“We must do better”: Real estate leaders move to address discrimination in industry

Compass, the Wing, WeWork among firms donating and steering funds to minority-owned businesses and civil rights groups

National /
Jun.June 04, 2020 11:30 AM
From left: Moishe Mana, Marcelo Claure, Robert Reffkin, and Audrey Gelman (Credit: Jemal Countess, Aaron Davidson, Jean Baptiste Lacroix, Joshua Lott and Sean Rayford, via Getty Images)

From left: Moishe Mana, Marcelo Claure, Robert Reffkin, and Audrey Gelman (Credit: Jemal Countess, Aaron Davidson, Jean Baptiste Lacroix, Joshua Lott and Sean Rayford, via Getty Images)

Nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police have quickly shifted to a larger discussion about the need to address systemic racism and discrimination, including in the business community.

Now, some leaders in the real estate industry — long criticized for its lack of diversity — have begun donating and directing funds to minority-owned companies and civil rights groups, in an effort to provide greater opportunity. Some companies have said they would look internally to make changes, too.

Compass has created a fundraising campaign to benefit the Equal Justice Initiative and NAACP, which has so far raised more than $6,000 of a $15,000 goal.

CEO Robert Reffkin, who on Wednesday shared experiences of everyday indignities he has suffered as a black man, said Compass was also creating a vendor list of photographers and designers who are black and brown. “As an agent you control [marketing] spend,” he said. “Even if it’s a certain percentage of the money you spend…it will make a huge difference.”

SoftBank-backed WeWork has directed $2 million in grants for black-owned businesses that are WeWork members, according to a tweet from Marcelo Claure, CEO of SoftBank Group International.

“We must do better,” Claure wrote in the June 2 statement. He added: “Black lives matter and deserve the opportunity to not just live, but to thrive.”

SoftBank — which also counts Compass among the companies it funds — has announced a group of initiatives. In a letter to SoftBank employees, Claure wrote about the launch of a $100 million Opportunity Growth Fund that will invest only in companies led by founders and entrepreneurs of color.

Unlike other funds, SoftBank will not take a traditional management fee, Claure wrote. A portion of the gains from its investments will be donated to organizations geared toward helping people of color.

Citing a lack of diversity and inclusion in the venture capital community and tech industry — only 1 percent of VC-backed founders are black — Claure said the fund will be the largest of its kind providing money to black Americans and people of color.

SoftBank will also match employee donations of up to $1,000 to nonprofit organizations working to fight discrimination.

Earlier this week, the Wing, a female-oriented co-working startup, made a $200,000 corporate donation to Color of Change, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund. WeWork sold its stake  in the Wing in January.

And an arts and technology company owned by South Florida developer Moishe Mana said it had donated $50,000 to the NAACP. The company, Milk, said in an Instagram post on “Blackout Tuesday” that it would match any donation made by team members to the charities of their choice. “We are committed to being part of the systemic change that is needed to reshape our world,” the company said.


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