Independent thinking is always an asset…Of course it is important to understand mainstream opinions, but if you question them, develop your own point of view, and are willing to take intelligent risk, you can go the other way and realize larger margins on your activity than you would if you were competing with the rest of the world.
As a part of my series about strong women leaders of the Real Estate industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Natalie Diaz.
Natalie Diaz joined Time Equities Inc. (TEI) in 2011 as the Executive Assistant to the CEO Director of Public Relations, and is now Chief of Staff. In her role as COS, Diaz’s primary responsibility is to work with both the CEO and President of TEI to create and/or refine company-wide policies and procedures to support efficient internal operations and interdepartmental communication. Diaz oversees all marketing and communications for the firm, as well as Human Resources. She also sits on TEI’s Executive Committee to guide the long-term vision and organizational structure of the company, and is an integral member of ongoing succession and transition planning for the firm. Diaz does a lot of writing for TEI’s legendary CEO and Founder Francis Greenburger, preps him for speaking engagements, and manages his extensive [personal] political giving and overall political strategy. She also supports Greenburger’s personnel management and project management. She received her undergraduate degree from Williams College and lives in Manhattan. Outside of work, Diaz is an active member of the Williams Black Alumni Network and currently mentors a female Williams student.
Diaz founded TEI Connect, the first official mentorship program in TEI’s 52-year history, in 2016. Diaz saw a need to transfer skills and institutional knowledge from many of TEI’s longtime employees to the newer generation, while also supporting the company’s promising younger and newer employees. Diaz also felt the need to support the growth of women in the company to realize more women in higher levels throughout the company. The mentorship program aims to bring employees together across departments to improve the sharing of information, cultivation of skills and communication of best practices throughout the company. TEI Connect has since operated four cycles of the program with participation from approximately 40% of all employees. Diaz has served as a mentor in nearly every cycle, fostering significant connections across departments, especially for the firm’s women. Diaz’s favorite outcome of her mentorship is that by encouraging one of her mentees, a member of TEI’s accounting department who wanted to learn more about real estate, she was able to help her mentee earn a broker’s license, which in turn instilled a new confidence, agency, and industry knowledge for that employee.
Last year, Diaz founded the Women’s Equity Committee (WEC) at TEI, comprised of women from all different levels in the company. While WEC’s primary focus is gender equity at TEI, Diaz and her team’s efforts are intersectional and will be applied to TEI’s broader vision of maintaining a high level of diversity across the company, benefiting all employees.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Real Estate industry?
Ididn’t seek out the industry, but I fell into real estate by accident. I had a mutual connection to one of Francis Greenburger’s assistants. The one-line job description said “assistant to the CEO of a real estate company.” Initially I brushed it off because I was not interested in working as an assistant, nor did I have any interest in or understanding of real estate. But I was young, a year and a half out of college, and I wasn’t sure exactly what direction I wanted my career to go in at that time. After learning more about Francis and his various business, philanthropic, and political interests, I thought I could learn a lot from him by working so closely with him. So I interviewed for the job and here I am almost nine years later as the firm’s Chief of Staff.
I studied art history + practice and history at Williams College, so my academic background could not be any more different from the career I have found myself in.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occured to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
TEI owns an incredible resort property on the Caribbean island of Anguilla called Altamer Resort. Francis has been traveling to Anguilla for 20+ years and has a deep connection to the island. I’ve been traveling to Anguilla for ~7 years, and have also fallen in love with the island and the people.
Hurricane Irma hit Anguilla and the surrounding islands in the Caribbean on September 6, 2017. The devastation to the island, and to its neighboring island St. Maarten, was tremendous. The urge to act, in whatever way possible, was immediate.
Francis and I worked around the clock in the hours and days after the hurricane to source and deliver emergency supplies to Anguilla. We resolved to call every private charter plan operator in the Caribbean and even in South Florida to see how we could get emergency relief items to Anguilla ASAP. I remember having a dinner party on the Saturday after the storm — expecting 5–6 guests in the evening, and calling charter operators on speaker phone while cooking in my kitchen because the urgency and need to help for the people of Anguilla was far greater than my little dinner party.
We were able to locate a superb operator, Fly One Caribbean, out of St. Vincent to conduct emergency flights to Anguilla in the following days. There was no electricity on Anguilla nor was there air traffic control services, so I literally coordinated the landing of the first plane on the phone with the pilot and the Anguillan government representative that was overseeing the airport in the days after the storm.
We were able to deliver three separate charter planes full of goods to Anguilla with the most urgently needed items: food, water, blankets, inflatable mattresses, baby food, diapers, flashlights, and so on. Totaling all three flights, we were able to deliver 7,400 pounds of goods to the people of Anguilla.
From there, we formed the Anguilla United Relief Fund and have raised nearly $240,000 to support relief and rebuilding across the island, partnering with the Government of Anguilla, Honorable Premier Victor Banks, and the Clinton Foundation’s Action Network on Post-Disaster Recovery throughout the Caribbean.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am currently building and launching a new website for Time Equities. It’s our face to the world, and our medium to communicate the work we do, the global footprint of our portfolio and scope of services, and our values. Stay tuned for the new timeequities.com, expected to launch in Q1 2020.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our CEO, Francis Greenburger, and Time Equities as a whole are incredibly committed to promoting diversity in the workplace. Last year, I founded the Women’s Equity Committee (WEC) at Time Equities, comprised of women from various departments and seniority levels in the company. The committee aims to serve as the body through which the policies, ideas, and commitments to diversity that Time Equities has already committed to become reality. While the WEC’s primary focus is gender equity at Time Equities, our mission and work will be applied to our firm’s broader vision of maintaining a high level of diversity across the company.
Our priorities include driving diversity via our hiring practices, developing a recommendation for a maternity/paternity leave policy, developing a framework to analyze pay equity, and devising and implementing strategies for the advancement of women in the company. We are also going for smaller wins. In 2019, we started supplying menstrual pads and tampons in our women’s restrooms. As a company that stands for opportunity and advancement of women, we fill women’s needs however possible.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am extremely grateful to my father for the values he instilled in my sister and I, and the leadership he has demonstrated to us all of our lives. My father is the first African-American elected official in Nevada County, CA — a “first” that I am extremely proud of. He has overcome racial bias and disadvantage to achieve great things, and always instilled the importance of education, integrity, hard work, and the belief that we [my sister and I] are worthy and capable of doing anything we want.
I will also note that my grandmother was a very strong woman, a fierce and influential civil rights activist and vocal advocate against domestic violence. She had her own radio show and would host leaders of the civil rights movement in her home in Philadelphia to consult on peaceful protest strategies. She also instilled in me that I can do anything, and to stand firm in my values. I am so grateful for these roots, which are fundamental to where I am today.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. The Real Estate industry, like the Veterinarian, Nursing and Public Relations fields, is a women dominated industry. Yet despite this, less than 20 percent of senior positions in Real Estate companies are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what do you think is the cause of this imbalance?
Because of the high barrier to entry and the history of property ownership as a family business, the real estate industry has long been known as a “boys’ club.” But that is a bit of a generalization. I believe there is great importance in recognizing the specifics of gender disparity in the real estate industry. I lean on Commercial Real Estate Women Network (CREW)’s exceptional reporting for industry-wide specifics, and would like to share a few important facts:
While women represent approximately 35% of the commercial real estate (CRE) workforce in the US, women represent 54% of mid-level associate and senior positions, 27% of senior vice president, managing director, or partner-level positions in CRE, and only 9% of C-suite positions in the industry.
I think it is clear that real estate is still a male-dominated profession. But major firms and owners of real estate are finally starting to recognize the value of diversifying their workforce, and we are slowly starting to see things change. It will take time, but diversity is becoming more widespread in our industry.
What 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support greater gender balance going forward?
I believe deeply in personal responsibility and the impact of individual actions to collectively make change and shape the world we live in. We need individuals to use their power and influence to support and elevate others (whether they look like them or not), to diversify the spaces they occupy, to support women, to insist on equal pay, and so on.
This also goes much deeper into the value of women in our society, and how women learn to exist in our society. From Disney movies to gender roles to the patriarchal, heteronormative framework of our society, it will take a much greater awareness and thoughtfulness from all of us to achieve true gender balance. We should teach women to apply for those jobs they want but may not fully qualify for, we should teach women to be assertive and confident in their careers without fear of being labeled “difficult” or worse, and we should hold a mirror up to sexism, whether it is conscious or subconscious, overt or subtle.
From there, it takes firms and corporations (HR teams, real estate owners, senior executives and managers) to foster a level playing field in their recruitment practices by hiring a diverse workforce. And once we are in the door, it takes corporate cultures to create environments that support the growth of women in their companies and allow women opportunities, just as we are trying to do at TEI via our WEC. An example of this is the importance of mentorship opportunities. Three years ago, I founded the TEI Connect mentorship program to bring employees together across departments to improve the sharing of information, cultivation of skills, and communication of best practices throughout the company. Mentorship, sponsorship, and advocacy are especially important for women to advance in the work force, particularly in a male-dominated industry such as real estate.
Finally, we need women to vote. And to vote in our own best interest. If the lawmakers that shape our society are predominantly male (by an overwhelming majority), we will continue to operate within a patriarchal society and our work will be an uphill battle. Let’s elect a government that is representative of the people it serves.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
In my experience, women are judged differently than men in the workplace. While men can be assertive, we are aggressive. Men can be tactical, we are cunning. Men can speak up, we speak too much and dominate the conversation. These are all perception problems that are rooted in sexism, stereotypes, and normalized gender roles. As a result of this, I have carefully navigated my career to earn respect from my colleagues in a way that I believe is unique to my status as a young, minority woman. I don’t think I would have to do quite as much “earning” if I were a man (and again, I also note that I believe race and age are important factors that also come into play here).
Because of the history of the United States and western civilization at large as patriarchal, we live in a world that has literally been designed by and made for men. The U.S. is one of a handful of countries worldwide that does not mandate paid maternity leave. The other four are the low-income nations of Lesotho, Liberia, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland. This is unacceptable and places a tremendous burden on women in the workforce.
Finally, earning our value continues to be a challenge. Women still aren’t paid as much as men for equal work. According to Payscale, “women earn just 79 cents for every dollar men make in 2019. That’s the ‘raw’ gender pay gap, which looks at the median salary for all men and women regardless of job type or worker seniority.” And the disparity gets worse if you look at it on racial lines — women of color make even less. Bills for equal pay have been introduced in Congress repeatedly, for decades, yet there’s been no new federal legislation to close the wage gap since the Equal Pay Act of 1963.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Real Estate industry?
I am most excited about the creative and innovative opportunities in the industry. Sustainability is a huge one — climate change will undoubtedly have a profound impact on the built environment and vice versa. This presents an opportunity for the real estate industry to be leaders in reducing emissions on a massive, global scale, which is necessary to prevent further warming of the earth. At Time Equities, we have a fantastic sustainability team (composed of two extremely bright women) that has already begun various analyses and proposals to reduce our carbon emissions — not just from our building operations, but also from our business travel, our consumption and waste practices, and more.
Design — architecture, interior design, spatial design that reflects current trends around how people use space. Experiential retail is here, the mobile office and social work spaces are in demand, and the fantastical amenitization of residential projects is here. Our new residential development in Chicago, 1000M, features a Himalyan salt room, a golf simulator, and so much more. Contemporary residential development projects don’t simply deliver a home unit, they deliver a lifestyle. It’s fun to keep up with these trends.
Finally, technology. Real estate has been slow to adopt new technology, but CRE tech seems to have exploded over the past 5 years. It will be fascinating to see the impact of 5G on existing operations and tech, and to see the evolution and maturation of widespread adoption of tech platforms in the buying, selling, and management of properties.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?
Diversity, of course. We need more of it. More women at higher levels of the industry, more women deal makers. The same goes for racial diversity.
In some ways the industry can feel very “closed”, meaning that connections can be really critical to breaking through doors that are otherwise closed. In this way, nepotism and the lack of open, transparent hiring practices can allow certain people into the industry and not allow others entry.
And finally, the fundamental goal of maximizing profit as the driving force behind all business. This concern is far beyond the real estate industry, and I think the current emphasis on corporate profits must be revalued in our society.
We’ve seen some recognition of this “tipping point” of the current state of our capitalistic society, most notably in the corporate pact signed by various Fortune 500 CEO’s that says that the purpose of a corporation should no longer be to advance only the interests of shareholders. Instead, the group of nearly 200 CEOs said they must also invest in their employees, protect the environment and deal fairly and ethically with their suppliers. This is an encouraging step forward, and I hope there is action to back up this commitment.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?
Let your values guide you. Support and lift up others. Be empathic. Listen. Stay true to your goals and to your mission, even if it’s not easy or not a popular opinion. Stand your ground. Seek out a corporate environment that is in line with your values and goals, so that your work can be full of integrity and can be rewarding. Be that great boss that inspires your team, treats them fairly and with respect, invites different points of view, and ultimately motivates by example.
Ok, here is the main question of our interview. You are a “Real Estate Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the Real Estate industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each?
A liberal arts degree can be surprisingly useful in the real estate industry.
Why, you ask? Because liberal arts schools teach you how to think, not what to think. They also teach you how to write and communicate clearly. These skills have been core to my success.
You don’t have to be a real estate deal maker to work in the industry.
A real estate company has so many needs beyond pure real estate deal making. Executive leadership and management skills, HR + people skills, marketing and communications skills, technology skills, accounting, property management, and so on. So it is not intuitive, but there are plenty of excellent opportunities for a variety of skill sets to support the engine that drives any real estate company.
Real estate isn’t all about single family homes.
When I tell people that I work in the real estate industry, I often get assumptions that I am a residential broker and know the residential rental or sales market. I do, somewhat, but only from my own personal experience living in NYC! The industry is very broad, the scope of what a company like Time Equities’ does is wide ranging, and there is much, much more to it than residential brokerage.
“Location, location, location” is one real estate investment strategy that may work for some investors, but not one we follow.
The shiny, Class A office building in core urban markets like downtown San Francisco or Austin sure is attractive. But at Time Equities, we have built a very strong business by looking for deals in secondary and tertiary markets that present strong fundamentals and opportunity to add or create new value. Of course location is important in any deal, but we have realized much higher returns on value-add deals in secondary and tertiary markets.
Independent thinking is always an asset.
Our CEO Francis Greenburger is certainly an independent, if not contrarian, thinker. When the world doubts retail because of the rise of ecommerce, Francis is finding tremendous deals on both strip centers and some enclosed malls that have strong market fundamentals and are strategic assets in the nearby communities they serve. Of course it is important to understand mainstream opinions, but if you question them, develop your own point of view, and are willing to take intelligent risk, you can go the other way and realize larger margins on your activity than you would if you were competing with the rest of the world.
Because of your position, you are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I have two words: Greta Thunberg. Two more words: Climate Change. Let’s all please work to first understand the threat we face with the warming of the climate over the next 10+ years, and to then put enormous pressure on our elected officials, most importantly the United States Congress, to pass the sweeping legislation necessary to curb our emissions on a grand scale. This is the challenge of our lifetime and we must face it head on.
I had the pleasure of seeing Baroness Patricia Scotland, the Secretary General of the Commonwealth of Nations, speak at a Clinton Foundation gathering on climate change resiliency throughout the Caribbean, and she said, “We are the first generation to experience climate change, and the last generation to be able to do anything about it.” A profound statement that stuck with me. We must change our ways and preserve our planet.
How can our readers follow you online?
Readers can connect with me via my LinkedIn page here.
Thank you for your time, and your excellent insights!