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Commercial real estate summit to focus on DEI

Banner Staff
Commercial real estate summit to focus on DEI

For many years, the commercial real estate fraternity in Boston has been just that, a closed group of mostly white men who shaped the buildings in the downtown area. Next week, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association (NAIOP Massachusetts) will hold a diversity, equity and inclusion summit to address this problem and find ways to welcome women and people of color.

At first glance, the statistics look very grim. A Knight Foundation study in 2017 found that 75% of senior executive jobs in the U.S. commercial real estate industry were held by white men, while only 1.3% were held by Black men. Less than 1% of those roles were held by women of color. White women made up roughly 14%.

The 2023 CRE Summit on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (CRE-DEI), to be held on Thursday, Sept. 28 at Nutter McClennen and Fish law firm in the Seaport District, aims to change that by producing the first-of-its-kind discussion between the major developers in the city and their counterparts of color from across the commonwealth. The goal of the summit, which grew out of earlier discussions by the local CRE DEI Collaborative, a group of trade organizations active in the space of commercial real estate, is to follow conversations with action steps toward equity in this field. One of those action steps is to develop spaces of inclusion for those people who are left out of major development projects due to a lack of access to the larger firms.

Colleen Fonseca, executive director of the Builders of Color Coalition (BOCC), explained that this is a perfect time to hold a summit of this kind.

“After George Floyd’s murder, there was a lot of action around DEI initiatives,” she said, “but it was disjointed.”

Former BOCC board president Dave Madan and current president Taylor Pederson, along with Amanda Strong of MIT Investment Management Company and Taidgh McClory of THM Advisors met informally, starting in 2019, to discuss how to convene all of the trade associations together in one room and talk holistically about diversity, equity and Inclusion in the industry. Paul Ayoub, chair of Nutter McClennen and Fish LLP, was the final designer of this event and a catalyst to “complete the job,” Fonseca said.

One of the goals, she added, was to “highlight firms that have successfully implemented DEI plans and have meaningful outcomes to show for it. These companies have plans for equity investment and ownership for people of color.” 

Fonseca hopes that the firms “will be a point of inspiration for other firms who have thought about or initiate plans to be more inclusive.”

Ayoub said, “The Summit is an important opportunity to bring together industry professionals to share insights and strategies on how to meaningfully advance DEI within commercial real estate. We are looking forward to robust, interactive discussions that will help provoke thoughtful suggestions for process in this area.”

Companies highlighted at the summit will be Lincoln Property Company and Tishman Speyer Properties, who have over $100 billion in assets under management (AUM).

Lincoln will be discussing its partnership with UHM Property Management, a Black-owned firm in Boston run by Kevin Bynoe, who will also speak at the Summit. Bynoe’s company is now working as a lead contractor on some new projects, with Lincoln acting as the subcontractor.

Tishman Speyer will explain how to weave DEI into different business units, not only working with minority-owned and women-owned firms in the building plans, but also including people of color in the investment part of the project. Tishman Speyer currently has a $750 million project stretching across Western Avenue in Allston.

Maven Construction CEO JocCole “JC” Burton said she is looking forward to the event.

“It’s the first private-sector summit of its kind that will help drive participation and forge relationships within the CRE community and help expose developers to companies that they would not previously know,” she said. “Further, it’s important to take advantage of these opportunities before legislation says you can’t.”

Kyle Bolden, U.S.-East Region market segment leader for the real estate, hospitality and construction practice at Ernst & Young, and Maria Casanova, founder and senior partner at Maximum Learning and Consulting, will be the premier speakers at the summit.

For more information on the event, see tinyurl.com/ypwp5hfr

The Bay State Banner is a media sponsor for the CRE-DEI Summit.

Commercial Real Estate Development, DEI, diversity equity inclusion