Let’s start with a big question: How do you create something original?
You bring together varied perspectives, life experiences, and insights, right? Creative solutions emerge when you address challenges differently. Without difference, the result is more of the same.
That’s why diversity in real estate today isn’t just a “nice to have.” It’s a business imperative, and Urban Land Institute (ULI) is at the forefront.
“More and more, we are hearing that people are joining ULI instead of other organizations because they see that it’s the place in this market to build relationships with people from across sectors, cultures, and backgrounds,” said Aubrey Albrecht, senior director at ULI Minnesota. “That’s powerful because it’s such a relationship-focused industry. Our members are recognizing that in order to best serve the community with any given project, the people at the table should reflect the diversity of that community.”
The ULI Real Estate Diversity Initiative (REDi) Program helps United Properties both gain access to new talent pools and provide people with diverse backgrounds the in-roads they need to break into the industry. As one of the program’s cornerstone sponsors since 2017, the company donated $10,000 to Minnesota’s program and $5,000 to Colorado’s program this year.
“We’ve been very intentional about doing more than just giving them money and focus on helping the program grow,” said Lynn Camp, ULI REDi sponsor and senior business analyst at United Properties. “Just as important as us providing them access to our networks is us accessing their networks as we work to diversify and broaden our vendors, customers, and potential hires.”
The 15-session program works to provide women and people of color – all real estate professionals with full-time jobs – with an opportunity to create a development plan, proforma, and marketing plan for a real site that the owner is looking to redevelop. Many students from this year’s 28-student roster came from the public sector seeking to learn about what’s happening on the private-sector side and understand every aspect of development holistically.
In the same way that REDi Program teams are strategically grouped to include members from different sectors to work toward well-rounded solutions, we must ensure that people from diverse backgrounds have the in-roads they need to round out a historically exclusive industry.
Students also form networks with one another and engage in facilitated discussion about barriers to entering the industry. One participant highlighted that many real estate professionals got their start through a mentor and shared that it is more difficult for people of color to find this mentor because their networks often do not cross.
This sentiment is corroborated by Leanin.org, which points to a large body of research that suggests that people mentor people who remind them of themselves. Failure to recognize this unintentional bias can cause us to miss out on opportunities to mentor and learn from those with backgrounds that differ from our own.
“Employees with mentors are more likely to get raises and promotions. But because managers and senior leaders are more likely to be white men, and because people tend to gravitate toward mentoring others like themselves, women and people of color often miss out on that support. That also means your company could miss out on fostering talented employees.”
Programs like ULI REDi aim to dissolve these barriers to success in the real estate industry by opening doors to mentors, facilitators, and other industry experts. Over the three years of its existence, the Minnesota REDi Program has benefited from the service of nearly 100 volunteers, including United Properties’ former Minnesota co-president Eva Stevens.
After a REDi speaking engagement, Stevens offered to sit down with anyone who reached out, and second-cohort REDi Program student Jimmy Loyd took her up on the offer. His interest in Stevens’ background led to a few meetings and open doors. He’s since connected with several United Properties real estate professionals at varying stages in their career and landed the real estate director position at the YMCA Greater Twin Cities. In an interview with United Properties, Loyd offered his perspective on the importance of diversity in real estate.
“The old way of thinking is that business networking is kind of a ‘club’ – it’s exclusive, and the only people allowed in are those they can relate to,” Loyd shared. “Introducing people into the mix who are not like you allows you to take advantage of that differing knowledge and potentially spur innovation. It takes getting out of your own way, and it’s important because it prevents one group from dictating norms while allowing others to share life experiences that can offer new perspective in your practice.”
Survey researcher and polling expert Tom Webster at Edison Research reinforces this position. Webster asserts that the most dangerous thing facing corporate America today is “creating an environment where everyone seems to be taking the same actions for the same reasons.”
United Properties development manager Carrie Eggleston in Minnesota is one of those people with a fire in her heart fueled by different reasons. And she walks the talk. This year, she served on ULI REDi Minnesota’s steering committee, which is responsible for recruiting speakers, organizing networking events, and shaping the overall curriculum.
“I knew upfront that the program would take me away from work and require flexibility, and I’ve been supported at United Properties from the top down every step of the way,” Eggleston shared. “There’s so much untapped talent out there, and our leaders realize that. It’s moved us to donate money, space, and time.”
Eggleston’s passion for the initiative is spreading, too. When one of the program’s speakers dropped out during flu season with hours to spare, she asked United Properties’ Bill Jundt, VP of construction management, to step in.
“He knocked it out of the park without a PowerPoint or anything. He rearranged his calendar, wrote a quick notecard, and they loved him!” Eggleston said. “That’s how I know my colleagues care about this. Now we’ve just got to keep the momentum going and help people see what we see.”
So what do we see? We see the progress, but we also dare to imagine the possibilities of a real estate environment that looks different than it does today. One where differences aren’t just accepted – they’re celebrated and put to use to address the challenges of today with creativity and originality.