On August 8, 2020, we hosted our bi-monthly Real Estate Leadership Group (RELG) conference. We always strive to make the meetings informational and relevant to what is going on in the world of real estate, mobility, and technology, but this particular meeting was a vitally important and unique conversation. We focused on women and diversity in the real estate and technology industries. Our group regularly hosts some of the top women in the aforementioned industries, thus having them share their views along with additional special guests made for a very relevant, eye-opening discussion.
Clare De Briere of Skanska, our moderator for the conference, quickly pointed out that women outpace men when it comes to earning degrees. However, of those that hold senior leadership positions in real estate, women only make up 27%, while African Americans make up less than 2%. These are sobering facts that make diversity discussions so important.
Following the introduction from De Briere, we heard from Sherri Franklin of the Urban Design Center. She shared her calling to work in her community, for her community. Franklin’s first community project took a leap of faith. In her first meeting, collaborating with members of Concerned Citizens, she found herself immediately fighting through negotiations – and walked out with $3M for their project to build affordable housing. Not only was this project monumental for Franklin professionally, but personally as well. As a child, Franklin played in the lot that would soon become her first affordable housing project – years ago, she frequently wondered why it remained abandoned, and if anyone would revamp the land. Through Franklin’s stories of her career, her message became loud and clear: get involved in your community and create partnerships to make communities inclusive and innovative.
Next, we heard from RELG alum, Sara Neff from Kilroy Realty. Neff discussed how the lack of diversity in the real estate industry is perpetuating a negative financial impact. In recent years, many industries have welcomed ESG-focused impact investing within their strategies, however, real estate has failed to follow suit. The industry lacks diverse organizations necessary to push for formal diversity plans. Neff recommends that, in addition to the implementation of formal diversity programs, that this effort expand beyond the Human Resources Department. The buy-in needs to be actively and voluntarily accepted at every level within a company. Volunteer programs work best, as people are more invested in causes they choose to be a part of, rather than those required. Overall, diverse companies are more equitable, see higher returns, lower bankruptcies, and have higher employee engagement.
The last two speakers of the conference focused on mentorships, and how they can promote talent within an organization. Leona Holley-Medley from Bedrock Detroit spoke on a company’s ability to structure a successful mentorship program. First and foremost, there needs to be allyship offered from white male leadership. Programs need to be designed to allow employees, especially women and people of color, to have full access for mentorship opportunities – this includes high-level executives. Again, making programs mandatory won’t create the same success; having programs where executives are willing to participate will help normalize and formalize the program.
Holley-Medley also recommends that mentorship programs be multidirectional, citing the necessity for connections across generations. As mentorships are integrated into company culture, training programs should follow; additional support will allow for mentors to properly and effectively engage with mentees. With this implementation, mentors can better create the inclusive environment necessary in diverse mentorships. Effective mentorships will allow both the mentor and mentee to prosper and grow.
Following Holley-Medley, Sarah Hahn from Bosch gave insight on her experience as a mentee, and how it has provided support in her career. She discussed how mentorships have been a great tool for her to welcome necessary feedback and success. She encourages anyone who has the opportunity to join a mentorship program to do so, even if they are hesitant, as it provides a platform to express new ideas and opinions.
To round out the impressive list of speakers, we heard from Joanakarla Lopez of Lyft. Lopez discussed various programs that can be easily implemented to promote diversity from within. For example, Lyft has a diversity team that holds meetings and presentations for employees. They also offer an employee resource group that brings people from different backgrounds together, so they can network and participate in mentorship programs.
Following our most recent Real Estate Leadership Group meeting, we have decided to share select presentation from each conference; if you are interested in receiving these presentations, please reach out to us. Our hope with sharing the valuable information and advice provided by our speakers is to encourage companies to look within and see what they can do to help promote an inclusive environment for all employees. We hope that with these meetings, we have sparked a continued conversation that will lead you to act. As our moderator, De Briere, ended the call: TAKE ACTION!
We had two more presentations on diversity at our following meeting that was held on August 28, 2020. We will post information in a follow-up post.
By: Alison Karamon and Annie Ullrich