Power of CREW

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

Meeting the Challenge of DEI

While CREW-St. Louis continues to advance, educate and support women to influence the commercial real estate industry, work remains to embrace diversity, equity and inclusion in the industry. Yes, progress has been made to uplift women, but an even bigger challenge is to understand the barriers and obstacles facing marginalized populations. Not just race but a range of diverse differences including sexual orientation and ability. No small task but one that deserves and commands attention. 

Enter the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee, a formal effort to begin addressing those challenges. Led by Cindy Bambini and Co-chair Christy Merdinian, the committee took roots after CREW Network assembled a detailed Playbook to guide chapters. It provides a foundation for understanding the challenges, the commitment and the culture needed to address several issues facing the industry. 

Cindy certainly understands the importance. She was already spearheading an Inclusive Partner Program in her job as Vice President of Business Development for CannonDesign. The program is designed to ensure that CannonDesign continues to successfully partner with diverse suppliers. 

The Playbook from CREW Network made Cindy’s decision easier as well. “I was super impressed with it,” she says. “CREW Network takes this seriously. It was enough to throw me over the edge.” 

Call it serendipity or simply St. Louis but Christy not only had an interest, but she also had a connection with Cindy. 

As for the interest, she played a critical role in the chapter’s Mentoring Program. Christy calls it her “entrepreneurial spirit,” so she doesn’t shy away from bold challenges. 

And the connection plays to our region’s ever-present big city, small town community. Cindy and Christy discovered that they both work out at Lifetime Fitness. The tandem often meets after their workouts to discuss a variety of topics. “It’s a St. Louis thing,” Christy says of running into each other and then taking advantage of it to build their networking. Once Christy found out that Cindy was leading the charge, she was all in as Co-chair of the DEI Committee. 

“Plus, it’s a great cause,” Christy adds. “As women, we are already in that minority. It’s part and parcel of our mission. We’ve made progress but now we need to bring everybody along.”

Make no mistake, Cindy and Christy know the industry is far from diverse, equitable or inclusive. A look at the 2020 CREW Network Foundation Benchmarking Study shows many holes in pay and the overall composition of the industry’s workforce. Men still get paid more than women, and the industry is still very much Caucasian. 

“There’s so much room for improvement,” Cindy says. 

Thankfully, the region’s large general contractors are chipping away at improving minority participation. Those contractors continue to support minorities and women-owned businesses in the development and construction arena.

A path to follow for sure but one that will take the energy of every CREW-St. Louis member, Christy and Cindy note. 

“It’s more than just getting members to join but it’s also about the fabric of the organization,” Christy says. “It’s a learning opportunity. People aren’t aware of the biases they carry. There is so much embedded in how each of us view the world,” she notes.

The good news is that most organizations are looking at this, Cindy says. “To do so, we have to be careful to introduce a strategy and tactics that not only feel right but at the same time are welcoming and genuine.”

The committee also hit the ground running. CREW-St. Louis members already showed interest in the initiative last year when a small group of members wanted to start such a committee. “We automatically had an eager body of people to work with us,” Cindy notes. CREW Network’s Playbook and training turned the vision into reality. 

Playbook in hand, a dozen other members became players in joining Cindy and Christy to spearhead the DEI’s initiatives.

It starts with the committee’s Vision Statement: The CREW-St. Louis Chapter is devoted to promoting a culture of equity and inclusion through our unwavering commitment to build diverse partnerships that reflect and strengthen the community around us.

And it’s a collective effort. Every committee will be asked to participate in the DEI Committee’s efforts. To achieve this collective effort, the DEI Committee paired one of its members to serve as a liaison with each of the chapter’s nine other committees. 

This serves to educate and create awareness across every aspect of the chapter. “There is so much change that needs to take place,” Cindy says. “How do we bring other people into the industry? Once we do, how do we make sure they become a part of our mission? We need to include them in leadership. It’s a challenge so we need all of CREW-St. Louis behind this.”

While still formulating its plan, the Committee will jumpstart its efforts with a program on April 27. The joint program with our CREW colleagues in Kansas City will feature Adrienne Bain, a CREW-St. Louis and CREW Charlotte member and CREW Network Director. She will provide insights on The Color of Change. Adrienne will address the issues of access and awareness in our industry.

Additionally, the committee wants to establish a better baseline to really assess the makeup of our membership. It will encourage members to do a better job of reporting more demographic information on their CREWBiz profiles, information that is confidential but paints a much better picture of the chapter’s diversity. 

The DEI Committee also will dive deeper in understanding the chapter’s support of diversity, inclusiveness and equity among its vendors whether for printing or promotional items, catering or venues. 

Much work to do, yes, so Cindy and Christy, along with their committee members, know it will take time. The DEI Playbook suggests a three-year runway to start making an impact.

“We know it’s a challenge,” Cindy says. “We are starting from ground zero, but it’s well worth the effort to make our industry and our membership more inclusive, equitable and diversified.”