GlobeSt: Pharrah Jackson Talks about Diversity in CRE

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Excerpted from: Women of Influence: A Mile In Her Shoes (GlobeSt. July 22, 2020)

The Problem With Old Guard Developers

When she was starting out on her career, Pharrah Jackson, managing director at Greystone, had aspirations of working in law enforcement, possibly with the FBI. But her mother worked for Fannie Mae and that is how she landed her first few jobs. “My internship was at Fannie Mae and later I worked at DUS shops.” She wound up loving it and was hooked.

If this story sounds familiar that is because it is. Many people of color find their way into commercial real estate because they’ve been introduced to it by family or a trusted friend.

“Minorities look out for one another,” she says. “I have had lots of ‘mothers’ and ‘aunts’ in my career in commercial real estate. We all know each other. I know my Black counterparts at our competition because there are not that many of us.”

But Jackson’s perspective veers from many of her fellow Black female colleges in one respect: she feels that the discrimination she has faced in CRE has been because she is a woman and not because she is a woman of color.

This discrimination is not overt but it still can be very undermining. “For example, I will answer a question at a meeting and the person will look to my boss for confirmation that I am right.” Even after 17 years at Greystone, she says, that still happens today.

Jackson also says that many people are accepting of her expertise and don’t see her as a Black woman. Old guard developers can be an exception, though, she says, and these are the ones most likely to look to her boss for confirmation. “But even that, I feel, is becoming less of a problem. Twenty-years ago I was asked to fetch coffee in a meeting. That hasn’t happened in a long time.”

The way to counter such actions is simple, Jackson says: speak up. “Women don’t do that enough but it is the only real way to effect change.”

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