As the CRE Pendulum Swings, Are We Creating The Next Discriminated Group?
by: Jerry LoCoco, SVN | Velocity Commercial Real Estate
Privileged White Boy From a Trailer Park; Social Disadvantage:
It was 2007 and I just started a commercial construction company in what became the beginning of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Seeking additional revenue streams, I sat at my desk reading the application for the Small Business Administrations 8(a) Business Development Program. As I searched for the program qualifications I found Section 124.103, which identifies “Who is Socially Disadvantaged” as the qualifier for who ultimately could apply to the program. After reading the paragraph I concluded that the paragraph (then and now) includes essentially every other group save one, white males. The SBA makes quite a general assumption that people in this county defined, as “white males” could not also be socially disadvantaged. After all, my Italian/Armenian father passed away when I was five, I spent much of my childhood and early teenage years in a trailer ripe with drug/alcohol abuse and domestic violence and I was essentially on my own by the age of 13. Did the mere fact that I have blonde hair, green eyes and a male make my childhood any less of a “social disadvantage.” Someone with a much more abundant upbringing than I, who was anything but a white male could qualify for this program. Is this the modern definition of patent fairness and equality? After all, my invitation to the “old boys” club and my “privilege” card never came to my single-wide trailer mailbox. And wait I live in Yuma, AZ aren’t I technically a minority . . . all of this equality business is so confusing! Hold on, is this the sound of a pendulum swinging after years of oppression and inequality in this country and has the pendulum shifted entirely?
Starting a CRE Business; Equality in CRE:
Flash forward to March of 2018 and now my wife and I own a commercial real estate company in Yuma, AZ. We are parents to two wonderful girls and actually as I type this sit in the hospital waiting for baby # 3 who through God’s great blessing is also a girl #WeMakeGirls! Before I continue I want to make this very clear: I FULLY SUPPORT EQUALITY IN COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE and in every other capacity. I’m from a community that is a melting pot of various cultures and despite some admitted biases and prejudices early in life (did I mention my upbringing), I truly respect and want everyone in this country to have a fair shot! I think my background lends a particular level of empathy for those left on the outskirts of society.
With respect to equality in commercial real estate, my wife and I want our girls if they choose, to have every opportunity afforded to them to pursue this amazing career/business. However, I do not want our girls to use any excuse as the reason for not reaching their goals. I won’t create a fairy tale story to tell my girls that “the good old boys” in the smoky room and dirt ball who says inappropriate things, won’t exist in the world. Our girls will know that “the good old boys” and dirt balls are out there and to a certain extent always will be in this world. As a father I will prepare them to be a ball of fire that is not deterred and only gains strength from setbacks, disappointments, and inequalities in this world. Personal responsibility not a government program is what the world needs more of. I love seeing strong trailblazing women on the CRE scene bringing attention to inequality in CRE! They’re taking this issue head on, writing about it, promoting women and blazing a trail for countless women who will undoubtedly benefit and take CRE to unimaginable levels.
Back to the pendulum. My wife and I own everything together 50/50 we are a team, no separate bank accounts, no “this is mine” setup in our marriage. That’s how WE wanted it! Together united in life, marriage, business (not exactly see below), parenting, and everything else in the margins! When we formed the company we understood there are benefits associated with a “woman owned” business designation that requires a woman to own 51% of the entity to quality for various programs. Ok, I get it, society benefits from the promotion of women owned business, however, why does 50% ownership not qualify? Is it any less ownership than the other party involved? Are they not EQUAL partners? Ultimately we decided to pursue the designation and because we generally agree with the intent of the program it wasn’t a big issue. However, yet another program created to help some and yet seemed to target me, a white guy who grew up in a drug/alcohol infested trailer. I know, quit your complaining Jerry, I had all the breaks!
As the Pendulum Swings Here Comes Extreme:
A March Bisnow Article (Article Link) asked various CRE brokers a series of questions including: “Has the #MeToo movement and increased focus on gender discrimination and sexual misconduct gone too far? Not far enough”?” Key the ominous pendulum swinging music! One response in particular carries with it the potential to create a very familiar situation, a situation similar to the 8(a) business development program noted above. The response in part was as follows: “In order to really understand the extent of gender inequality we need these movements to highlight the issue. “The pendulum needs to swing too far for people to take stock and change behaviors. . .” I believe these statements were made with good intentions and are well intended. But what exactly is the definition of “swinging too far” and how many other women CRE brokers believe that the pendulum needs to swing “too far?” Finally what does this collectively mean? Does it mean the government should create a set aside program that precludes white males who overcame “social disadvantages” such as parental death, drug and alcohol abuse, and domestic violence like in the federal construction arena? If so, are we not then creating the next “discriminated group?” That can’t possibly be our collective end goal. Is it?
Underdogs, Founders of This Great Country and Destiny Creators:
It was a group of stubborn rebels, lead and supported by American women and men who resisted and ultimately defeated the most powerful military in the world. In their resistance they put their faith in a higher power and each other and ultimately concluded that in large part their destiny resided in their own hands. The defeats, stumbling blocks, and setbacks were all part of their grand experiment and they defeated a “good ol chaps” club if you will. In victory despite overwhelming odds they established the very republic that as Americans we are all so blessed to be a part. We are a country ripe with opportunity FOR ALL. I did not say that we are a PERFECT country and that we cannot improve.
In the same Biznow Article noted above another woman CRE broker responded to the following question: “How have your attitudes or behaviors changed this year as gender inequality and sexual harassment kick-started a national conversation?” The response is an example of a woman with a mindset I want my girls to emulate. Key the Rocky Music! “Actually my attitudes have changed very little. I’ve always approached the male-dominated commercial real estate field believing and knowing that I am the maker of my own destiny. . . I believe that being a woman is beneficial to this industry. We are better negotiators because we understand motivations and interests (even hidden ones) better than most men, and we’re better at maintaining enduring relationships . . .It does me no good to make excuses for not succeeding because of someone else-my destiny is always in my own hands.”
Yes, indeed this is the mindset I want our girls to adopt! After all isn’t this mindset, that of the underdogs and the destiny creators who forged this great nation? Should we all not strive to emulate this mindset? What I fear is that this movement will turn into something much more than the pursuit for equality as those who want the “pendulum to swing too far” may contend. We’re already telling men that to benefit from federal programs they cannot be equal owners with their wife. Maybe this is not the far end of the pendulum but it’s definitely something to consider, as it most clearly resembles a punishment of sorts for men. I fear the movement will turn into an excuse to expand programs like the “woman owned” designation at the direct exclusion of men. What is worse as I fear for our girls is that this movement could potentially expand into an excuse for not succeeding. Such expansion will invariably turn into the basis to further discriminate one group as an attempt to somehow make amends for the past. No, to make assumptions and punish a gender or race is not the solution to inequality, it’s merely a new version of the same evil, and only perpetuates the evil. We should strive for equality in every aspect of life including commercial real estate. However, the metric for equality should be one that does not consider race or gender. Good old fashioned, hard work, effort and the creation of value. That’s how we should all be measured, and if we truly seek equality this metric is the way as this metric is blind to gender and race.
My wife and I will encourage our girls to adopt the mindset of the underdog and destiny makers. We will teach them that the most important factor in their success isn’t their gender or race, it’s their effort, hustle, determination, commitment to their profession and the value they create in the economy that makes the difference. I will warn our girls about those who seek to use this amazing movement to punish an entire group of people setting the stage for future inequality. Our girls will know the way to bring lasting social change is that of the destiny creators, it’s a path of personal responsibility and raising awareness of issues like gender inequality. Our girls will know that we do not create lasting social change by pushing the pendulum to the extremes, and those that seek such action inadvertently discriminate and promote the evil we know as inequality.
Again, I SUPPORT THIS MOVEMENT and the underdog destiny creators blazing a trail for women in CRE. As a father to two, soon to be three girls I am eternally grateful for the hard work, effort and sacrifices these woman have and will continue to invest as they make the world a better place for our girls and all women who pursue this amazing career/business! We need to make sure that in blazing this trail we do not allow the pendulum to swing too far, because as I’ve noted above, doing so is not only extremely unfair but the extremes of this movement look much like past and present day discrimination and inequality. This is an evil we all know too well, an evil that we must not repeat. It looks like #3 is on her way; time to go help welcome her into this amazing world but before I do i’ll leave you with the lyrics from am amazing song by Mandisa, “We all bleed the same, we’re more beautiful when we come together.” Andimao!