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Is commercial real estate only for jocks?

December 29, 2008 |  3:08 pm

Spend a little time around the commercial real estate business -- one day at an industry convention will do -- and you'll notice how much the guys tend to look alike. That's because almost all of them are guys. White guys, to be specific.

It's hardly news that such fields as real estate brokerage and property development are still the near-exclusive province of white males, but it is astonishing that so little has changed in appearance since I first started covering commercial real estate in the mid-1980s.

The industry's premiere trade group, the Urban Land Institute, is frustrated by the seemingly intractable status quo and is about to launch a program to boost minority membership in the organization that also includes architects, lenders and colleagues in other real estate-related fields. Right now, only 1.8% of the ULI's 40,000 members nationwide are racial and ethnic minorities, and only 20% are women. Polyglot Los Angeles is the group's diversity leader, with a 3% minority membership in its local chapter.

The managing director of ULI Los Angeles, Philip S. Hart, has been given the task of attracting more minorities to the business, no small challenge in the middle of a devastating real estate slump. He hopes to persuade members to craft real estate deals that are "diverse and inclusive" when the business finally improves.

--Roger Vincent