships and networks.” In fact, that’s how she met Co-Chair Elizabeth Geary-Archer of FCA Architects. “So who would have thought that just going and talking to this person at a NAIOP event would become this opportunity for me?”

CoreNet New Jersey’s DEI committee was formed about nine months ago, according to Hurlbut, who is also senior vice president of leasing at Red Bank-based Denholtz Properties. “[W]We’re trying to do a good job, trying to change the industry, but it’s difficult, you know, progress is slow,” she told NJBIZ.

Mara Winokur, executive director of the Urban Land Institute Northern New Jersey, made a similar statement. “DEI initiatives are a type of work that really takes a long time and is partly organic and partly blood, sweat and tears – to be honest. You don’t always see the results up front and it’s hard to measure where we are.”

The 2021 Global Real Estate DEI Survey put the split between men and women working in the industry in North America at 59% and 41%, respectively. – PIXABAY

The Urban Land Institute of Northern New Jersey’s Women’s Leadership Initiative was launched four years ago, and Winokur said the group — led by co-chairs Stephanie Turkot, associate project manager at GZA, and Amanda Forsburg, senior project scientist at Langan — since then has grown exponentially. As a member of the group, it’s not just about leading the DEI effort, but, as Winokur pointed out, “it’s really a great place to engage with women in the CRE field.” ULI NNJ currently has about 380 members , of which 26.7% are women, which is below the global average, according to Winokur.

The GRE study put the split between men and women working in industry in North America at 59% and 41%, respectively. That figure represents an increase from CREW Network’s 2020 Benchmark Study Report, which found that women occupied nearly 37% of the industry — a percentage that hadn’t changed significantly in 15 years at this point.

Gender diversity shift aside, the GRE study found that 7 in 10, or 69%, of North America’s workforce are white, with Asian, Hispanic or Hispanic, and black or African-American professionals combined making up 26%.

“A lot of times you walk into a CRE event and it’s mostly men, and when you’re a woman and you don’t know the people, it can be very intimidating,” Winokur said. “So we’re trying to bridge that gap and serve as ambassadors and leaders for other women who want to make those connections and amplify the voices of women in real estate who can serve as role models for other women, particularly and other minority groups who do.” …are part of this diversity equity and inclusion initiative that we’ve really brought forth over the last few years.”

One of the ways CoreNet’s DEI committee is trying to promote a sense of inclusivity is by trying to work with other groups within the organization — like the Asia Pacific and Hispanic committees — to create networking opportunities. Additionally, Hurlbut said they will be collaborating with CREW — she and Geary-Archer are both members — on some joint events in 2023.

“[I]It’s important to try to build those relationships even if they’re not necessarily organic,” Hurlbut said. “So that’s what we’re trying to do – that’s what we’ve had talks about specifically. So make sure we include people as you network.”

One of the barriers to cultivating these connections is the intergenerational nature of CRE. Cushman & Wakefield had initiatives that predated its formal DEI program but were not introduced until 2020. The company has 40% women in its global workforce. Additionally, 42% of hiring managers and new hires, 22% of executives, and approximately 40% of board members are from diverse backgrounds. And for New Jersey Executive Managing Director Peter Bronsnick, DEI has been a priority for him from the start

“There is no recipe for success or how to enter our industry. It’s a little bit ‘Wild West,'” he said, adding that other careers — like being a lawyer, a medical doctor, or even an investment banker — offer specific, structured paths by comparison. And DEI is actively striving to capitalize on this new perspective by crossing those generational lines and introducing more young people into the industry. CoreNet reaches out to high school and college students “to let them know commercial real estate exists,” Hurlbut said — and to let them know it offers multiple pursuits. As part of this effort, dubbed the Lunch Break, students from Red Bank Regional High School visited the Denholtz office.

“If you don’t get introduced, if you don’t learn it in college — I didn’t know what commercial real estate was when I was in high school. So given the opportunity to understand: this is commercial real estate, this is what we do. We own buildings, there are engineers, there are architects – commercial real estate has so many different career paths.”

“Everybody is Responsibility’

Panel “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion in the Workplace”.

Experts convened by NJBIZ offered advice on how companies of all sizes can promote diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. Read more or watch the discussion here.

ULI NNJ also seeks to reach out to youth and create opportunities for diversity within the industry. The group’s Urban Plan program is run at both the high school and college levels and allows students to create a fictional RFP for supplemental development and even create different scenarios using Legos. “And it’s tied to a pro forma,” Winokur said. So, in addition to introducing real-life implications for students and teaching leadership skills, it also offers insight into an industry that mostly seems vague to younger people. “And we’re trying to do that in schools too, where there’s a lot of diversity,” she added. “We’re trying to reach out to these young people and somehow let them know that these are professions that exist in the CRE field.”

Brosnick said Cushman & Wakefield also works with universities. “[T]his business takes a lot of ramp-up time, no matter what path you choose to take, and there’s generally no one really great playbook,” he said. These efforts are taking place across the global real estate enterprise; In New Jersey, Brosnick said he and his colleagues have been in talks with Monmouth and Rutgers Universities, both of which have real estate programs.

Outside of schools, Brosnick said his office has partnered with Newark All Stars. Recently, two interns from the program worked in the office last summer.

Visibility is also crucial. Overall, CoreNet NJ has between 200 and 250 members, Hurlbut said, and the DEI board is mostly women.

The GRE study found that 52% of all young full-time workers in North America were women. But the gender gap widens the higher you look: women make up just 21% of board positions. The numbers are roughly the same for executive (20%) and senior management (29%) positions, leaving plenty of room for improvement.

“I think it is very important that we are role models and mentors. And we currently have a number of initiatives on the drawing board for mentoring programs, internship programs and grants for members of the DEI community to try and expand that pipeline of people coming into the industry and give them access,” said Winokur .

According to the CREW report, only 56% of respondents said they had had access to a mentor or sponsor in the past two years. For people of color, the figure was significantly lower at 21%.

“I feel like our committee is building leaders themselves just by getting involved [group]’ Turkot said. On the board itself and on various subcommittees, members build social skills, exchange contacts and learn about different companies and different aspects of the industry, she added. The work builds leadership and relationships. This is promoted through ULI NNJ’s monthly CONNECT.RELATE.EDUCATE events, started by the Women’s Leadership Initiative.

“The Connect Relate Educate events really give us an opportunity to learn about each other’s work and so you keep bringing people around the table and bringing more women around the table – by knowing what they’re doing for you opportunities to share,” Forsburg said.

The CREW report found that most people – 67% – believe their company has adapted to the changing needs of the workforce. Even with this statistical advance, it will take intent and time for these types of gatherings to reflect these changes, but that’s no reason to see the glass half full.

“I think everyone has been doing a really good job of incorporating that as a priority for themselves for quite some time and you see it in the industry. There are things that happen openly – even some of the things that happen unofficially in less programmatic ways – it’s been good just raising awareness in the industry in general,” Brosnick said.

Updated: September 19, 2022 — 5:38 pm

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