Retail real estate needs more Black leaders, and it’s up to existing executives to seek out and nurture that new talent if they want to successfully adapt to a fast-changing economy and industry, panelists said during an ICSC Race, Equity and Inclusion Forum yesterday on LinkedIn Live.
Black people represent approximately 2 percent of the executive leadership teams and boards at the 34 U.S. publicly traded REITs, said Raider Hill Advisors vice president of property management Joshua Bruff. For comparison, Black people made up 12.6 percent of the U.S. population in 2016, according to the Census Bureau. “In my 15 years in the industry, I have met one Black executive working for a public company,” he said.
The C-suites of commercial real estate organizations need to consider diversity as a value proposition, said GL Blackstone Associates principal G. Lamont Blackstone. “They need to see diversity as a valuable resource that can enhance performance. Do commercial real estate organizations truly value diversity and recognize the role it has in terms in improving performance? If they do then they can start at the very top, incorporating diversity into the board of directors and the C-suite.”
Black employees need mentors and leaders that value diversity to be successful, especially in an industry that values risk taking and entrepreneurial spirit, Bruff said. “Oftentimes when I was coming up through the real estate industry, I was told not to push back against my superiors. ‘Don’t be aggressive. Don’t be demanding.’"
“In my 15 years in the industry, I have met one Black executive working for a public company”
As a result of being silenced, Bruff lacked confidence for many years. "I couldn’t help but feel that it was due to my color, due to my background and due to the fact that I didn’t look like a lot of my counterparts and my superiors," he said. "Even when promoted, I felt like an imposter because the years leading up to it, I was never given the confidence to fully lead and be fully direct even though I was managing high-level assets.”
Bruff said he was lucky to find a network of high-powered mentors and sponsors to help him succeed. “You have to have allyship at the top because you’re going to have middle managers and others who see you as the diversity hire. It has to be the people that make the decisions that are really going to make tangible ways to improve our opportunity within the industry.”
Blackstone advised Black professionals seeking Black mentors and sponsors to join Project REAP, a nonprofit that connects minority professionals with commercial real estate firms seeking talent.
“When we’re experiencing the most disruption that this industry has had in 50 years, it’s essential that we have top decision-making teams that are not homogenous in terms of looking at the world through the same model,” he said. “A lack of diversity is tantamount to driving down the highway in heavy traffic exclusively looking in the rearview mirror.”
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By Brannon Boswell