Diversity in Commercial Real Estate—from the Perspective of Executives Who Are Women and People of Color

November 02, 2021

By Michael Morris

Overview

The lack of workforce diversity is a critical issue facing the commercial real estate industry. A recent Bella Research Group and Knight Foundation study found that more than 75% of senior executive jobs in the U.S. commercial real estate industry were held by White men; 14.1% by White women; 1.3% by Black men; and less than 1% by non-White women.

On October 20, EisnerAmper, Mosser, and StepStone Group brought together a diverse panel of executives in the real estate investment space for Part II of our three-part DEI in CRE webinar series, to share personal insights on navigating their career paths, what they’ve learned along the way, and how they are reimagining the future. Our own Lisa Knee, a Partner and Leader of our Real Estate Practice, moderated, and panelists included:

  • Jennifer Jones, Executive Director & Portfolio Manager of UBS
  • Margaret McKnight, Partner of StepStone Group
  • Neveo Mosser, Chairman of Mosser Companies
  • Jesse Tejeda, Vice President of Acquisitions & Development of Lowe

Watch the on-demand recording of our DEI webinar series, Part I: “Equity and Affordable Housing from Coast to Coast ."

Insights from the Top

Lisa invited each panelist to share meaningful moments that helped capture his or her story. A few themes that stood out are included below:

Give back to the community.

Neveo’s father, who was also the founder of Mosser, taught Neveo many things; one philosophy that stood out was the importance of investing in the community. In fact, every real estate investment needed to help the community better itself. Neveo called it the “Mosser Magic.” That magic continues today. 

Be mentored—and be a mentor.

Margaret encountered challenges during her early career on Wall Street which was dominated by White men. Mentorship from both men and the few senior women was very important to her early on in her career. Building supportive networks and alliances has been a career-long success driver. 

Jennifer cut her teeth at small entrepreneurial shops until she moved to the U.S. She started at GE before taking a job at UBS 15 years ago. Mentors were key for her; her first boss was a person of color and shared the challenges he faced. Her next mentor was a senior advisor to an investment group who was influential to her success.

Nurture your network.

Jesse has made it a priority to nurture his network and grow his new and existing relationships. His philosophy to “give back what he received” and always try to help others has been a key factor in his success. He said that someone gave him a chance, so he always tries to help others in the same way!

DEI

The panel was unanimous that having a strategy focused on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) within the organization was key.

Recruiting from different colleges.

Margaret’s firm is committed to diversity. For example, she shared that StepStone Group is recruiting at non-traditional colleges with a focus on women and minorities. To help improve retention and the transition back when someone goes on parental leave, the firm also sets up a coaching session before, during and after.

Hiring diverse employees.

Neveo shared that the majority of Mosser professionals are either people of color or women. The company started “DEI” at Mosser before it was formally called DEI.

Educating employees.

Jennifer was initially the only female in leadership within her division when she started 15 years ago; that culture has dramatically changed. Now her company is educating employees on DEI, starting with self-awareness. Creating opportunities for students.

Jesse visits at-risk high schools and shares knowledge about the commercial real estate industry. He invites students to attend career days to learn more about acquisition, asset management and investments, and offers to connect students. Jesse believes bringing underrepresented minority and women professionals into the organization at the junior level is key for the transformation of the industry.

Transformation will take time; however, as Lisa acknowledged, DEI is a movement—not a moment.  

Looking Ahead

DEI, along with environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG), is becoming a requirement  for limited partner (LP) investors. Margret shared that her firm ($100B AUM) asks to see the DEI plan when doing due diligence on investment groups. If a real estate group does not have a DEI/ESG plan in place, the money might be invested elsewhere. This timely conversation around workforce diversity explored the consequences of the choices made today, and the opportunities available to impact the future of the industry. The entire panel was hopeful that a new day has dawned, and that DEI is alive and well.

Register here for Part III of our DEI webinar series: “Inclusion & Innovation: Changing the CRE Landscape."

About Michael Morris

Mr. Morris is a Director of Business Development, specializing in accounting, tax, and consulting services across a broad range of industries including financial services, real estate, and family offices.