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Walker & Dunlop’s First VP of Diversity Discusses How the CRE Industry Can Move the Needle

“We often run the same play over and over again in terms of D&I and expect to get a different result,” says Jason Golub.

Despite past diversification initiatives, the U.S. commercial real estate industry remains predominantly white and male. However, racial inequalities accentuated by COVID-19 and recent protests calling for racial justice after George Floyd’s death have reignited business leaders’ conversations around the need to accelerate diversity and inclusion efforts.

Walker & Dunlop, one of the nation’s largest multifamily finance firms, is one of the latest companies to create a new position to oversee its D&I efforts. The company hired former GE executive Jason Golub as vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion.

The company says the new role is part of its long-term commitment to foster an inclusive environment that benefits from diverse backgrounds and ideas, while also building a pipeline of diverse talent.

At GE, Golub focused on high-risk investigations, workplace culture and training, and compliance, while also serving as a senior member of the company’s Diversity & Inclusion Council.

Golub shared with NREI what Walter & Dunlop’s D&I efforts will look like moving forward.

This Q&A has been edited for style, length and clarity.

NREI: What does the creation of this new position mean on an operational basis for Walker & Dunlop?

Jason-GolubJason Golub: My thinking is that the creation of the role doesn’t actually mean anything from an operational basis. The reason I say that is because to me, operationalizing D&I is one of the core challenges of developing this program.

The creation of D&I is often superficial. Everyone does the trainings they’re told. The leaders say the right things. But if you really want to change the culture, the challenge is how do you operationalize D&I into the decision-making? The first thing you have to do is view D&I through the lens of business innovation. D&I is going to make Walker & Dunlop better equipped to solve our clients’ problems. It’s going to make us better equipped to think differently. Think outside the box. Come up with creative products. Meet the needs of marginalized groups.

It’s going to allow us to outperform our competitors, because we are going to be thinking about the same problems, but through the various lenses of a diverse leadership. When you start thinking about D&I that way, then that’s when it becomes operationalized.

NREI: Walker & Dunlop has set long-term objectives to nearly double female and minority representation in management positions and top company earners by 2025. What are the steps you will take to achieve that?

Jason Golub: The first thing you have to do is start thinking outside the box. There are a lot of diverse leaders out there, and they might not have that typical resume or typical experience from a commercial real estate perspective, but if given the opportunity, they will excel.

If you’re only looking at those same channels that you have been looking at for years and years, you’re going to find the same candidates you have found for years and years. You’re not going to find a remarkable, diverse candidate if you go to the same 10 schools or the same five career fairs you have gone to for the last decade. For me, that requires partnering with organizations that focus on diverse leaders. For example, there’s an organization called Wall Street Friends, a diversity organization that has 8,000 diverse professional members primarily focused in finance.

You as a company can partner with them, expose their professional network to your organization and potentially recruit them. It’s having partnerships like that—and I stress the term partnership—because it’s not the ‘we need to find the candidate for this job, let’s go find one’ approach, because that doesn’t work either. You have to develop these long-term partnerships where you’re developing a pipeline of potential candidates to introduce to the business.

Historically black colleges are another untapped area if you’re looking for diverse candidates. This may not be where organizations have typically looked. Again, it’s thinking outside the box. Another area that will lead to meeting these long-term objectives is sponsorship and mentoring. Studies have shown that sponsoring diverse candidates and mentoring is critical to advancement.

Sponsorship is that idea of when someone comes in the door, who’s shepherding them through their career? Who’s taking responsibility for them holistically, as opposed to mentoring someone on a specific project?

If there are leaders who are shepherding diverse employees with high potential through their career, they’re going to have access to opportunities that they might not have had. They’re going to have people who are in their corner at all points of their career. It’s going to open doors that will lead to higher retention and more advancement opportunities.

Additionally, while there are plenty of internal mentors, there are also organizations like Chief, a private network that focuses on connecting and supporting women leaders. It’s an external organization that’s really driving an entire generation of women leaders. For us, that’s something we’re looking at: How do we create opportunities for our high-performing female leaders to advance? That’s another way.

NREI: There’s a belief that the pandemic and working from home could set back professional women’s progress in the workplace by a decade or more. What are your thoughts regarding the potential impact on increasing the number of women in commercial real estate and reaching equal pay?

Jason Golub: Unfortunately, the pandemic is disproportionally impacting women, and in terms of the impact, we may not know it for years. I see it in my own life. I see it in female friends who are being forced to scale back their careers at a much higher rate than men.

From a company perspective and a D&I perspective, the question is what can we do to reduce that impact short term by thinking more long term? That could include everything from canceling review cycles short term. Providing more job flexibility seems like an obvious one. Paying everyone’s full bonus irrespective of their situation.

The point I’m making is in the short term, you can’t penalize our women leaders for taking care of their families and children during a pandemic. That isn’t a good look for corporations. The alternative is if companies take a more thoughtful and long-term approach to what their female employees are going through during COVID-19, you’ll do right by your employees and be in a better position to come back out of attrition long term.

In terms of compensation, one of the things that we’re doing early on is a culture and diversity audit, which is looking at our entire company and evaluating where we are in terms of culture and diversity, and compensation analysis is part of that. Once that’s complete, there will be transparency both in terms of the process and the findings, and I’m committed, and I know our leadership is committed, to fixing any discrepancies that are identified.

But it’s not just pay that needs to be evaluated and changed. There are a lot of issues that impact women in ways that don’t impact men. Everything from the motherhood penalty to hiring practices to promotion decisions. They all play a role in where women end up in terms of compensation, and it’s broader than pay. That’s more of the opportunity gap. That’s something we need to address as well.

NREI: What are the biggest obstacles to hiring more diverse talent for commercial real estate positions?

Jason Golub: This isn’t specific to commercial real estate, but the biggest obstacle in my opinion is we often run the same play over and over again in terms of D&I and expect to get a different result. We’ve decided we’re going to focus on innovation, on integrating it into our business; on transparency and accountability; and building a program that’s long term around those. And not simply ‘do the same thing that everyone has been doing,’ which has met with little success.

There is a natural inclination to lead into what you’ve perceived has led to your success. So, in the commercial real estate industry, there are a lot of white men and they have met with success in this space. There’s that inclination, and it isn’t a nefarious inclination, to hire more people that are similar to what got us here. But if you look at any business, there’s an aspect of that which could lead to a downfall of a business. If you look at Blockbuster, it didn’t evolve as a business and see what was coming next and what the future really looked like. So, Netflix came along and blew them out of the water.

It’s that same idea with D&I. The same thing that has always worked for you isn’t necessarily an indicator of what’s going to work moving forward, so you have to be willing to be honest about that and then innovate and put it into action. Otherwise, someone else will innovate and take the lead in D&I and we’ll be left behind.

NREI: What are the best ways to give people opportunities to advance through the ranks once they’re hired?

Jason Golub: For me, the answer is in the question. The best way to get people advancing through the ranks is opportunity. So, opportunity for the best assignments. Opportunity to be customer-facing. Opportunity to work with senior leadership. And absent all those opportunities and an intentional process that provides those opportunities incessantly, we won’t move the needle in terms of advancement for diverse leadership. Whether it’s women or minorities, opportunities need to advance.

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