Jackie: Welcome everyone, and thank you for tuning in. Today I am talking to Nicole Furnace. Nicole has worked with organizations such as Lockheed Martin and Ernst and Young, and is currently based in Washington, DC as a real estate broker, developer and consultant, focused on inclusion and equity in real estate.
Nicole: Thank you. I'm excited.
Jackie: Awesome. Tell us a little about yourself. If you would, just your background, your family, your identity, anything you'd like to share.
Nicole: Sure. So I'd say I would describe myself as identify as a CIS female. I’m a black woman, I'm a wife, real estate obsessed, renovation obsessed some would say. I currently live in Washington DC, managing various projects that I have based here in Virginia and North Carolina. So I spend a lot of time in the car, listening to podcasts.
And I was born and raised in St. Louis. I had stints after I left St. Louis, I went to Los Angeles for undergraduate studies at the University of Southern California, and then I went to Texas for business school at the University of Texas at Austin, and I also had a couple of stints abroad primarily in South America. So I've gotten to see a good amount of the US and enjoy traveling internationally. A lot of my work previous to real estate took me internationally, so that's really been a great influence in a lot of the inclusion work that I do today, which is nice.
From a family standpoint, I'm raising three real estate apprentices, under the age of seven currently, so they keep me very busy. And I would say, kind of historically, academically and professionally, what's really influenced me is, I have spent a lot of time between two worlds. So I'm a Black woman, and at home, my culture was primarily African-American and Black, but a lot of the time that I spent outside of the home was in predominantly white culture.
So the schools that I went to, my college experience, business school, and then of course in the corporate world, I was in industry for a while. I worked in mergers and acquisitions, consulting and now real estate. And so it's always been me kind of feeling like an outsider in these worlds and trying to navigate, and I think it's really important now that we have this opportunity to have people feel more included in these traditionally exclusionary kind of worlds, which is why I like to do my consulting because I really do think that helps, you know, make the industry better, we all understand that we can change and be empowered and make people feel more included in this industry.
Jackie: Absolutely. And Nicole let's, let's stay on your, your early career and talk a little bit about navigating that world, right, where you are one of a few, or sometimes the only. Tell me what that was like in corporate America navigating that. What are some of the tips that you would give us? How, how did that feel? How did you process that? Can you talk a little about that?
Nicole: Sure, that can be hard to summarize, but I'm sure a lot of people of color in certain industries and it kind of, as I go in these different, move along in their career in different ways, have experienced this in one way or another, but there's always this feeling of being outside or excluded in some way, whether that's culturally, the education that you had, your family experience, potentially the language that you speak at home or the story of your people and how they came to the United States.
There's always something that I feel like can be missing for people of color or people of a different ethnicity or background in a predominantly white world, and that's something that I experienced and I do feel like since I experienced it at such a young age, I was able to navigate that and kind of find ways to feel comfortable. Whether that's finding common experiences with people of a different culture than me. that goes both ways, right? People of color can find things they have in common with, you know, traditionally dominant cultures. And so that was something that really helped me.
I also think finding mentors that I can relate to is, was very important. And it can be challenging in different industries and academic settings, but. Really having someone that you can go to with questions, if you need guidance on something, you're in these situations you often have never been in before, or you don't have family members that you can lean on because we don't have these traditional kind of academic or professional pathways in communities of color.
And so a lot of times if I experienced something professionally, I couldn't go ask my mom or my father or my aunt, right, because they've never had a corporate. And so having those mentors, was really important. And so I think, you know, for me at this stage of my career, being able to serve in that role is something that I make time for, and I think it's really important.
But traditionally in real estate, it is, it is tough to navigate, a community where you're often you know, have very different experiences in your home life, but also professionally, and trying to fit into this industry. And I think a lot of people of color also are familiar with the term code switching and just kind of going between these two worlds, again, in a variety of different ways.
And that takes an emotional toll out of people. And I, I think its important employers understand that and understand how to support their employees, and also colleagues. And so, again, that's another motivation for my work that I think people a lot, a lot of times overlook.
Jackie: Thanks for sharing that, Nicole. Yeah, I think it's, it's so important that people are beginning to understand and leaders are beginning to understand the value of belonging, both from a recruiting and retention standpoint, from an employee morale standpoint, from a, a business, you know, and an economic standpoint, because people who are more engaged and happier at work are, you know, are more productive, more innovative, which is important.
But I think it's important that you know, we recognize that. It's not any more a situation where you have to just assimilate to the culture. Employees want to feel a sense of belonging and want to feel like they can bring who they are to the, to the workplace. So that's so important.
Now, Nicole, you don't find many young, Black women that are real estate developers, and I've actually, you're the first one I’ve met.
Nicole: Hopefully many more in the future.
Jackie: I hope so. I think that's so amazing. For those of us who don't know, let's talk about how a developer differs from a broker or an agent, and then let's get into a little bit more about your work.
Nicole: Sure. So a good way to differentiate the different roles in real estate is usually a broker agent is managing the transaction, so the actual transfer of the property, and developers are usually kind of from start to finish. And so I like to think of my role from acquisition to disposition. So I'm out there looking for deals, talking to people, really understanding kind of the economics and demographics of a neighborhood, where to invest, who else is investing, what are the end goals of whatever product I'm creating? Kind of a bigger picture when it comes to real estate and how it fits into a community. And I, and on the agent broker side, it's usually more transactional.
I enjoy both aspects, but I really do gravitate towards developments because it really highlights this creative spirit that I have. I like deal-making, but I also like designing and I liked, you know, integrate getting involved with the community and really understanding kind of what the needs are and how to create the best product for people in the community.
And it is very challenging as a Black female developer, not very many of us. And unfortunately it's because this industry is a good old boys’ network, kind of traditionally, when you think of a developer, you think of an older, white male in a suit, that's kind of the typical image that comes to mind.
And that's just because in general and the commercial real estate world, people of color have not had a space where they could flourish professionally. It's been, you know, not very inclusive. Even today, less than 1% of real estate professionals, executive board members in the commercial real estate world are nonwhite women.
So just think about how small that is and the limitations and getting that pipeline going when that's your starting point today, and even for non-white males, it's a little bit over 1%. And so it's not much better, for the non-white males. So this comes from a legacy of, in the real estate world, having a connection in business school or with your family, access to land, land ownership. And these are high barriers to entry that traditionally exclude people outside of the white community, from working in development.
Jackie: Yeah, Nicole, thanks for sharing that. Let's talk a little about some of the systemic inequities that exist in real estate, and in talking about, you know, being a developer that's, such a, a high level, right, to, to be able to enter into this, that world and have someone that can mentor you that can give you an opportunity to say, hey, this is, this is a real option.
But as we think about the inequities that exist, they exist all the way through, you know, just buying a house, owning real estate, right, for so many underrepresented and marginalized communities, that's something that, you know, they've not had experience with. They don't know who to ask who to talk to, that that's really an attainable goal for them, you know, because when your parents didn't own or their parents didn't own, your friends don't own, right. It's hard to find someone who to have, you know, who you can have a conversation with about just owning your own property. Let alone, moving up to being a developer, right.
Let's talk a little about what do we need to know about the systemic equities that exist with real estate in general?
Nicole: So, of course, there's a lot of considerations when we think about real estate and the inequities that exist in various aspects of the system, and a lot of times I do coaching and workshops and a lot of things that I like to start with is just kind of the basis and foundation of our real estate system and understanding that systematic racism has been built into the real estate system.
So we just have to think about the treatment of the native population, right it goes back to that and how their land was transferred, often not by choice or by some type of violent interaction or an unfair treaty or some kind of not so kind manner, and there's always been this extract of mindset when we think about the land resources that we have in the US, how we have used enslaved labor to extract those resources, restricting ownership in different parts of the country and in different ways, only allowing access of certain groups to own land or to use land in certain ways.
And a lot of these land use policies, we still see the legacy of those today and a lot of them still affect. Y and who can buy real estate, whether it's, you know, your own personal home or residence or investing, or if you want to do some kind of agricultural, you know project on land that you own, there are all kinds of restrictions around this that are built out of that basis of how resources were used in this country initially.
And so a lot of the work that I do is sharing this information and giving context to the systematic inequities in real estate from the very beginning and kind of how they continue today, and it's in a variety of different ways from the federal laws that a lot of people associate with positive change, like the GI bill.
The GI bill was not for people of color. It was for white service people. That is how we grew the middle-class and that's how white ownership of homes was able to flourish, and that's how a lot of people of color are left behind. And so just reframing what we think of when we think of these federal laws and how they, you know, supported home ownership, but only in certain ways and restrictive ways.
And red lining is of course, something that a lot of people hear about, but I don't think they truly understand the effects that redlining still has today. I grew up in St. Louis, one of the most red lined cities in the US, when I was growing up, one of the most segregated cities in the US, 99% of the city was Black. That's not a natural kind of way the demographics happen.
And so the fact that the way that cities and suburbs have evolved today, really have a lot to do with these federal laws and policies and institutions that we're still dealing with kind of the repercussions of, and then you go down to the local level, and there are racial covenants that still exist on the books today. They're not really honored, but they do exist, but that, that was another way of segregating people that you don't think about today. That also affects land use and you know, why suburbs developed the way they did, how developments developed the way they did and who was able to develop neighborhoods, and developers were able to choose who, who lived in those houses.
And this was only a generation ago, and a lot of people, I don't think, realize that, you know, you were mentioning parents and grandparents, our parents and grandparents did not have the opportunity to buy and a lot of suburban developments because of the restrictions that people were able to put on these new homes.
Zoning is another kind of thing that I like to talk about and ways that communities can really affect change if they changed the zoning and allow for more inclusive housing, that's a lot of a good change that people can really have a positive influence on. I also like to talk about the cycle of displacement and disinvestment that we see in various aspects of urban centers, suburban center, rural areas, all across the country.
And so we were constantly in the cycle of displacing people. The trendy word is gentrification, but that's been going on since the beginning of time. It's not a new trend but we've always been in this cycle, and unless we really change our policies and our mindsets that's not going to happen. And we need to move in a more positive way when it comes to that.
When we think about systemic inequities, it's not just the policies that are on the books, it's also these informal policies that happened in, in land use and real estate development. Economic and geographical discrimination is something I like to talk about. So a lot of times, communities of colors and marginalized communities are pushed into undesirable neighborhoods or demographic or geographic locations.
Hurricane Katrina is a great illustration of that. A lot of people don't understand the reason that a lot of those areas were flooded and people were displaced is because it was intentional to put people of color in the low-lying areas, which is common in a lot of cities and communities in the US. An economic discrimination image, I guess that's really kind of vivid in a lot of people's minds is Flint, and that's an example of economic disinvestment in the infrastructure, which again is common in communities of color.
And so these are things that real estate professionals and developers have influence on, but also the public can have a positive influence on and leaders in the community of real estate, and these other supporting industries can really have a positive impact on changing these systematic inequities in real estate, because it affects everyone. It affects our neighbors, our families, our colleagues. so there are lots of changes that can be made in a positive way in these areas,
Jackie: Nicole, thank you so much. That, you know, it's so important that we recognize the many ways that we can be disenfranchised and that we have been disenfranchised, historically but also currently. It was shocking for me to see in some of these bylaws that they they're, those covenants, those restrictive covenants are still there, whether they're enforced or not, it is jarring to see that. And so, and you know, there was a time and again, like you said, a generation ago, those were significantly enforced. And so, yeah, it's, it's so important as we think about real estate. And one of the reasons why it was so important to have you on is to, to talk about those inequities that exist in so many of our systems and institutions. So let's talk about your companies Nicole, Roots Consulting Group and Roots Development Group. Can you tell us a little about those and what you do through those organizations?
Nicole: Sure. So Roots Development is the development arm of my company, and I'm a small-scale developer. And so what that means is I, you know, don't build large, huge commercial developments or apartment buildings or retail space. I really like to focus on boutique residential space, particularly in middle housing.
So middle housing is a type of development that normally, you'll see kind of a block, a neighborhood with different houses, but it might be multifamily housing, but you can't tell from the exterior that there are four apartments in this, you know, behind this one door. and so it's a really great way to add density to a space, to ensure that you have enough housing. And it is very affordable way to create housing and density in different neighborhoods. A lot of urban centers you have used this. Traditionally, we kind of lost this in the suburban era. And now we're coming back to this, in this re urbanization time that we're seeing right now.
But one of the restrictions as a developer is that in these areas that are fast growing, there's still zoning restrictions that are preventing this type of development. So it can be very challenging when you have a neighborhood that is traditionally single-family homes, and you would like to build something that, that can house four families or four professionals. And, you know, because of the zoning, you can't do that because historically that has been a way to exclude people, to only allow people to buy a single-family home and, you know, that comes with a certain connotation with it.
And so I like to focus on doing developments in this space and really, you know, wanting to. Re urbanized areas ensure effective use of resources, being close to public transportation, things like that. Those are the types of developments that I like to do.
I also advocate in the affordable housing space when it comes to this and a lot of the work that I've done in the advocacy space has been about changing zoning laws and really re-evaluating the affordability aspects of multifamily housing and changing some of the restrictions that are on the books in local municipalities, but also at the state level. States have a lot of control and influence over this as well.
So that's kind of the development side of what I do. and my work in development really opened my eyes into kind of the lack of this historical understanding of, a lot of my colleagues when it came to race and real estate, and so that's what prompted me to start this consulting arm, because I really wanted to, my professional experiences as a Black woman in this white center, real estate world, we're really kind of eye opening, I guess to me that there are things that I knew about real estate and history and discrimination that my colleagues didn't know, and we were in the same industry. And so it was, it was kind of this gap here of, of knowledge. You know, we can both do a spreadsheet and go, you know, secure deal, but they don't know about racial covenants.
And so these are important aspects that you need to know when you're in the real estate industry, especially now we're seeing this big influx of investment in urban centers traditionally with people of color, Black communities, immigrant communities, and there's such a lack of understanding of those cultures, the history, the preservation of you know, these historical buildings. A lot of communities of color do not have historical buildings because they were torn down through means of violence or just traditional development. And so all of this kind of was wrapped up in my desire to do some consulting and coaching in this way to really enhance the developer toolkit.
So I wanted to offer education history, but also a safe space for people in the development world to ask questions and gain understanding about these types of considerations that should be included in the development process. And so I like to do interactive workshops with people, generally commercial real estate firms, just talking about different topics.
And so a workshop might be about the history of race in real estate. I do a great workshop on words matter, and how to shift to an inclusive communication style within real estate. A lot of the terms that we use in real estate have, are tied to enslaved people and land use at that time. And so a lot of the terms that we use today, are still tied to that are triggering for a lot of people and just are outdated and we kind of need to move on from that.
And so that's one aspect of the training I do, but also inclusivity means how you hiring and developing a pipeline. How are you making people feel welcomed when they join your commercial real estate firm? And they they're the only person of color or they're, they're the only, LGBTQ person or English is not their first language, right?
There's so many ways to make people feel included that traditionally they have not felt welcomed in this space and, and leaders have the ability to change that. And so working with clients to help understand that has been very rewarding. And I think it's something that helps leaders grow their own mindsets when it comes to the abilities of being inclusive, being diverse, and being equitable when they think about their real estate projects internally and externally. So that's something I've really enjoyed.
Jackie: That's such necessary and amazing work. So thank you for sharing that, Nicole. You know, it's one of the things that you said at the beginning of this question was around rather than having the, you know, single family homes, having multi-family homes. One of the things that we don't think about is, you know, sometimes we would say or think, well, we don't want, you know, multiple family homes in our single-family development, but the family structure is changing.
Right, and so it's not every person that aspires to have, you know, a spouse and multiple children, to where they need a, you know, a big, you know, single family home. Sometimes professionals, right are single, and that's their preference, and that's amazing. So they don't need a big house to be in there by themselves because we all know those of us who own house.
It's expensive, right? Repairs are expensive, and if you've got somebody that's, that's doing that for you. It's one, it's a great time saver and it's less expensive, and then also for small or families who are looking to be in housing that's afford, in neighborhoods that are stronger with better schools and better access to lots of different things.
You know, those multi-family housing opportunities are great. So I think that's fantastic, and I just wanted to point that out, you know, the family structure again is changing and so we've got to be able to accommodate that. Not every person wants a 3000 square foot house for just them.
Nicole: Exactly. Yeah. And we're seeing a lot more intergenerational living, which I think, you know, as the population ages, that's something that's going to be a major consideration for people taking care of their parents and also kids at the same time. And part of that, look in the household or professionals that wants to have communal living, but maybe they don't have children or a spouse. And so that's something that is a need that's not being met either.
The ability to not have to commute with a car, I think that that's a mindset that's changing as well. And so being able to be in an urban center and walk to work or bike, to work, that's very valuable for a lot of people, and it makes the community and the eco, the transportation ecosystem a lot stronger when we use our resources that way.
Jackie: Absolutely Nicole. Nicole, let's talk a little bit about some of the challenges of your job, right? Just the, some of the general challenges, some of the challenges related to your being one of just a few. Would you share that with us?
Nicole: Sure. I would say it's kind of a variety of different challenges in different ways, right? I'm a woman, I'm a one woman of color. I'm a working parent, and I don't have this traditional path to real estate development. I didn't have a father who said here's a, a loan to get you started in real estate development and go on your way.
So it's all these different layers of things that I've had to figure out along the way. One thing that a lot of people can relate to is as a woman in a traditional male dominated industry, there is this expectation of maybe not belonging or feeling of not belonging or not knowing, you know, what you're doing and just based on my look, I'm young.
I don't know at what age I can stop saying that, but I'm going to say I'm young, I'm a woman, and so I do think that that kind of is a challenge. When people see me or meet me, there's an expectation that I should talk a certain way or I should act a certain way, and I'm a very strong, direct communicator, and a lot of times people don't know what to do with that because I'm wearing a dress. It's very, sometimes people find it very confusing.
So I would say that's probably one just that outward perception of when you're presenting yourself to someone in a professional setting, these expectations that they have. And I think almost anyone can relate to that. Whether you're a woman or someone who's LGBTQ or of a certain age, they're always kind of these perceptions that you have to deal with in a professional setting when you're underrepresented, traditionally in an industry
I primarily for my development work, work in urban areas, I grew up in an urban setting. I love urban life. I think there are lots of benefits to it. and I think there are lots of improvements that can come from it. And that's a lot of the work that I like to do in my development. And I do like to collaborate with people when it comes to development in urban centers, but. Unfortunately, I do feel like there's still this extract of mindset when it comes to real estate development that people just cannot get out of.
I like to do inclusive development and making sure that what I'm doing fits the needs of a community, not saying how much I can get out of a community to move on to the next deal. And so that's a very difficult mindset. Specific industry, especially in urban areas. A lot of times the developers I work with or collaborate with do not live in the neighborhoods in which we're doing projects.
My project is I can walk to it. It's a half a mile away. And so those are the types of things that I like to be involved with. And that's not the traditional way that real estate development is done, unfortunately.
Jackie: You know, I love that. You're saying that, you know, there's a difference, right? And, and the care that you take for what you're working on when you live around that, right, when it's not just transactional, but you really put your heart into creating a better community, a better opportunity for people. So I, I think that is so great.
Nicole, let's talk a little about your passion for real estate. Can you tell me where that came from?
Nicole: Oh, my goodness. That was quite a journey. So I grew up in, in St. Louis and highly segregated place. I grew up in a very poor household, kind of, you know, public assistance, public housing, that kind of mindset and mentality, and I didn't know that there was another option really. I went to a school that was predominantly white. Like I mentioned, St. Louis is one of the most segregated cities in the US historically because of redlining and disinvestment.
And so I was part of the generation of children that was the first group of forced integration of schools, and so I was bused from the city to suburban schools, mostly because white communities did not want black kids in their schools. So the court said, guess what, you have to do it. And so I was one of those kids in the eighties that experienced that. And I think going to these communities where it was very suburban, there was lost stability in the household, there wasn't a lot of moving around or kind of uncertainty about where you would stay or, you know, if you could pay the rent, that was a whole new world to me.
And so it just made me very motivated and curious about, you know, how to achieve that and how to get to that level. And like you mentioned, unfortunately, a lot of people of color or people that grow up in disenfranchised communities don't have someone to look to as an example of homeownership or real estate investing.
And so my focus primarily when I, you know, within school was just to get a degree and get a job. And I think when I went to business school, I've learned a lot of companies had a lot of their value in real estate. That's how a lot of times, a lot of the value of the businesses was wrapped up in real estate.
I also learned a lot of entrepreneurs. You hear these stories of entrepreneurs, you know, to start their business, they had a house they could put up for collateral, or they could refinance and pull money out to start a business, are not an option for a lot of people of color. So I learned that there was a lot of power in real estate and owning real estate, and it offered a lot of options for you to do other things.
And so when I was in business school, I bought a house in Texas. I was 27 and a single woman and bought a house on my own. And I know a lot of people can't do that, but it is a first step, and I do think a lot of people sometimes feel held back by the lack of an example of how to buy a home or they think they don't have enough money or resources. And it truly is the first step of wealth building empowerment and building that generational wealth that we've missed out on for so long.
Nicole: And so I bought my first house in Texas and I got a roommate which most people would not do, but I was like, I like how these numbers are working out. And then I graduated from business school, moved to DC for work and I started looking for an investment property. I said, if I bought one property, I can buy another. And so that's kind of how it started, and now 10 properties later here I am.
Jackie: I love that Nicole; how can we create more equity in the housing market?
Nicole: How much time do we have? I think it's kind of, it's a two-prong approach, right? There's this kind of commercial aspect to it. there's also a residential component to creating equity as well. There's a lot of personal responsibility. I think when we think about equity and the ability that people have to change the systems, but there are also some policies that we rely on as well.
And so when we think about some of the policies, we can, we can go back to what we were talking about before, with some of the federal laws and local laws, that's one aspect. I also think having more equitable and community focused development, and making that a requirement is something that can be important.
That can be challenging depending on what state or municipality you're in, but it is possible. And that's something I also consult on is how to make the real estate development inclusive from the beginning. Don't go to the community after the fact to say, this is what we're building you. I hope you enjoy it. Go to the end user in the beginning and say, what do you need? How can we support you? Let's do this together. So I think that that's one way to have more equity in the real estate market.
Also when we think about real estate and all the services and industries that support real estate, we can be inclusive in that way as well. So leaders do have a great amount of responsibility and building this pipeline to have more diverse voices when we think about real estate, there's such a lack of diversity when we think of architects and, urban planners and engineers and all these ancillary industries that support real estate. And we need more diverse, you know, hiring recruiting, retention, all of that is very important. If we want a more equitable mindset when we think about real estate development and growth. So I think that's kind of on the policy side.
I would say people-wise a lot of times people are like, you know, I don't know what to do. They're doing X, Y, and Z in my neighborhood. I didn't really understand. And the first question I ask is, have you gone to a city council meeting? Who's your local representative? Have you emailed them or call them? You have to be involved in your community. You can't be reactive. You have to actually be involved and kind of understand what's going on.
And I think that's a responsibility that citizens have when they want to be part of a community, especially when we think about this idea of I'm using quotes here, gentrification, because you're coming into community where you may not have grown up and you're not familiar with, so you need to be an observer and an active participant in a community and that's a personal responsibility.
I also think it's important for people to get out of their house, go walk around, go see your neighborhood through a different part of the city, learn about different things that are going on. And so this is a way that you can have a more inclusive mindset, not just when it comes to real estate, but also it helps you in your professional life. It helps you as a parent. It helps you as a partner, and helps you in your work life. And so these are things that we really need to focus on as people I think, to get into, to, to move the equity goal forward a little bit more.
I also do A good amount of kind of consulting and advising on place-making. So this is something that you mentioned earlier, the sense of belonging, and we're seeing a lot of transition people coming back to these urban centers, and people that traditionally have lived in these urban centers feeling like they don't have a home anymore, or feeling disconnected from this community where they've spent 30, 40, 50 years.
So I think placemaking is very important because it offers two things. It offers a connection and an acknowledgement of the culture that's been there, and it also offers an opportunity to weave in this new community and new community members and make it a more inclusive, welcoming place for everyone. And so I think placemaking is something that is important and really can highlight inclusion and working together and build a sense of community and belonging.
Jackie: Nicole, thank you for that. I think that it's important to understand not only. What should be affected on our behalf, right through, through the policies, but also what are the things that we can do that is as important. If we are making our own personal strides, right, and writing to those of us in our local government, you know, and the thing about that, very often we're not even voting in our local elections, which really have an effect on our neighborhoods. Right? There's so much attention of course, on the national elections, but those local elections are so important to us in our neighborhoods and our communities. So thank you for sharing that.
Nicole, you spent quite a bit of time in corporate America, now owning your own business. How can people, and thinking about white men in particular, be allies and support culturally diverse women in corporate America as entrepreneurs, and I'm interested in what your thoughts are on that based on the experiences that you've had.
Nicole: Sure, and I do some executive coaching and of course, a lot of my clients in this space are white men, and one of the first things I say is stop hiring people that look like you. Stop going to your Alma mater for recruiting, you know, it's very easy to expand your circle. It takes, it takes some effort you're going to be uncomfortable. But that is the greatest first step that you can make. If your hiring pool has no one that looks like you, you're making progress. So that's, that's a great start.
Jackie: Got it.
Nicole: Something else is related to this, the idea personal responsibility that we were talking about earlier is getting out of your comfort zone. And so something I like to tell people, is stop going to the country club and go to a cookout, right? Get out of these, this kind of routine of how you're normally used to socializing and go get to learn about a different culture and what that means to people and be in their space and understand what's important to them, through this opportunity to connect culturally to people that are your neighbors, and you're disconnected in this way, this is a, you know, a great opportunity.
The Hindus spring celebration of Holi, which was just a couple of weeks ago, we went to a great park celebration and introduced our kids and our, you know, and nieces and nephews to this idea of Holi and the celebration of spraying, and it's a great tradition in the Indian community, and we all know how big and influential the Indian community is.
And so this is something that's missing in a lot of the components, when we think about real estate engagement and cultural connections and understanding the community, there's so much more out there than what you were used to and your comfort zone. And so you really have to kind of. Get out there to explore other cultures, other people, and listen to the stories and connect in different ways than inside of a country club or a boardroom
I also think that personal exploration when it comes to race and kind of explore personal roles and race and race relations, and the history of that is important. This is why I like to do personal coaching, because again, it's very uncomfortable. I'd like to tell people it's okay to be uncomfortable, that means you’re growing, but really exploring that personally helps people become better leaders and sets a great example for other people in their organization, when they're willing to be vulnerable and understand how they can change and that the role and influence they've had historically and what they can do to make things better.
And so I think those are three kinds of great ways to start for people to, you know, move progress in the right direction when we think about supporting, you know, different cultures and people of color in the corporate community.
Jackie: That's such good advice. Thank you for sharing that. Nicole, speaking of advice, what is the best advice anyone has ever given you?
Nicole: Well, I would say, in real estate, there are a lot of, there's a lot of rejection. A lot of people don't always agree with you, and so something that someone said to me that stuck with me is that no is an opening negotiation. So no doesn't mean, you know, your idea is horrible, we're never going to continue, don’t come back to me. No means the way that you presented this idea to me right now doesn't mean.
So no is an opportunity for you to learn, okay, well, what can work, or what can I adjust or how can I change things? Or is there someone else that's doing this better or differently that I can learn from? So it really it’s an opening to a gesture idea to change your mindset, or to pursue a different opportunity.
And so I think early on in my career, it was more of a formal corporate structure where no is kind of like, you know, move on to something else. W we don't need a discussion and I like real estate because it is a little bit more creative and collaborative where people say no, when you come back to them and you can come back with a different idea and work together to find a place of yes.
And so I think not feeling personally rejected by no or feeling like I have a bad idea because someone says no, has really helped me in my career. Kind of stay motivated and move forward.
Jackie: I love that. Thank you for sharing. Nicole, as we begin to wrap up, you know, I, I'm interested in with your answer there and with, you know, just being in corporate America, being one of a few developers, how did you navigate that and avoid imposter syndrome? Which many of us face when we are one of a few or the only.
How did you climb the ranks alone, right and move into spaces where traditionally, you don't see people that look like us? How did you develop the courage, right, to do that and navigate that and push through that?
Nicole: It is being comfortable in your own skin, which is it takes time and practice. but I will say that I became confident in my abilities, my achievements, my accomplish. And my skillset and just knowing that I don't have to have the answer for everything, but I'm pretty smart and I can figure it out. So I think just having that confidence of, you know, I have the tools to handle this problem has been a great counter to the imposter syndrome. I may not have the exact answer, but I got you covered, I can figure it out.
I think being willing to say, I don't know, or I need help is also something that really opens you up to a supportive network, when you feel like you, maybe you can't do it or you don't have the right tools or you need some guidance to say, am I going in the right direction here?
So for me, that's kind of been my, I guess my cape to counteract imposter syndrome is just having that confidence in my skills and abilities. I also feel like I've moved away from the idea of perfection or having to have an idea to be finalized or perfect, and it's okay to build the plane and fly it at the same time.
That's what a lot of people did that have been successful. And there are going to be some successes and some losses and you just have to kind of be okay with knowing I'm going to move forward, even though I don't have everything figured out. And I think that once you do that, it's going to take a lot of weight off of your shoulders, and people do step up and support you and help you.
Jackie: Yeah, absolutely. I love that. You know, sometimes those positive affirmations for ourselves are so important and I have the tools to figure this out, to find the answer. I think that is awesome. Awesome. Nicole, as we wrap up, what is the message that you'd like to leave our listeners with today?
Nicole: I like to tell people that you personally are empowered to be the change in the real estate world. It does not matter if you're a developer, a broker, a homeowner, or a renter. It does not matter. You have a role in the real estate world. And this is an industry that affects everyone. It doesn't matter where you live, what kind of structure to live in, what city you're in. These policies and the outcomes of them affect you, your family, your loved ones, your kids, our environment, how we get to school, how do we get to work.
This is something that is very important that people need to have a voice in. And I don't think people understand how powerful they can be when it comes to influencing what their community looks like. so I think that that is something that I would like to leave our listeners with today.
And also just thinking about equity and inclusion. I am a Black woman, but it's not just my responsibility to make these changes. A lot of the power in this lies with the white community and people with power and influence and money to make these changes as well. So this should not just be a burden of people of color to make these changes in the industry.
Jackie: Nicole. Thank you so much. I've enjoyed this conversation. I've learned so much. You know, you are such an inspiration, and one of the reasons why I wanted to have you on the show is we have a culture if, you know, if you can't see it, you don't feel like you can be it. And so I love that you are lighting a path and a direction that so many of us have never considered as something that we could do professionally.
So I wanted to make sure that I could highlight that because I think it's so important and so valuable for people to see that this is a real direction that they can take and what an impact it can make to have more developers that are focused on building communities that benefit those people in the communities and less transactional and more heart, and I think that is so fantastic. So thank you so much for your time today, Nicole.
Nicole: Thank you for the opportunity.
Less than 1% of the professionals in real estate development are non-White women, and Nicole Furnace is trying to change that by setting an example. Today she talks to Jackie about her experience in a predominantly White industry, why underrepresented and marginalized voices in real estate are imperative, and what we can do to fix systemic inequities in the profession.
Nicole Furnace is the Founder of Roots Consulting Group.
Listen to this episode on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.