By Tara Stacom
Executive Vice Chairman of Office Leasing
There is no denying that one of the challenges facing the commercial real estate industry today is a lack of diversity. Women and people of color face unique challenges rising the ladder of success, a fact I understand all too well. But companies today across all industries
recognize not only the ethical problems these obstacles pose, but also the positive benefit gained by a more inclusive and diverse workforce.
This past Wednesday, July 19, a group of my colleagues from various departments at Cushman & Wakefield participated in a panel discussion before a group of promising young high school students from Lehigh University's LEAD Summer Business Institute. This three-week program “exposes high school scholars to business principles and the skill sets needed for successful business careers.” The corporate visit, occurring at the halfway point of their program, was an opportunity for the students to hear from various companies and organizations, as well as visit multiple sites throughout the city.
To ensure that the students had the best opportunity on this trip to connect the world of commercial real estate to the history of New York City, I approached The Durst Organization, who owns and operates One World Trade Center, about holding the event there. Durst offered us enthusiastic support, because they too recognize the real challenges our industry faces in fostering a more inclusive environment.
Our panel consisted of professionals from Cushman & Wakefield’s Valuation & Advisory division, Office Brokerage, Retail Brokerage, Marketing, and Human Resources. The students were incredibly engaged, listening intently and asking direct and pointed questions, both business and industry specific as well as questions about the challenges they will face as women and minorities. For many of the students it was clear that they still struggled to believe that they would have a fair chance at success, a struggle made clear at times through direct questions. One young African American student asked me afterwards, “Be serious, what realistic chance does a person like me have of succeeding in this industry?”
What I was able to say to him sincerely was that while there is still a great deal of work to do – a great deal – there has been real progress made in the years since I’ve come up in commercial real estate, and because of programs like LEAD, because schools like my alma mater, Lehigh University, and companies like Cushman & Wakefield continue to explore ways to address this challenge, we can expect that even in the span of six or seven years, when these students are ready to enter into the workforce, the playing field will be leveled even more.
The value of this program and the fact that the students were prepared to take full advantage of it was evidenced in the immediate and impressive outreach they made after the presentation. So many of the students emailed my colleagues and me, asking further follow-up questions, inquiring about internships, seeking advice on college courses, and more. It was inspiring, really.
It's been a privilege of mine to partner with Lehigh over the years on programs such as this. When I helped to found ire@l, a real estate program at Lehigh’s School of Business and Economics, it was precisely with students like these in mind – bright, talented, motivated, and who will be best positioned to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them, with the hope that those opportunities continue to open up even more.
There is still an enormous amount of work to do before all persons operate on equal footing in commercial real estate. But momentum is shifting, and programs like this, as well as the incredible support they receive from companies like Durst and Cushman & Wakefield, are evidence of this change. And to that young man asking about what chance a person like him has in making it in commercial real estate, just remember, in a few years when it’s time to apply for your summer internship, give me a call. I may just be hiring.
Learn more about Lehigh University's LEAD program here.
Click here to learn more about the Durst Organization and One World Trade Center.
Tara Stacom, Executive Vice Chairman of Office Leasing, is one of the world’s leading brokerage professionals. In 2015, Tara ranked as Cushman & Wakefield’s overall top-producing broker globally, an achievement she achieved before. Tara won and currently leads the One World Trade Center agency leasing assignment. Her many awards and recognitions include top honors from the Real Estate Board of New York, the industry’s preeminent trade organization.