WLI Advances Diversity in Real Estate

One of ULI’s highest priorities is to increase the diversity of the Institute’s membership, staff, and the industry in general. A key program advancing this priority is the Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI), which is committed to the advancement of women throughout their careers as leaders in the real estate industry, including professional development support for young females as leaders in ULI and their professions.

Since 2012, WLI has expanded steadily throughout the district council and national council networks, with a presence in 53 district and national councils in 10 countries. In fiscal year 2019, WLI chapters within district councils and national councils hosted 180 events, including a new program from WLI Michigan, “Build Up Breakfast Clubs,” which bring together small groups of women from throughout the state to build lasting relationships, engage meaningfully with women working in their field, and build strong networks within their regions. Participants in local Build Up Breakfast Clubs have demonstrated greater engagement with the Institute overall, and the program has brought in new ULI Michigan members.

Several WLI activities launched in fiscal year 2019 by district councils were made possible with grants awarded through the WLI Hines Innovation Grant program, which funds district council initiatives to raise the profile of and offer professional growth opportunities for female real estate professionals. Grant winners were ULI “Midwest,” consisting of WLI chapters in eight district councils (Kentucky, St. Louis, Indiana, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Nashville, Memphis, and Iowa) that are collaborating to establish a Midwestern Regional Development Summit for women; ULI Chicago, which is creating a multifaceted, scalable approach to enhance its ongoing work to promote women in real estate; ULI Cincinnati, which started a program involving WLI members working with housing organizations to address the lack of affordable housing in the metro area; ULI Tampa Bay, whose program involves WLI members helping connect low-income female workers to economic opportunity; and ULI Toronto, which launched “View from the Top,” a new webinar series created by WLI Toronto that features an interactive platform for participants to exchange ideas with ULI members across North America.

WLI also continued its partnership with Prologis to offer the prestigious and highly selective WLI Prologis Achievement Award, a scholarship program for female real estate professionals. The award program, created in 2015, recognizes female members’ contributions to ULI and their commitment to real estate and land use issues. Award recipients receive a complimentary registration to ULI’s Fall Meeting, as well as up to $2,000 in travel expenses. At the meeting, award recipients are hosted by senior WLI members at Product Council meetings as well as all WLI-related events. In 2018, 10 ULI members received the WLI Prologis Award:

– Valerie Becker, ULI Indiana, vice president, commercial real estate, the National Bank of Indianapolis;

– Annie Clark Cambria, ULI Louisiana, chief operating officer of education facilities development, Louisiana                Recovery School District;

– Taylor Cooper, ULI Minnesota, development manager and development division operation leader, THOR;

– Amanda Janzen, ULI Minnesota, project manager, Schafer Richardson;

– Elizabeth Morrison, ULI Washington, senior vice president of capital markets, JBG SMITH;

– Navi Sandhu, ULI Chicago, assistant vice president, Fifield Companies;

– Kimberly Stephenson, ULI Kentucky, vice president of development, Marian;

– Meghan Webster, ULI Chicago, global education, civic + culture practice area leader, Gensler;

– Alison Wicks, ULI Northwest—Portland, senior project coordinator, Prosper Portland; and

– Sarah Zahn, ULI Northwest—Portland, director of development, ZRZ Realty.

  • “If we can increase the number of women in real estate, eventually we will change the C-suite makeup for greater gender equity at senior levels.”

    – ULI Global Governing Trustee and WLI Leader Gayle Starr

District councils have also continued to lead ULI’s diversity efforts with programs such as Pathways to Inclusion, which seeks to lower the barriers to entry in the industry while increasing networking and knowledge-sharing opportunities for people of color. First offered at the 2018 Spring Meeting in Detroit by ULI Michigan, the program is supported by the Larson Center for Leadership, the Kresge Foundation, and other generous donors. Participants in the program receive free registrations to ULI events as well as a complimentary one-year ULI membership.

In fiscal year 2019, 30 people of color attended ULI’s Fall Meeting in Boston as participants in ULI Boston’s Pathways to Inclusion program, and 21 program participants in ULI Nashville’s program attended ULI’s Spring Meeting in that city. This progress continued at the 2019 Fall Meeting in Washington, D.C., with 45 participants from ULI Washington’s program and 12 participants from ULI Boston’s program. An expansion of Pathways to Inclusion in more district councils is planned for this year.

Another district council initiative to increase diversity is the Real Estate Diversity Initiative (REDI), which is a training and mentorship program for people of color and women with a curriculum that follows the real estate development process and ends with a development proposal for an actual site.

REDI has been in place at ULI Colorado for 10 years and at ULI Minnesota for three years, producing nearly 350 graduates. In fiscal year 2019, the program was expanded to ULI St. Louis, ULI Kansas City, ULI Memphis, and ULI Indiana with generous support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Each district council was awarded a grant from the foundation to initiate a REDI program in its communities.

More grant funding is being used to provide additional resources to all district councils, including a REDI guide, based on knowledge shared by ULI Colorado and ULI Minnesota, to enable successful implementation of the program.

“We are absolutely thrilled that we won a grant. The REDI program is a wonderful next step for our work on equity, which in St. Louis has grown into what we’re calling our Equitable Communities Initiative,” said Kacey Cordes Mahrt, chair of mission advancement at ULI St. Louis and vice president and assistant director of project management, affordable housing, at U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation in St. Louis.

Use Navigator to apply for service on a WLI program.

Use the Member Directory to find WLI members across ULI.

Learn more about REDI by watching the video below.


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