Sunday, February 12, 2017

Forest City and the diversity issue

When it comes to diversity, Forest City Ratner, led by a woman and now with a majority of women on its development team, likes to portray itself as a leading light.

Indeed, in comparison with peer companies, it's surely ahead on the gender metric. Bruce Ratner and successor MaryAnne Gilmartin have made FCR a notably hospitable place for women to work in the male-dominated world of real estate, Capital New York, in The women of Forest City, reported in March 2015.

Then again, as I pointed out, the company's record employing women, however unusual/admirable in the real estate industry, is not without significant blemish. That includes sexual harassment complaints that were allow to linger.

Differing diversity

Forest City again got positive play in the Real Deal's 1/1/17 article, Real estate's diversity problem, subtitled "An entrenched culture marked by privately held family firms has largely blocked out minorities and made sexism a norm."

There are no black or Hispanic men on the executive committee of the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), which has hired its first black president. On REBNY’s 107-member board of governors, there are two minorities and nine women, TRD concluded.

From the article:
MaryAnne Gilmartin, who was named president and CEO of Forest City Ratner in 2013 after 19 years at the company, is perhaps the industry’s most prominent female development executive.
All told, her company — like Extell, Silverstein and a handful of others — has a relatively high percentage of women.
“Women represent 60 percent of our development team,” Gilmartin said. “Unfortunately, I think, that’s not the typical statistic.”
...Gilmartin recalled a meeting 10 years ago when she accompanied Bruce Ratner — then the firm’s CEO — to negotiate a lease renewal with the head of a finance company that was a tenant in a Forest City building. Gilmartin said the male executive treated her as if she were being interviewed for a job, peppering her with questions about her experience level.
Does that reflect company management in general? We don't know, because they no longer share such information publicly. But as these screenshots--with photos--from 2007 and 2010 show, there were a reasonable number of women but not people of color.

Some change

That's changed, sort of. Asked last September by the Commercial Observer about the talent pool inside the company, Forest City's Susi Yu--who immigrated with her family from South Korea-- responded:
It’s definitely a meritocracy. Bruce’s appreciation for talent is really based on who you are. What’s interesting to me is that it’s not only women; it’s the diversity of race, ethnicity and cultural backgrounds. If you look at my team we have a Persian, Americans, two Chinese, one American-born South Asian, someone from India, and we have a couple of Jewish men sprinkled in there just for a little flavor. [laughs]
As I wrote, that's diverse, but it's not exactly reflective of, say, the diverse precincts of Brooklyn--mostly from black-majority Central Brooklyn--that rallied for the Community Benefits Agreement.

In fact, Forest City's relationship to groups in Central Brooklyn has not always been easy, since, as one executive referred to a purported CBA partner, "They work for us."

But because they're better than most peers, they'll still get a bye.

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