Study Reveals Commercial Real Estate Is A Sea Of Whiteness

Those in the know are not surprised to hear this. But when you see the statistics, it is truly shocking.

By Annette Barlow November 7, 2016
Copyright: Inara Prusakova

In an entirely unsurprising turn of events, a recent article in Crain’s New York Business has revealed that—shocker—commercial real estate brokerages are dominated by old white dudes. Now, with recent polls suggesting that the opinions of a certain politician becoming a little too popular for comfort, you might be tempted to think that, right now, there are bigger things to worry about.

Except, it is exactly this kind of unchallenged inherent racial and gender bias exhibited by large corporations which enables biased politicians to get dangerously close to power. Because, news flash: old white dudes aren’t the only social group who have something to contribute.

And yet, minority groups continue to be seriously underrepresented in the commercial real estate sector.

Related: 23rd Street Is An Active Thoroughfare For Residential And Commercial Real Estate

According to Joseph Hudson, HR executive at real estate behemoth CBRE, less than ten percent of its 3,500-person New York workforce are minorities—and this from a company considered to be one of the more evolved and proactive firms when it comes to minority recruitment. CBRE’s rival companies—JLL, Cushman & Wakefield, NGKF—appear to be faring even worse, although, as is often the modus operandi of the establishment, these companies all declined to admit their shortcomings (sorry, disclose the specific makeup of their workforce) when approached by Crain’s author Daniel Geiger.

What is clear, however, is that no black or Hispanic brokers were involved in negotiating any of the 25 largest office leases in 2015, and on a list of the 25 largest landlords (compiled by CoStar), not one firm has a senior-level African-American or Latino executive. Furthermore, the Real Estate Board of New York, the city’s largest real estate association and lobbying group, does not have a single minority representative on its 48-member executive committee.

So, commercial real estate: what’s up? Gone are the days when these kind of statistics could be brushed under the carpet, especially within the context of one of the most contentious political climates in recent history. The Presidential election, now just days away, is shining a light on the litany of regressive, devolved modes of thinking that still, in 2016, seem to pervade American society, and the micro-aggressions and inherent racial bias that plague corporate America have reached a tipping point.

Related: Running With The Big Dogs: Top Five Office Listings In Financial District

Some of the weak arguments that the establishment favor when answering to claims of bias is that white elites are hogging all the sweet real estate jobs because minority groups lack a long legacy in the New York real estate business. Therefore, minority candidates will lack connections to help them break through industry insularity. Because, of course, everyone knows that Latino people only speak to Latino people, and African-American people only do deals with other African-Americans.

It’s this kind of thinking that seems to be limiting a dynamic and forward-thinking discussion around progress. While Geiger accurately identifies that the government should be taking greater strides to address these diversity issues—namely by tendering projects such as Hudson Yards or rebuilding the World Trade Center to African-American developers—he also seems to buy into the idea that minority groups, once in the industry, would function in as insular a manner as the establishment.

“If the State of New York said they were going to tender a portion of something like Hudson Yards to African-American developers, then the business would trickle down to other minority professionals like leasing brokers and architects and lawyers. It has to start at the top and it has to be government-sponsored.”

Sure, the government could step up, but more importantly, so could the corporate establishment. You don’t have to be Latino landlord to hire a Latino lawyer. You don’t have to be an African-American contractor to give business to an African-American broker. While the trickle-down idea might be comforting to those in power, it is in no way proactive enough to address statistics as glaring as these.

Annette Barlow



Annette is freelance editor, sub-editor, journalist and proofreader with a fierce love of all things feminist, food and music. She is a regular fixture on the arts, culture and feature desks at The Guardian, and her words have appeared on NME, Great British Chefs, The Fly, The Line of Best Fit and Australian Times.

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