By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer,
Report for America Corps Member,
Real estate has long had a diversity problem. The industry has perpetually been white- and male-dominated, with minority populations comprising just 28 percent of all real estate professions.
Representation is even worse in commercial real estate, in which only 3 percent of professions are held by minorities. Further, a 2017 report by Bella Research Group and the Knight Foundation found that while white men hold 75 percent of senior executive jobs in the U.S. commercial real estate industry, Black men comprise only 1.3 percent of those positions.
D.C. native Aaron Inman, a senior associate at commercial real estate firm Greysteel, is no stranger to the challenges of breaking into the highly competitive industry, and now that he has, he’s started the Greysteel Black Professional, an internal network focused on recruiting, retaining and mentoring Black individuals interested in commercial real estate.
“I come from the belief that I’m not special, that if somebody else was given the same opportunity as me from my same background, they’d be able to do the same with it as well,” said Inman. “I wanted to sort of streamline that process to create a system within the company that had a network focused around attracting Black talent and grooming that Black talent within the firm.”
Headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, Greysteel is a leading middle market real estate investment bank for private and institutional investors. It provides investment services, including sales and financing and research and investment planning, informed by intelligence from its proprietary data and technology.
Before joining Greysteel, Inman researched and interviewed with a number of national real estate firms but was often directed to apply through a diversity or social program. When he discovered Greysteel, he was impressed that the CEO, Ari Firoozabadi, was a person of color and only in his 40s.
Inman decided to reach out to Nigel Crayton, a Black senior investment associate at Greysteel at the time, and after about a month of interviewing, he secured a position. During his second day on the job, Crayton took Inman to lunch to welcome him to the firm and offer his advice on navigating the industry.
Soon after, TC Cosby, director of Greysteel’s D.C. structured finance team, scheduled a call with Inman to walk him through best practices for the market.
“All of that attention that I got from other Black brokers in the firm helped me launch my career and cut down on a lot of learning curves that I would have to get through through experience or learn the hard way,” said Inman.
The Greysteel Black Professional has a board of five Black brokers, including Crayton and Cosby, who work directly with the vice president of the firm’s human resource department. They are notified about open positions within the firm and engage Black applicants to apply for the opportunities.
According to Inman, since the launch of the network, the firm has seen nearly a 200 percent increase in Black interns.
Greysteel’s c-suite has been entirely supportive of Greysteel Black Professional and even invited the board to kick off their annual national conference with an overview of the network.
Inman said the offer was completely unexpected, but it assured him that the firm was dedicated to increasing Black representation.
The ultimate goal for Greysteel Black Professional is to make the firm’s Black demographic reflect that of the greater population’s, although Inman said he’d be happy to exceed it.
He hopes to see more commercial real estate firms follow in Greysteel’s footsteps, but he also wants them to understand that this initiative is not just a humanitarian effort. It’s an avenue for making their businesses more profitable.
“This is not charity. This is a real business opportunity to tap into a talent pool that’s going to help grow your company’s bottom line,” said Inman.
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