Diversity and Inclusion in Commercial Real Estate: How Diverse is Your Supply Chain and Vendor Network?
I recently published an article titled the Most Influential Women in PropTech which recognized some of the amazing trailblazers who are improving every segment of the Real Estate industry. After the article was published, I heard from so many incredible leaders that shared their own stories about the obstacles that they overcame and the successes that they achieved. Although every journey that I heard was inspirational and impactful, there was one team that I spoke with that I wanted to highlight.
JRT Realty Group, founded in 1996 by Jodi Pulice, provides a full range of services in the commercial real estate industry including strategic planning, corporate real estate portfolio management, tenant representation, leasing & property marketing, financing, and investment sales. In addition to the vast base of customers that JRT Realty Group serves, they also partner with legacy commercial real estate firms like Cushman & Wakefield, CBRE, & JLL. One of the things that really piqued my interest about this firm is that they are the nation’s largest certified Woman Business Enterprise (WBE) in commercial real estate. And although that designation is incredibly impressive, there is another venture that Jodi launched which I wanted to write about.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives are front and center in discussions for companies of all sizes and industries. Although it has taken way too long for companies to really embrace these initiatives, and even though there is still so much work that needs to be done, it finally feels like many companies and industries are starting to take their diversity and inclusion practices seriously. From training, to education, to hiring DEI executives to spearhead their efforts, it is amazing to see all of the progress which is taking place. But even with the best intentions, many people are still struggling to understand all of the ways that they can make positive contributions to their company's DEI efforts. Making sure that interviews and hiring practices are expanded to include as diverse of a team as possible is critical, but that is only one area of importance. It is equally important to ensure that you are leveraging a diverse group of suppliers and vendors to support your business - an increasingly important demand as consumers of their business are more and more diverse.
In May of this year, JRT Realty Group announced the incubation and launch of MWBE Unite, a platform supplier company designed to promote diverse suppliers and vendors in the real estate industry - a network of Minority and Women owned companies. Pay Wu, an industry veteran, co-founded MWBE Unite, and serves as their President, while Jodi serves as their CEO. Pay’s history includes executive roles at Cushman & Wakefield, along with regional leadership roles in the real estate divisions of Deloitte, TD Bank, and American Express.
MWBE Unite provides value to the entire real estate ecosystem. From a vendor standpoint, their platform syndicates Minority and Women Owner suppliers to bid on jobs and projects with some of the largest companies in the world. Each MWBE on its own may not have the capacity or bandwidth to service the entire scope of an RFP, but combined with a curated team, a comprehensive scope can be delivered with quality. At the same time, it provides a solution to companies that want to diversify their vendor network and make sure that they are supporting entrepreneurs and business owners that have traditionally not had a seat at the table. In addition to connecting a diverse group of suppliers with customers, MWBE Unite also provides consulting services to real estate companies to help them achieve their DEI goals while integrating services and solutions to help clients achieve Tier 1 and Tier 2 status from their real estate lifecycle spend.
One of the most talked about topics in the real estate industry is Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG). According to Wikipedia, ESG is defined as “an approach to evaluating the extent to which a corporation works on behalf of social goals that go beyond the role of a corporation to maximize profits on behalf of the corporation's shareholders. Typically, the social goals advocated within an ESG perspective include working to achieve a certain set of environmental goals, as well as a set of goals having to do with supporting certain social movements, and a third set of goals having to do with whether the corporation is governed in a way that is consistent with the goals of the diversity, equity, and inclusion movement”. ESG initiatives focus on some of the most progessive changes to affect the real estate industry in my lifetime, and as important as this movement is, it is incredibly complex. One of the biggest challenges with ESG is measurement and reporting. In order to build an effective strategy, companies need to determine their current compliance rate, and then measure the effectiveness of each initiative. Being that this is such a new focus for many companies, they often lack the systems needed to determine where they stand as a company.
DEI initiatives are an important part of ESG, but many companies believe that just hiring a diverse team is enough. And while that is an important start, just having a diverse team is only half of the equation. Wealth creation often requires equity and ownership, and the best way to achieve this is through supporting vendors and suppliers of companies that are owned by minorities and women. MWBE Unite connects these minority owned companies with corporations that are looking to diversify their supply chain, while providing them with the tools needed to measure and report on their progress toward these goals.
The importance of Diversity and Inclusion
Having a diverse workforce and supplier network has benefits that go well beyond just doing the right thing. In addition to leveling the playing field for individuals and communities that have been suppressed for no other reason than the color of their skin or their gender, companies are finally realizing that the quality and the culture within their organizations improves dramatically when you include diverse viewpoints and ideas that reflect this different experiences and challenges that our society faces as a whole. When you limit the voices being heard and the decisions being made to a group of individuals who all look the same and have come from similar backgrounds, your output rarely represents the diversity of the world around us. You rob your employees, customers, and communities of the possibilities to solve the complex challenges that the world faces, and the ability to build a truly impactful company. A diverse workforce and supplier network empowers a company to meet the needs of the world that we live in, while providing equal opportunities for minority communities.