Increasing diversity in the commercial real estate industry

Paths for Putting Diversity into Action, Part 2

A session at NAIOP’s Chapter Leadership and Legislative Retreat, “Advancing Diversity from Intention to Impact,” showed how programs initiated at four NAIOP chapters are generating measurable outcomes. The first post in this series examined efforts from NAIOP Greater Philadelphia. Today’s post looks at programs and initiatives implemented by NAIOP Massachusetts, NAIOP Northern Ohio and NAIOP San Francisco Bay Area.

NAIOP Massachusetts

Like NAIOP Greater Philadelphia, NAIOP Massachusetts uses partnerships to create diversity programs. For example, it participates in a 12-day, in-residence commercial real estate program at MIT’s campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Students do site tours and then present a development idea to a group of judges.

The program is a collaborative effort between NAIOP, the MIT Center for Real Estate, NEXUS Summer Programs and the Real Estate Executive Council (REEC), a national group that promotes the interests of minority executives in commercial real estate.

“Last year we had 30 students,” said Taylor Pederson, director of programs and education with NAIOP Massachusetts. “It really had an impact on them. When it was over, there were a lot of teary-eyed 16-year-olds. You don’t see a lot of 16-year-olds crying over work-related things.”

NAIOP Massachusetts also participates in the Commercial Real Estate Success Training (CREST) program. Launched in 2017, it places minority and female students into summer internships with local affiliates of NAIOP Massachusetts, as well as with affiliates of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and the Commercial Brokers Association (CBA).

“This has led to 18 direct hires to the industry,” said Pederson.

And in May 2019, NAIOP Massachusetts collaborated with CREW, ULI and other groups for a one-day summit on equity, diversity and inclusion. The event sold out in two weeks, and more than 200 people participated.

Despite these noteworthy successes, Pederson said buy-in remains a challenge.

“Everyone knows there’s work to be done, but getting the financial commitment has been hard,” she said.

For example, the CREST internship program costs firms between $3,000 and $5,000 to participate. Companies also must pay $12-$15 an hour to the student interns for their work.

“We almost dropped the program two years ago because the board was frustrated with costs,” she said.

While companies might fret about expenses, Pederson believes they should view those costs as investments.

“There are a lot of articles about the financial benefits to diversity,” she said. “If you’re a multinational company and you’re using a recruitment firm, ask that firm to bring you one diverse candidate. If you’re not doing at least that at this point, you’ve missed the boat.”

NAIOP Northern Ohio

Amber Koriath, the senior manager for business development and retention at Greater Cleveland Partnership, has been active in the NAIOP Northern Ohio chapter for a while. However, she noticed that it didn’t have a women’s group, so she helped start one called the Women’s Leadership Network.

“We noticed that NAIOP Massachusetts had a similar program comprised of board members,” she said. “In our chapter, we decided to set up something similar and make it open to all members and even non-members. We’ve had great support. It was a pretty easy sell.”

The goals of the Women’s Leadership Network are to have a female speaker and/or moderator at every NAIOP event; to increase female membership to 50 members by the end of 2020; to provide networking and mentorship opportunities; and to deliver unique programming that will gain attention from non-members.

While the NAIOP Northern Ohio Women’s Leadership Network only launched in late 2019, Koriath said things are going well so far.

“Our program is very new,” she said. “There’s not too many challenges I could speak of. We want to make it unique and attractive.”

One way they’re doing that is through surveys to gauge what programming would appeal to members.

“We did a survey, and lot of people wanted to hear from female small business owners in the Cleveland area,” Koriath said. “They also want to hear from more C-suite female executives.”

NAIOP San Francisco Bay Area

Dave Karol, principal with Ridge Capital Investors and president of NAIOP San Francisco Bay Area, said his chapter is not as mature in its diversity programming as other chapters.

“In 2017, we created a task force to look into what we should be doing and what changes we should make,” he said.

That led to the formation of the I.D.E.A. committee, which stands for Inclusion, Diversity, Equality and Accountability.

NAIOP San Francisco Bay held some diversity roundtables to see what members and companies would like to see, as well as some workshops on unconscious bias. (The latter led to a podcast that premiered in July 2019.) It also launched the Diversity Champion award in 2019. Prologis was the first winner.

“We put it in the strategic plan for 2019-2021 to incorporate diversity in all our events,” Karol said. “There is some point of contact about how diversity is being included in all chapter events.”

Karol said NAIOP San Francisco Bay Area wants its diversity efforts to have impacts beyond the local chapter. And like other participants on the panel, Karol urged NAIOP chapters to reach out and collaborate on diversity efforts with other real estate associations and organizations.

“It’s about trying to create real change in the industry to make the industry more representative,” he said.

NAIOP is one of 29 real estate-related organizations that participates in Careers Building Communities, a strategic collaboration focused on raising awareness and attracting diverse talent to the many careers available across the built environment. is a platform designed for students, educators and other individuals to explore each industry sector and learn more about education and employment opportunities.

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