Nuveen’s Nadir Settles on How Mentoring Can Make CRE More Diverse

5 min read

The executive discusses the value of teaching minority youth about real estate as a career.

Nuveen Real Estate is on a mission to increase its social impact and expand the pipeline of desirable and diverse talent in the commercial real estate industry. To achieve that, the firm is adapting the traditional college-recruiting model while leveraging the value of an early starting point for career education.

Settles Nadir

Nuveen recently teamed up with Project Destined, an organization that partners with corporate firms to train and mentor diverse high school students and veterans to prepare them for real estate ownership, financial health and career opportunities. Commercial Property Executive spoke with Settles about how this collaboration supports Nuveen’s goals of furthering access and opportunities for minorities.

Why is mentoring so critical for the real estate industry?

Settles: Mentoring allows people with experience to look back and cultivate the next level of leadership by bringing new talent into real estate. It’s important across all industries, but more so in real estate, where a lot of people from diverse backgrounds have not been exposed to this industry. Mentorship provides exposure and access for that demographic so they can enter the field in a way that’s really intentional. Having mentors who are advocating diversity is going to make the industry stronger.

What role did mentorship and early professional development play in your success?

Settles: I was mentored through INROADS, a nonprofit organization with partnerships within several different industries, including commercial real estate. I thought real estate was the broker on a sign out in front of someone’s home. That’s what the majority of folks in diverse communities think about real estate.

INROADS was paramount to me being where I am today. I went from not knowing anything to being mentored by a group of folks who were there to help me figure it out from recommending what I should major in to exposing me to different industries.

I wish there had been more support organizations for minorities when I was growing up, and that’s why this partnership is so important. If you don’t give communities the access and provide the portal for support through programs like Project Destined and strategic partnerships, how can you change things?

What inspired Nuveen to partner with Project Destined?

Settles: We are always seeking out ways to diversify our workforce, so we started thinking about ways to innovate and about how we could get better. We were recruiting at colleges, but it can be tough to find people who are interested in real estate. And when we went to those schools, there was only a minority of the student population that we were able to recruit.

We realized we could recruit better by looking down the talent pipeline to the high school level. If we could provide some momentum at that stage, we could build interest earlier and the result is students who are on that path to enter a career in real estate. Nuveen can’t hire 55 students from every school, so there will be students hired by other firms and the industry will benefit from that pipeline.

Tell us more about the program.

Settles: The way you deliver content to high school students vs. college students vs. a professional is different. Information resonates differently at that level. We didn’t have the engine to make this happen, but Cedric Bobo and Project Destined did. He was already making the content and packaging it in a very digestible way for somebody who’s 15.

We launched our high school program in the Bronx, N.Y. We provide a framework for the students on the various aspects of commercial real estate, and we teach them how multifaceted the industry is in terms of career options. We expose them to different roles from underwriting to acquisitions to public relations, all within an asset management firm. They work on case studies, deal proposals and investment committee memos.

We have students who see people who look like them and who are professionals. The program also provides continuity, so the students will be part of our extended networks through their later high school years. They can reach out to us when they need to choose a college or a curriculum around commercial real estate or when they’re looking for an internship.

Does Nuveen plan to expand these opportunities beyond New York City?

Settles: We have more than eight offices in the U.S., and we’d like to expand in every city that we’re in and have a corresponding urban high school that our local staff can engage with. We also want to develop complimentary real estate clubs as a part of our high school engagements. And when we get to college, we can start identifying folks for internships and hopefully get other firms to offer those opportunities to people coming out of Project Destined, as well.

Beyond that, we hope to replicate not only domestically but also make an impact throughout the globe. We know we can’t hire everybody, but we can build a more diverse talent pool. It’s big to dream about setting this kind of structure globally but we know we can, and that’s what we will endeavor to do.

Diversity hiring is an ongoing effort at Nuveen. What recommendations do you have for other firms that want to strengthen their efforts in that area?

Settles: You structure ways for people to have buy-in so they can see the benefit. Sometimes when you have quotas, people are doing it because they have to. We’ve set up different ways to accommodate a wider pool of talent, so we don’t have to implement a quota to drive behavior because people want to do it. You can also be less rigid and diversify the hiring criteria.

A person can easily adapt and learn and thrive as a first-year analyst from an economics background from a school like Morehouse College. Everyone doesn’t have to come from New York University or Harvard. That goes back to breaking down those biases that prevent more diverse hiring today, because people are mostly hired from the schools they came from or the people they knew.

Companies can see students coming out of Project Destined who are fundamentally prepared and who understand the different aspects of commercial real estate. They can be hired at least as an analyst and move their career forward from that point. There are no negatives from having more diverse opinions and talent in our industry.

Read the May 2022 issue of CPE.

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