02/24/2023 | by

Advancing racial equity in commercial real estate is about fixing existing conditions, rather than people, and a company’s commitment to making meaningful change is more important than the extent of its progress on that journey, panelists on a Nareit ESG Exchange webinar said Feb. 23.

The webinar, How to Advance Racial Equity in Commercial Real Estate, was moderated by Ayris T. Scales, Nareit’s senior vice president for social responsibility and global initiatives.

Constanza Cabello, vice president, equity programs – global inclusion, diversity, and equity at State Street, said that “as organizations, we get so stuck on fixing people.” She noted that by working with Nareit partner, Management Leadership of Tomorrow (MLT) and its Black Equity at Work certification program, the company’s focus has shifted away from offering Black employees more training or certification programs to “actually fixing the conditions.”

Jonah Edelman, co-founder of MLT, gave an overview of the Black Equity at Work certification program, for which Nareit members can receive a 25% discount in year one. The program was launched in October 2020, he said, “to address a huge gap in the ecosystem” by providing a comprehensive, confidential mechanism to enable all private sector employers to accelerate and sustain progress for Black and Hispanic equity.

Public Storage (NYSE: PSA) is in the early stages of working with MLT, and Nathan Tan, senior vice president and head of human resources, offered advice for companies that may be hesitant to get started, or feel embarrassed by their lack of action to date.

“This is not about looking bad. You have to start somewhere,” Tan said. Companies also need to be able to assess and review human capital metrics, he added. “You can’t make meaningful change, you can’t really understand where you want to go, if you don’t know where you are.”

Cabello agreed, adding that “you can’t mistake activity for forward motion.” MLT gave State Street the tools to accurately measure its impact in advancing racial equity, she said. Tan, meanwhile, stressed that when it comes to advancing racial equity, every organization has to move at its own pace.

In closing, Scales stressed the importance of making progress “from where you are.” She added, “we will start where we are and move forward in ways that may be incremental, but at the end of the day those incremental changes actually drive big impact.”

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