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On-Demand | Diversity at the Top

Oct 20, 2021

In Part II of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Commercial Real Estate Webinar Series, we discussed how the lack of workforce diversity is a critical issue facing the commercial real estate industry.


Lisa Knee:Hello, everyone. Thank you, Bella, and our entire marketing team for helping put together today's series and events. My name is Lisa Knee, and I'm a tax partner and I'm the chair of EisnerAmper's Real Estate Services Group.

Lisa Knee:We're happy to welcome you to part two of our very impactful series, DEI in Commercial Real Estate. We also want to thank our friends at Mosser and StepStone Group for co-sponsoring today's event and the entire series.

So today's session highlights a very important topic, one near and dear to my heart, diversity at the top. This timely conversation around workforce diversity, especially in the real estate industry, will explore the consequences of the choices that we, as a whole, make today, and the opportunities that we provide for the future.

So with that, I'm thrilled to be here and moderate this panel of diverse executives in the real estate investment space. Not only will they share their personal insights around navigating their career path, but what they've learned along the way, and how together we can all impact navigating the future of this industry. So I'm going to take a brief moment and allow each of the panelists to introduce themselves. Jennifer, why don't we start with you?

Jennifer Jones:Hi, thanks Lisa. Thanks for having me. My name's Jennifer Jones. I work at UBS Real Estate and Private Markets, in the Multi-Manager Real Estate group. I'm the senior portfolio manager of US Graphs, which is our global core plus fund available to US investors. And I lead the non-funded investments group globally for multi-managers.

Lisa Knee:Terrific. Jesse?

Jesse Tejeda:Good morning, everybody. Thanks for having me here today. I'm Jesse Tejeda. I'm with Lowe Real Estate Group. I lead acquisitions and development in the Bay Area and the Pacific Northwest, and focus on multifamily, mixed use, large projects. I've been with Lowe for about four years, and involved in business development, originations, asset management, et cetera. So happy to be here this morning.

Lisa Knee:Great. And Margaret?

Margaret McKnight:Hi, my name is Margaret McKnight. I am with StepStone Real Estate. StepStone focuses on private markets, and our real estate group includes one of the largest advisory practices in the business with over a 100 billion in assets under advisement, as well as a very active secondary and co-investment business investing alongside of top GPs.

Lisa Knee:Terrific. Neveo?

Neveo Mosser:Thank you for having us today. Neveo Mosser, Chief Executive Officer with the Mosser Companies. I've spent the past two decades building a game changing real estate investment and property management firm that's thriving in one of America's most competitive markets. I'm also the co-founder and chairman of our company's private equity business, Mosser Capital, which manages over one point five billion dollars in assets, in some of California's and most sought after cities, being San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles. I'd say Mosser's real estate portfolio includes more than 100 commercial and ground floor retail spaces, and 3500 multi-family units.

Lisa Knee:Terrific. Neveo, we're going to start with you. We know you as a leader in the San Francisco business community, but how did you really find your path in the real estate industry? And how you were supported along the way? And I know, especially, for me in my career, mentorship was a big part. So did you have mentor? And what was the impact of that relationship?

Neveo Mosser:Great question. Our business was founded in 1955 by my father. And I would say that he was definitely my mentor, not only in business, but in many aspects of my life. We've been in the real estate business in San Francisco, at least since 1955, I've been in it for about 38 years. My father was white. I was adopted, I'm African American, but our family has always been a mixed, a very multicultural, multiethnic family. And for us, seeing how we were trying to be, or always maintaining that we were stewards in the communities that we operate, which has allowed us to create a lot of credibility for ourselves.

We've been transforming neighborhoods and properties since the very beginning. I think, in the 1970s, my father invested in a full block within the Western Addition in San Francisco, with over 117 apartments. At that time, the neighborhood was pretty rough, definitely very, very rough. But we came in, and we put in a lot of capital, a lot of hard work, changing the physical aspects of the building, making improvements, making life better, not only for our existing tenants, but also for the tenants that were now wanting to come and move into that neighborhood. He called it the Mosser Magic, because every neighborhood we invested, we strive to improve by infusing capital into the neighborhoods, which don't normally attract outside capital, and/or have a tremendous amount of passive or non-active owners.

I think one of the most important things he, not only taught me, but taught my children and I teach my kids the same thing, is told us of the idea of benevolent capitalism. Because when a business operates consciously, they can be the architect for change or catalyst for making the environment a better place and contribute to the greater good for the entire community. Our goal is, again, to be good community stewards, lead by example, and partner with our community members to make it better than when we found them.

Lisa Knee:So, I was going to ask you your secret sauce, but now we know it's the Mosser Magic, is your secret sauce.

Neveo Mosser:The Mosser Magic, yes, that's correct. I would say, we transformed that block, and we renamed it Frederick Douglass Plaza, at the time, which was in the '70s. But, unfortunately, I think people drive by there now, and they probably question, who is Frederick Douglass? Which is still society right now, but I think it was our moral responsibility as a multiethnic family to provide safe, clean, and affordable housing options for both our existing residents and future residents, as well as increasing the economic diversity of the neighborhood, but not getting into gentrification. I think we have assisted in the transformation of trouble housing and troubled neighborhoods in many California cities from the beginning, and continue to do that today.

In about 2011, we launched Mosser Capital, which is the investment arm of our business. This allows us to have even a greater impact on preserving more workforce housing and creating workforce housing opportunities in the communities we serve in California. We have a female CFO that's been with us quite a while, amongst many other female managers throughout our company, as well as a lot of African-American Latinx, and Asian members of our diverse workforce, which I believe now identifies at about 84% minority.

Lisa Knee:Amazing. So I just want to give a little bit of plug. We had a Breaking Ground podcast with you that's just been published, so it's really insightful. It's great. So we're going to get some more information from you, but for people who want to log into that or to listen to that podcast, I really encourage it. It's on our website, and I believe it's on yours as well. So definitely give that a high rating. Margaret, so would you be willing to share some stories about your experience?

And if there's any themes that best describe your journey to where you are today?

Margaret McKnight:Sure. And I guess the themes would be networks and allies. I started my career in the late '80s on Wall Street. It was a very, very different place than it is today. And so, all of this DEI activity, although we didn't call it that then, really does matter. And I'm probably more optimistic about the future of this kind of thing than I've ever been at any time in my career. I was at JP Morgan, which was not the place it is today. It was the old line business that was very white shoe. So I was lucky to have been spared, due to the culture there, a lot of the overt public verbal abuse that women dead experience in that time period in those offices. And there was a sprinkling of senior women there then, and they were very important to me as role models.

And I began building very strong networks among women that I have continued to do throughout my career. About eight years ago, I was able to get some information out on private transaction that we needed, and my boss looked at me, and he said, "Is there like an old women's network, like the old boys network?" And I was kind of like, "Well, actually, no, but yes." It's not there for the same reasons, but it is super helpful.

And then, when I got into some of the biggest challenges of my career was when I became a mother, and trying to navigate that in a way that mattered to me. And I left the firm when my son was a toddler, because my reporting lines changed, and I started reporting to a woman who had three kids and three nannies, and couldn't understand why I wanted to be working part-time.

And I moved over to another group, Metropolitan, and one of the founding partners, when I walked into the room for the interview, the very first time, he said, "I love having working mothers work here, because if you give them a little bit of flexibility, they will give you all the loyalty in the world." And I was like, "Where do I sign?" And I stayed with that group for about 15 years, and was able to reach the level of co-Chief Investment Officer. They supported me in that, and I worked probably 10 of those years, four days a week. So I am super grateful to them, and also very proud that there are a lot of different models of motherhood. I think that's not one that's as well supported as it should be, but I'm proud that I was able to advance my career, and also be the kind of mother that I want it to be.

Lisa Knee:So I don't know if you could tell from my facial expressions, but, yes, I understand I've lived through some of that. And so we called it our posse back then, right? Of the women that we could walk into a room with and feel good about ourselves. And always overcoming the comment, which I mentioned on our pre-call, was, someone once said to me, "You can't have it all." And I couldn't figure out why they could and I couldn't. And so, finding those people within the industry that are going to help you on your journey, achieve your goals is... And that's why we're here today to make sure that everyone can find those people. So, Jennifer, I'm not sure if you had some similarities between Margaret story and the themes as well.

Jennifer Jones:Yeah. I mean, it's interesting when you start talking to women, there's a lot of overlap. Many of us started in the career at a time where there was very few women in the industry. So when you found them, you latched onto them, and make friends, and they became very important in your life.

But we all started from different spots. I'm Canadian, I grew up in a small town in Canada, where both my parents worked in real estate. My mother was a residential broker. My father was a developer and ran a franchise for a residential brokerage shop. And so I grew up around it. I didn't really notice that there weren't a lot of women in it, and going to open houses and living on construction sites. It wasn't until I was an adult, and I started working out in the fields that my father actually came to me, and said, "You know, it might be a good idea for you to think about going into more sales or something else. The investment side is really hard for women."

And I remember saying, "Well, you've spent my entire life teaching me that I can do anything a man can do. Why are you telling me now that that was wrong?" And he said, "Well, because if you decided to try, if you're not confident, you don't feel comfortable trying, you have no chance of making that reality of success. So you have to believe it, it's not true, but we'll see how it goes for you." And so that was kind of a turning point for me. I felt like I'm either going to try this or not. And I know it's going to be a bit harder.

And along the way the network is absolutely what brings it in. This is a village we work in and you're going to have obstacles no matter what, everybody does. But having people to talk you through that and help you has been pivotal for me in my career development.

I started working in small entrepreneurial shops, then I launched a residential development company. It was very difficult to hire trades as a woman, particularly, in the fact that I was quite young then. Most of the people I was hiring were middle-aged men, and they didn't particularly appreciate working for a woman, at the time.

When I moved to the United States, I started working in institutional fields with groups like GE and UBS. And I built a career now, I've been with UBS for 15 years and I've had mentors along the way that had been extremely pivotal to my career. One of my first bosses was a minority and he would talk to me a lot, he's like, "People are going to look at you as being different." And his experiences were, obviously, very different from mine, but he would say, "Advocate for yourself." At the time, he's like, "If you don't advocate for yourself, no one else will."

And that was, at the time, very true. People would look the other way more so. And that's why, when Margaret said, she's more optimistic about the future now, I definitely agree with that. I think, now, people do advocate for each other. There's more people around with similar experiences to do so, and to speak up. It's very difficult, politically, to go to someone and say, "I really didn't like that you said this about me. It comes across hostile or confrontational, when someone else says, it's fine." And so having that cultural shift of what is and is not okay, is huge.

Another mentor that was huge for me was a woman. She was a head of investments of a group that we partnered with. I had never seen that before or met someone like that. And she would say, "You have to work harder, be better, and prove that you're good, and the village will always support you." And I think that's very, very true, even more so today, because once you start establishing a relationship with people in an industry as small as real estate is, there's so many people there to support you. And when I look forward, I think that's more and more important for success, and leaves a lot more optimism in my mind for where the industry is going.

Lisa Knee:Yeah, completely. I love the village tactic. Jesse, your journey, I'm not sure if there's some similarities with the rest of the team and then the rest of the group on there. But is there a theme that sticks out to you in your journey to the path where you are today?

Jesse Tejeda:Yeah, I mean, I think the network, as people have said, is super important. And I always say that we're in the relationship business. In real estate, it's all about relationships. And I think that that is what has gotten me to where I am today. So I really value and nurture, maintain, cultivate relationships. I still keep in touch with people I started working in the industry from 2003. I still have relationships from way back then. I still keep in touch with old bosses, with old coworkers, you never know where your next opportunity comes.

And you really try to, what someone always told me, "Don't just reach out to people when you need help, but try to help other people along the way, and it kind of pays tenfold." So I always, if someone's looking for a job, I try to help. If I can be a connector to somebody else, I try to help. And not always expecting something kind of in return.

I started in finance and real estate in 2003. I am almost 20 years in the business. And when I first started... It looks like my videos breaking them out, but can you guys hear me okay?

Lisa Knee:Yes.

Jesse Tejeda:Great. So when I first started, I was a little bit shy because I was this Hispanic kid trying to break in into a predominantly white male industry. And I go by Jesse, but my first name is Jose de Jesus. And when I was applying for jobs, I was a little bit nervous and shy, because I was meeting all these white males, and I didn't know if I was really connecting with them. I've always gone by Jesse, but I was trying to go with my legal name. I ended up changing my resume to Jesse Tejeda, just so it wasn't maybe screened from the very beginning.

Now I'm leading acquisition efforts for a 50 year old private real estate firm, which does large institutional projects. I'm still in a white male dominated industry, but I've made a lot of relationships. I feel like I've kind of immersed into the culture more and it's not easy, I understand, for a lot of minorities and women and underrepresented minorities to break into the industry.

So how did I get here? Persistence, hard work, networking relationships, helping others along the way, and honestly, I think, ultimately, people just need a break. I think I was lucky that I was given a chance by some people along the way and just... I don't know, sometimes it's luck, it's someone gave me an opportunity. You work hard, you prove yourself, and then they help you along the way. So networking, mentorship, and just taking advantage of opportunities when you get them.

And one quote that I always love is, is what they say is, and I can't remember where I heard this quote, "Talent is universal, but opportunity is not." And I think that that's true.

Lisa Knee:Amazing. Thank you. So I think we have a poll question right now. Thank you all for sharing your stories. Yeah, Bella, great, if you want to go ahead and read this poll.

Bella Brickle:Yes. This is poll number one. Does your company currently have formal DEI programs to make senior leadership more diverse?

Lisa Knee:So, as we know, part of the impact of having a DEI program within an organization is, what you're actually doing within those organizations with those programs. So Neveo, you lead your company, and I know that you have a lot of things that you're doing within your organization to help women and minorities achieve. Not only you mentioned, some really key leadership roles, but have you determined along the way what's been working and what hasn't worked to make sure that we're there to help and mentor and lea, so that we can achieve leadership roles within an organization?

Neveo Mosser:Great. I would say that we've been doing DEI before it was actually DEI. It's what we live and breathe here. We run the business with the idea that we do well by doing good for others, that desire combined with our vision, integrity, and a strong sense of civic pride, is really served behind the guiding force of our company's success.

We run the business with the fundamental belief that the most successful enterprises do what is best for their employees, for the communities that they work within, their customers, and also their investors. Although this is a family business, no one handed me anything, except an opportunity, as Jesse was talking about earlier. Our family business is a meritocracy, whatever we worked hard for, we were able to achieve on our own, that is how our family works.

I actually started out as a janitor after schools, and being that we were a vertically integrated operator and investment company, I've held most of every single position that you could possibly do. I've learned plumbing skills, carpentry skills, accounting, everything by actually working in those departments over my 37, or maybe it's even 40 years with the business.

My experience taught me that people who work hard deserve a solid chance to grow in their careers. I run Mosser as a business. I recognize there's employees who work hard. I've had people working for us and moving up the ranks of employment for decades. This includes people of color and women, amongst many others. Fancy degree or not, people are rewarded for what they do here. I felt the need to work hard, and to overachieve and to excel in my work, I created a work effort to make it. And that is exactly what I've done and offered to others, including women and other people of color.

And for over 40 years, been able to bring up a lot of people in the real estate business, who might not have been exposed to it, otherwise.

But I find, on the operating side of the business, you see a lot more people of color and as you kind of move up the ranks, especially when you get on the investment side, you lose that color. So for us, when we created our DEI panel, which doesn't actually have any senior executives on that panel, it's actually a makeup of our workforce, looking at how we're able to go ahead and to bring people, or how do we stop that gap of people leaving the industry.

And so I think, for us, and I find, particularly myself, as I've gotten older, I say, more mature, my job more is to, lessening from my day-to-day operations and maybe thinking more strategic. And part of that strategy or being strategic is, how do I go ahead and mentor people that don't necessarily get those opportunities, or didn't go to a great school, or maybe didn't go to college? And so we find that it's really key for us, and it's actually worked out quite well for us with looking at it, now, we are a company with the about least 84% of our employees identifying of people of color.

Lisa Knee:Amazing. You made a statement that, you were doing DEI before it was called DEI. And I think people are forgetting, this is a movement, not a moment. This is something that we need to continue to do throughout our careers and throughout our organizations. And so they used a buzzword of DEI, but it's really so much more than that. It's really embedded in the culture.

Neveo Mosser:Lisa, I wanted to also add, is that, while, we're still running a business and we're all still trying to go ahead and work for social justice, and make things better to correct a lot of wrongs from the past. It's really for about our senior leaders becoming more involved in it. My partner, Jim Farris, in Mosser Capital is very, very active with SEO, which is providing scholarships, internships, and mentoring programs for people of color, women in urban areas, particularly, San Francisco and New York City.

Lisa Knee:Yeah. We were talking about that on our pre-call. And so we do a similar thing called Project Destined, and it's the most rewarding experiences to work with these students, to give them an understanding what it means to have a career in real estate, and to give them a path and the education of how to have a career in real estate. And looking through their faces, it's just, you're optimistic for the future, which I think, that's the key to this is that we're optimistic that this is going to be a real, real change.

Neveo Mosser:Agreed.

Lisa Knee:So Jennifer, I know within your community and your organization, that you're working on ways to help women and minorities achieve leadership roles as well. Maybe you could share some of those insights.

Jennifer Jones:Sure. Yeah. At my organization, there's a couple things that have systematically changed over the 15 years I've worked there. When I first joined, I was the only female on my US team. There were no visible females in senior roles within the group that I had access to or could see. Since then, the company has become much more open to diversity. I'm now on the investment committee and management committee within our groups, and the senior portfolio in the US, and one of the most senior investment professionals within multi-managers, which is more than 20% of a 100 plus billion dollar business. So the company's culture has changed significantly.

With that has led to a lot of DEI initiatives. For me, as a woman, I try to take mentorship roles and encourage the networks and the allies that are there. But what I think is most important, we've touched on the comment allies a few times, but what my company has done is they've created this allies group that is actually for white men. Because it's those allies of the women and minorities that need to step up. When you're in a situation where someone says something that's not appropriate or excludes someone, it's those allies that will have to be there to effectuate change.

They've also, through those discussions, we found a lot of work/life balance issues. We talk about how difficult it is being a mother. It really should be difficult being a parent while hurting, not just being a mother while working. And everyone needs to understand that as lives change, people don't live the same way. When you're in your 20s and your 60s, you're going to be living differently. When you go out for drinks after work, for example, not everyone can go. And so is that really the forum to be discussing key work initiatives and making decisions, where people who can't be there drinking at 10 o'clock at night is now not part of the team and not part of those decisions.

It's that kind of thinking, where you need to be inclusive and make sure that every decision that's being made, and as the team is functioning, it has that inclusive context. Where every single person, not just the people who are underrepresented are in that dialogue. And it's with that, that I think change has been effectuated most successfully.

Lisa Knee:I think that's a great point of the what's not working. The what's not working is those after-hours events that people might not be able to attend. And if they are, you need to be really managing it. So we started our cocktail parties or our after work things at four o'clock, just so people can maybe stay from 4:00 to 5:30, and give them that opportunity to still be there with the key leadership people, and still, I guess, have FaceTime really is what it is, and be a part of those important conversations. When we were going through the business, that would have never been acceptable, right?

Jennifer Jones:Yeah.

Lisa Knee:So the what's not working, we can turn that around into, as you said, is how do we change that into an opportunity? And how do we change that to a learning experience within our own organization?

Great. So Margaret, anything within your organization that you've guys been working on or anything that has given the ability for women and minorities to achieve those leadership roles as well? I think you're still on mute, which is so perfect. Yes, no, no, we all do it.

Margaret McKnight:You can't get through-

Lisa Knee:And I think every-

Margaret McKnight:... a conversation without somebody being on mute anymore. So StepStone is very committed to diversity. We are 50% diverse, although, of course, that falls off as you get to higher levels. We look at changing that in kind of three different ways. There's the pipeline, there's selection, and then there's retention.

And on the pipeline side, we support all of the different, TOIGO and SEO, etc. And we're working with a group to help us recruit at non-traditional colleges. From a selection perspective, we are mandating that two female or diverse candidates being included in every job search activity. And it's recently been called to my attention, we aren't using it at this point, but there's software now that we'll call resumes, and will look at them functionally and on a skills basis, rather than, were you at Goldman Sachs or something? To get to that point that Jesse's talking about with the opportunity shortage. And we've heard that those have really surprising, but good outcomes as you might expect.

The aspect that I am most interested in is the retention. And I'm particularly interested because there is a fatter cohort of minorities and women that are getting closer to the upper ranks, and I really want to see them succeed.

We have a couple of programs. One of them is a coaching program around maternity leave. You and your team get coached before you go, while you're at out, and when you come back, how to make that whole process more successful, how to communicate and transition both in and out. And I we've heard really good things from the women who have gone through these programs.

We also have a mentoring program where we'll select a certain group of people, and there's an outside vendor who assesses their skills and provides a year of intense coaching. And then they're also given a mentor in the firm for a year of intense coaching. And we've had a couple of women in our group go through that too. And they found that to be very valuable. We're really working on helping these folks develop what they need to become the successful leaders of tomorrow.

Lisa Knee:That's great. Have you seen that some of these people that have gone through the program actually were able to achieve those leadership roles?

Margaret McKnight:Early days, but they're definitely advancing in the firm-

Lisa Knee:Okay, great.

Margaret McKnight:And I mean, they're very important contributors, so we value them a lot.

Lisa Knee:Great. So Jesse, you mentioned community, that you're willing to give you that you go out there to make sure that you're active in your community to give people a chance and always looking to help and advance that. So how important are those community initiatives to make people more aware of opportunities in real estate and career growth? As I said before, we want to make sure that the minorities and women actually know how to get through a career in real estate. So how important is that to you, those community initiatives?

Jesse Tejeda:Thanks Lisa. They're super important, and talk about mentorship. True, true mentorship is very, very hard to find, true organic mentorship. And it's one thing, I don't know if I really ever had true organic mentorship. I've been part of programs, et cetera. So I think, trying to really just get to know people and not force it and spend time with them and get to know them as an individual, I think is super important.

I've spent time in my local community. I started with the at-risk high schools near my neighborhood and going in there, and we have like a career day, orientation day. So we go just to kind of really expose them. A lot of these high school students have no idea what it is to be in real estate. They just think you're a real estate agent or selling homes or you're in the contracting business, because their dad's working in construction or something. And I honestly had no idea what investment banking, what, really, finance was. An acquisition officer, I had no idea what that was.

And only being exposed to these opportunities, you really like say, "That's kind of interesting. I kind of like that career path. And that kind of fits me, that kind of fits my personality." So I've just tried to really spend time in the community, exposing them to, "Hey, look it, there's all these opportunities out there." And we have career days where we come and we bring people in the real estate industry to talk about the different aspects from asset management, investment, development, acquisitions, et cetera. And it really opens up these students' eyes about all the different possibilities, not just a real estate agent or being in the construction industry.

And I think they're very surprised and sometimes you light a little light bulb in some of these kids' heads, and some of them follow-up with you it's... reach out to you, they want to talk to you. And because they don't know who to even reach out to or talk... So just giving them your business card, giving them an email, give them a phone number, and you being responsive and taking the time it's super, super, super important.

Because, again, like I said, to bring people up, you've got to get opportunities and it doesn't necessarily have to be a job. I think, students and young professionals coming out of school just need experience. It could be an internship. It could be like, "Hey, do this little assignment for me." And they can build a little bit on their resume or get in and start learning something without just giving them a job right away.

Lisa Knee:By the way, that's so true what you said, just have the awareness is so important as to... I couldn't agree more that people thought real estate means being a real estate agent, because that's who they saw and that's who they saw themselves in. So you need to be able to see yourself in one of those leaders and somebody sitting in the boardroom. You need me to be able to see Neveo and say, "That can be me, leading the boardroom."

Neveo Mosser:Yep.

Lisa Knee:I couldn't agree more.

Jesse Tejeda:For me, as I was coming up, it was always refreshing when I would see a woman or a person of color in the room. I mean, you just hardly ever saw that. And so you kind of felt a little bit different, but eventually you kind of immerse a little bit, it takes time, and you've got to kind of get out of your comfort zone a little bit. But it's always refreshing to see other minorities, underrepresented minorities, women, people of color in those meetings, in those higher up meetings. To say, "Hey, if he can do it, I can do it." So, again, exposure, giving people opportunity to kind of strive for those opportunities.

Lisa Knee:I don't know if anyone else wants to comment on that. I'll give everyone a moment if they want to add to that, because it's great. And I think it's really impactful.

Jennifer Jones:Yeah. I would just say when it comes to hiring, I think the biggest way we're going to change the industry in the future is bringing in people at junior levels. We can't manufacture experience at more senior levels that people don't have. But at the junior levels, when you think about it, most firms hire from just a few top universities and particularly focused on schools that have real estate programs. But at the end of the day, when someone's coming in at a junior level, does it really matter if they know what a cap rate is? You want somebody who's smart, you're going to teach them, and they're going to learn more in their first month than they've learnt in their previous education.

And so having that wide net, where you really are not focused on anything other than, is this person a smart person? Are they interested in a career in this field? And going in with that mindset, I believe that everybody is smart, and you would then have a representative body of the population in your firm. And 10 years, 15 years from now that should spread across all roles.

Lisa Knee:Couldn't agree more.

Neveo Mosser:Yeah. I'd add that, it's difficult now in hiring. As we tried all different ways of going at and remove sort of any perceived bias in looking at resumes. And so my EA we'll go ahead and redact the first name and/or anything that might show gender. And I definitely remove whatever university they went to, and just really find and make a very conscious effort to look for people that have worked hard, or what I call those grinders, and then give them those opportunities. It kind of reminds me of how I was, how many people are that have come to work for us and have been successful, and have gone on into other businesses.

You have to not be impressed because they went to this school or they've got this MBA. It's really kind of looking at that... I look for people that can grind and people that want to hustle and people that want to go ahead and are honest and want to learn. And it's our duty to provide somewhat of a mentoring ship, as you were saying, at that middle and lower level management to give them that career path for advancement. And when we do that, that's when we're going to see much more diversity in more senior ranks in our industry.

Jesse Tejeda:What I would just add is I think it's great to hear what Jennifer and Margaret and Neveo and their firms are doing. I think, again, it's about, they're creating opportunity and that's what we need. They're creating just chance, some people just need a chance to get in and it's so hard. So I really appreciate and admire what Margaret, Jennifer, Neveo's firms are doing. Great.

Neveo Mosser:Thank you, Jesse.

Margaret McKnight:There's another layer to this too. We work with clients to put out last year, over $13 billion in capital to real estate funds, every single fund that we do due diligence on, we also score on ESG. And one part of that score is DEI, both where you are and what programs you have to move forward. And the scoring is new. And most people don't score really high, if they score really low, we have not proceeded, but over time, we're working with them to improve their scores. And it will matter more and more to the investment decision. And it is something that a lot of LPs consciously look at when they're making a decision. So that's another kind of leadership that encourages more firms to have practices like this.

Lisa Knee:I'm choking, but I've just sat through an event this morning, women in real estate, it was on ESG, and they were talking about the KPIs and the metrics for those exact scores. And coming with an industry sort of universal score, so that everyone knows that they're looking at things in sort of the same relative manner. So I'm hoping that things are to come, and what that metrics is, and people are going to be able to have that in each of their companies and be able to say that it means the same thing at my company, that it does at your company, what those metrics are and what we're looking for.

Margaret McKnight:Zoe Hughes at NAREIM has worked with the heads of a bunch of different industry groups to get together. There's no one universal survey that's moving towards a single definition. A lot of that thought has gone into that, and if you've received the survey, please fill it out.

Lisa Knee:Send it over, love to see it. Great. So I think we're ready for our second poll question, Bella, if you want to advance it.

Lisa Knee:Oh, this would be interesting to see how many people are actually involved. Go ahead.

Bella Brickle:The poll question number two reads, are you involved in any DEI initiatives at your company or in your local community outside of work? A, yes, B, no, or C, somewhat. And we'll leave this open for about 30 seconds, and then I will share the results.

Lisa Knee:So I just read a statement in an article that said, "The world doesn't care how much you know, it wants to know how much you care." And to your point that we just had, the industry leaders aren't going to be judged solely, in the future, on the bottom line anymore. It's going to be on... with some other factors in there. So I think that's perfect for ending our last topic. And moving on to the next topic is, how do we think that the industry is doing? And how would we rate the progress to date in advancing diversity and inclusion, not just in your own organizations, but looking at real estate as a whole? And I know everyone here is optimistic, because we all feel really good about where we are within our organization. But do you think that the industry in a whole is on a really good track? And Margaret, I'm going to start with you on that?

Margaret McKnight:Yes. I think we're on a very good track. The wave of ESG has come across the investment strategy stronger and more clearly than any investment theme in my 30 year career. I called 20 of our clients, 16 of them have or are actively writing ESG policies for their investments that include DEI, among other things. So I am very encouraged. Like I said, we're in a really different place than we were, and we have a really long way to go. I'm still, not uncommonly, the only woman in the room, there's nobody of color in way too many rooms, and so, yeah, we got a lot of wood to chop still.

Lisa Knee:Jesse, how would you respond to that, with being part of that room and being included in those rooms, where decision is being made, and the progress the industry has made to date?

Jesse Tejeda:I think I'm seeing a lot of great initiatives, and I think even my firm, we're trying to make... try to hire to have diversity, not just color, but all around just diversity. And not just only is it great for coming up with new ideas, but it's just more fun being around a bunch of different people and learning from different people's background. It just makes my day and makes working with different people a lot more fun, and getting to know them.

So I think there's a lot of initiatives out there, and I think it's still a bit of to be seen, to be determined, which initiatives work, but I'm hopeful. And I like that some of these firms, as I mentioned, especially these firms here on the panel today, are making these efforts and we all have to do our part to try to move it forward. And it's not going to happen overnight, and we've got to keep pushing the ball forward. But I'm encouraged, and we've just got to figure out what works best.

Lisa Knee:So Neveo, you mentioned that your dad started this and you've been around this business for quite a little bit. I'm not going to do the number of years. We did that on our pre-call. And I think we're both pretty similar to the number of years we've been around here. So I think you could look back and sort of say where we were, at least where you were when you were younger, watching your dad grow, and where you are today and talk about, hopefully, the trajectory we're on is a little bit quicker, but it's still a long way to go, as Margaret had said.

Neveo Mosser:Being that it's October and everyone's, or a lot of people were like baseball, if this was a baseball game, I'd say we were in about the third inning. I would think that, it's one of those ones where, because everyone has different ways they measure, but when I walk into a meeting or if I walk into a conference and I start seeing people that look like me, or I start seeing more women than you know what that's when you're hitting it. And we're not seeing that yet. And I've seen it over time where I would accompany my father, or go into meetings when I was much younger, and would be the only person of color there.

But it's one of those things you know it when you'll see it, and then you'll have a big smile on your face, because you know it's all the efforts that not only people that are here on this panel are doing, but our peers are actually going ahead and doing it. Not doing it so that they can help raise money, they're doing it because they're doing it from the goodness of their heart, and the goodness of the well-being of their communities they serve.

Lisa Knee:Yeah. And just to that point, I'm going to put this on Jennifer, but when we think about putting together events, and we look at panels, and you look at it and say, "When is it just going to be an entire panel of people of color or of all women? And it just be part of an event, not have events focused on women or in a minority event. When is it just going to be part of the regular real estate event?" And I'm sure that people here at EisnerAmper are rolling their eyes at me, because that's all I ever said was, "I'm happy to speak at a women's event, but I don't want to be only speaking at a women's event. When can I just be a regular person on a panel without highlighting that I'm a woman in real estate?"

Jennifer Jones:It's really interesting because for that to happen, a lot of things have to happen first. I mean, when we talk about, how much have things improved? To me they've improved night and day to where they were when I started my career, because on a percentage basis, it has. In an absolute dollar basis, not as much, we're not where we need to be.

To get to where we need to be, a lot of things have to happen. One, as we talked about, we have to have equal opportunity for everyone to be able to advance. Two, we need to retain the people in those roles. To do that, there are a lot of countries that have maternity leaves and paternity leaves, it's not maternity or paternity is parental leave. And either parent can take it. The culture has to get to a point where everyone is treated the same for everyone at the same opportunity.

There shouldn't be women events. There shouldn't be diversity events. It should just be events and everyone should be there. You don't see events based on height. You don't see events based on eye color. You don't see events based on what cars you drive. You see events that is addressing the fact that it's not equal, and until everyone looks at everything as equal, that won't change, and people will not look at it as equal, until there are equal people in every role from junior to senior throughout the organization.

And it has to be across countries. I work for global organizations. And one of the biggest reasons, over the years, that I've been told, "Well, this can't happen, is because clients won't like it, or people from this culture might not like it." This is something that has to be an industry-wide decision, that it is not acceptable for things to unfold in a way that does not foster equality. And equality must be based on performance, and only performance.

I mean, Neveo's comment about filtering resumes is I think the exact right approach. If it's performance and performance is rewarded, that performance comes from effort and intelligence, and those are equally given at birth.

Jennifer Jones:I'd say, 20 years. If I was guessing, 20 years, because by the time those people in high school get to where we want it be, 20 years.

Lisa Knee:I hope that whoever's listening to this can see how passionate all of us are about these topic and committed we are. We did have a question, and it's from the chair, Meredith, of our real estate group. And just wanting to know if any of you've seen any progress in the inclusion of the LGBTQIA employees in the real estate. So we all walk into a room and you know you're a woman, or you're a minority, but walking into the room as LGBTQIA, is a little bit different. And so have you seen any progress, not just in the industry, but within your own organizations to make sure that there's inclusion?

Jennifer Jones:I can comment on that. We have a pretty active group that addresses that subject, also line managers and people who have offices, pre-COVID, when we went to offices, and the senior people would have offices and the junior people would be in cubes, it's all changing now. But what we started doing is, people could elect to have their name badge on the office with a rainbow underneath it, and it would show that they're supportive of that community. So it's not something you visually see with someone, but it's something that we wanted to create an environment where it was universally known that this is acceptable, full stop.

Margaret McKnight:Yeah. We have about a day of implicit bias training when you joined the firm, which I just did about a year ago, that absolutely addressed those issues. And I would say, for my friends in the community, what I'm hearing is kind of what we were saying, is they have their own very strong networks offline to help each other out, which is, as a person in that community, the best you can hope for, right?

Lisa Knee:Anyone else have any comment that they care? So we can go to our last poll question.

Bella Brickle:All right. Great. So the third poll question is, is the real estate industry sufficiently organizing around developing diverse talent for leadership roles? A, yes, B, no, or C, somewhat. And we'll leave this open for about 30 seconds and then I'll share the results.

Lisa Knee:So I'm going to ask, in our last couple of minutes here for everyone to sort of give their crystal ball or even go through and give their wish for what we could see could happen. In the short term, what we'd like to see, because as we all said, we know it's going to take a really long time to really be able to see a noticeable difference in the rooms that we all walked in for many years of our careers. And keeping people to have their own, I called it, posses, you called it networks or allies. But really figuring out within the next one to two years, what we all can do within our own organization to be really impactful, to make sure that we are making a difference that's going to be noticeable?

So Jesse, let's start with you on that and on any idea that, if you could put in a crystal ball for the next year or two, what you'd hope advise to give to people to make an impact?

Jesse Tejeda:I'm sorry, Lisa, can you repeat... You're breaking out a little bit on me there. Can you just repeat the question for me?

Lisa Knee:That's okay. If you could do from a one to two year perspective, if you could give people something that you'd like to see really an impactful change, in the next two years in our industry, that's going to make a difference. What piece of advice would you give to someone to say, "This is what you need to do to continue to help awareness and growth in the real estate industry"?

Jesse Tejeda:Yeah, I think it's more about bias training like that. I mean, that's great, bias training is one. And, again, giving people opportunity, it doesn't have to be, like I said, just the job. Giving people opportunity to get experience over the next couple of years, and helping build them a network and start connecting people. So giving them an opportunity to find and finally get experience, so that they can kind of leverage that.

I think that's the hardest part, is just getting in the door. In real estate, it's so hard to just get in the door. That's the hardest part. Even for non-minorities, even for anybody in the industry, the hardest part is just getting in the door. Once you're in the door, you have the opportunity to network. It's just so hard to do that from outside. So trying to bring people in is probably the best way.

Lisa Knee:And I guess that's what Neveo said is you want to get that person who's hungry and is going to work. Those are the people that you want to keep bringing in, because they're going to be the ones who want it.

Jesse Tejeda:That's right.

Lisa Knee:Great. Thank you, Jennifer.

Jennifer Jones:Yeah. I mean, I'd say the biggest enemy to equality is the concept of people saying, "Okay, we're equal now. It's fair now. Everything's fine, and everyone has had the same experience. And so the composition of the groups now is just who's earned it." I think if I was looking at one or two years in the future, I'd really encourage everyone, even if you are a minority yourself, to look around the industry, look around your firms, and try to put yourself in the shoes of others and see how people have had different experiences, how they're experiencing things differently, and how you can help to effectuate change, whether you're LGBTQ or any group.

And so that way change will happen, because if people don't notice it, they can't change it. So they need to be able to be more observant and more aware to effectuate the change. I think that firms, and I think what I'm seeing with firms through evaluating just like Margaret said, looking at ESG, they're looking for what programs exist. I think if firms put funding and time into education awareness programs, sponsored events for network building, I think that will go a long way to make a difference in the short term, as we're waiting for a more diverse workforce to work its way through.

Lisa Knee:Great. Yeah. Thank you, Margaret.

Margaret McKnight:I second what Jennifer said about getting to know people, and find people around you, understand what their issues are, and actually figure out how you can help them advance their careers. And I don't mean that in a pedantic way. I mean like what's in their way, do they need a skill? Do they need access? How can you change that person's life for the better?

Lisa Knee:Terrific. Neveo, so some final, last words, I think when you look throughout your career and you've seen the evolution and where we are today, just some final, last words of what you like to see in the next year or two. And how you wish your other developers, investment managers could look at the world and try to make a change with you?

Neveo Mosser:I'd say take some time off, be self-reflective and see how you can be a part of or an agent for change for many of these things that will allow our businesses and our industry to be successful by doing good and participating for bringing other people up and helping them get on this next leg of their journey. Or spending more time or allocating more time for working, for getting out in community, spending more time mentoring people at mid and lower-level management and showing them what can be done with hard work, determination, and willingness.

Lisa Knee:So, I think if I listened to the theme of everyone, it's expanding your network, and making sure that you're out there as a mentor and a leader to help encourage and get awareness for people and give people those opportunities. Which means we can't all do that behind our desks, from what I'm hearing from everyone. Everyone's saying, get out there in their communities, and get out there and expanding your networks.

And it's okay to shut down your computer and walk outside the doors, and really start developing relationships with younger people in the industry or at any levels of the industry. So I think that's really what it seems to be. I don't know if I got that wrong, but the common theme was, it's okay to go out there and expand networks, and really shut down to be able to come back and be able to grow.

Neveo Mosser:Agreed.

Jesse Tejeda:If I could just add, I think, we've got to start younger. We've got to start at the younger ages and bringing in diversity at the younger ages, because that's when you got to move them up. Once you're a certain age or certain years out of college, it's harder to get in. We've got to start kind of looking at the younger generation. And I think there's, obviously, inherent bias and stuff like that. But when I look at my career, we've got to look at leadership to kind of say, "Hey, get out of your comfort zone and maybe hire somebody that maybe is different than you, because it could be good for the business and good for everybody and help diversity."

I was just lucky that people gave me a chance. I think that that's what happened, and it's just kind of luck. My bosses were different than me, but they were white men and gave me a chance, and you prove yourself, and that gives you the opportunity to build on that. So as leaders, as people in leadership roles, we've got to get out of the comfort zone and give people the chance.

Lisa Knee:I just expanded my network with the four of you today, because I feel like really, this was so insightful. And I really thank you all for sharing your stories. And I enjoyed listening to it, and I'm sure whoever was listening and wherever we put this out there on our web pages, people are really going to enjoy hearing the stories and being able to relate and hopefully making an impactful difference.

So I encourage everyone to listen to our next webinar on December 1st, when we're going to talk a little bit more about innovation. And, again, I just want to thank all of you for joining me today, for sharing your stories, and for really helping lead and move the industry forward. So, Bella, I'm going to turn this back over to you, and thank you all again.

Neveo Mosser:Thank you.

Margaret McKnight:Thank you.

Transcribed by 

What's on Your Mind?

Lisa Knee in a black dress

Lisa Knee

Lisa Knee is the Managing Partner and national leader of the Real Estate practice and the National Real Estate Private Equity Group with expertise in the hotel, real estate, financial services, aviation and restaurant sectors and is a member of AICPA, New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants and the New York State Bar Association.

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