Power of CREW

May 24, 2021
Written by: CREW-St. Louis

Color of Change Needs Work, Awareness

As CREW Network launches its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion outreach, CREW-St. Louis and CREW Kansas City cohosted a program to drive change in the industry. 

Marcia Charney, contributing writer for MetroWire Media, an enewsletter devoted to the CRE industry in Kansas City and St. Louis, did an excellent job in covering the program held virtually on April 27.  

The special event was aptly titled the Color of Change. Adrienne Bain, a CREW-St. Louis and CREW Charlotte member, a CREW Network Director and a commercial real estate executive with Citizens Bank, led the discussion.

Adrienne provided insights on her tenure as a black female in the CRE industry for nearly 20 years. Charney reported, “Adrienne was born and raised in a predominately white neighborhood in St. Louis where she was one of just a few black students in her class.

“I remember trick-or-treating on Halloween and knowing that there were certain houses that I had to avoid because the treats they gave the little black kids were very different from the treats that they gave the little white kids,” Adrienne told the audience.

She also recalled waking up one night to a cross burning on her family’s front yard. “All that was years ago, but sometimes I wonder how much things have really changed,” she said.

Marcia’s story told more of Adrienne’s background. “After graduating college, Adrienne worked in retail sales management where she was one of just a few black store employees, then in retail advertising where she was the sole black employee in the department. In graduate school, she was one of only eight black students in her class of approximately 180, and one of just two black females.

“When she subsequently began her career in commercial real estate, Adrienne said she realized that the commercial real estate industry really wasn’t any more diverse than her previous experiences.”

Additionally, CREW Network’s benchmark studies conducted every five years since 2005 measure the progress of women in commercial real estate. However, little data exists on race in the industry.

“Despite research that suggests that a diverse and inclusive workforce leads to higher productivity, higher creativity, higher profitability, employee morale, stronger brand, you name it . . . . 46% of respondents in a Deloitte 2021 commercial real estate outlook reported that they were focused on increasing the level of diversity in hiring, development and leadership.  So that means that 54% were not focused on this,” said Adrienne.

Gender differences matter but Adrienne said it’s difficult for her to look at the disparity between genders without also considering race.  

“I would also say being both female and a person of color is a disadvantage in this industry,” said Adrienne.

The industry lacks awareness on this issue. “And one of the reasons for that is because being a member of a minority population, actually you stand out. And you would think there would be more awareness because you stand out. But there’s not,” she said. In fact, Adrienne told the audience that when she attends events, she is accustomed to being one of the few women or one of a few minorities in the room.  

To drive home the point, she told the story of her husband, who is white. They attended a retirement party for the father of Adrienne’s friend. Her husband was on the outside looking in so to speak. He did not know any guests other than Adrienne and her friend. He also was the only white person, which was uncomfortable. Her husband told Adrienne now he knows how she feels.

As Charney reported, “It’s interesting when you are the minority and oftentimes in environments where you’re one of a few or the only one, and there is an expectation of assimilation. I think it’s very different when you are a member of majority population but then find yourself as a minority in a particular event or occurrence. So yes, I hate to say it, but I actually had a little smile on my face that day when he said he understood what I felt like. I say all that to say lack of awareness is huge,” Adrienne said.  

Persons of color also find it tougher to access sponsorship, mentorship and ally ship. That may be a reason why few minorities hold executive positions in the industry, Adrienne noted.

Charney wrote: “People tend to sponsor and mentor and ally with folks who kind of look like them. And in fact, in many structured mentorship programs, they often consider both gender and race when they’re selecting mentors and mentees. . . And so while it may be comforting to be mentored or sponsored by someone who looks like you, if you’re both black and female, that may not always be possible. And it may not always be the way to get to that next job or next promotion,” Adrienne said.