How CREW New York Leveraged its Community and Companies to Build a DEI Strategy

May 17, 2022
Written by: Marianne Mathieu, CREW New York

In 2020, social pushes for societal reform encouraged companies everywhere, including those engaged in the commercial real estate industry, to start diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs. DEI is vital to creating and maintaining a successful workplace.

At the same time, the CREW New York board of directors considered creating a DEI Committee to expand upon what was happening at its members’ places of work. The chapter’s home city is not only racially diverse but also diverse in age, gender expression, physical abilities/qualities, sexual orientation, religious status, educational background and work experiences.

Getting started

It was not something they undertook lightly. Before implementing new practices, the chapter set up a DEI Task Force to fully understand each DEI component individually, how they work together, and how the committee would work with and complement companies’ DEI programs and provide value to members and the chapter.  The DEI Task Force included Julia Rocco, Sheri Best, Andis Woodlief and Nayada Lugji.

The task force met weekly for nearly a year and reviewed numerous research and metric materials from Ernst & Young, McKinsey, and CREW Network, and studies on relationships between neighboring ethnic communities in New York. Information was gathered by establishing the CREW New York Social Equity Braintrust, comprised of 60 diverse leaders and professionals in the CRE/AEC industries, New York City agencies, and New York City anchor institutions. The diversity of this group matched the city’s diversity demographics as closely as possible. 

The Braintrust gathered to talk through case studies from experiences at Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University, their surrounding communities and the history of the Dormitory Authority of New York’s Minority and Women Business Enterprises (MWBE) program. They focused on the impact of these institutions on the communities and populations of their neighbors—who’s included and excluded, lessons learned, mistakes made, successes achieved and challenges ahead.

Committee success

The CREW New York DEI Committee was officially formed in 2021 and established the following as its mission statement: “expanding the organization’s commitment to incorporate diversity as a critical cornerstone of our mission that will help shape the future identity of CREW—an identity that not only embraces opportunities within commercial real estate for ALL women but one that celebrates the differences that make us unique and extraordinarily stronger when we combine forces to achieve our individual and collective goals.”

Committee achievements include:

  • collaborating and co-producing a virtual presentation for Commercial Observer’s DEI Fall Forum, a panel discussion among CEOs from Lendlease, Johnson Controls, Basis Investment Group and Mack Cali
  • developing criteria for DEI grants so the chapter can offer complimentary memberships to students and members from diverse communities
  • implementing the DEI Champion program to provide opportunities for sponsors to be recognized as DEI Champions underwriting these memberships
  • developing a Catalyst DEI Award, a joint project with CREW New York’s Membership Recognition Committee, to recognize individuals working towards transformative change in the CRE industry related to DEI

Measuring progress

The committee faces challenges in encouraging members to share the information needed to have reliable demographic information for accurate and effective benchmarking in their CREW member profile. “We recognize the need to assure members the information is not retrievable individually, but rather as part of an aggregate metric to understand where the chapter stands in various demographic metrics,” Committee Chair Nayada Lugji said.

The committee’s programming has given the organization opportunities to collaborate with new groups and raise its profile within the CRE industry. “We have studied and analyzed our membership and demographics and have identified increases in diversity, but plan to wait for the end of the first 12-month period in July 2022 to review benchmarking data formally,” Lugji said.

No matter where you are in your chapter’s DEI journey, gathering information, mobilizing volunteers and mapping out a plan are critical first steps. CREW Network’s DEI Playbook and resources in CREWbiz can help you effectively create an environment where CREW members and guests feel valued and welcomed, with the goal of increasing diversity and positioning CREW as a thought leader, influencer and agent of change in the commercial real estate industry.


Sheri Best – CREW New York Taskforce Lead and inaugural (2021) Chair of the CREW New York DEI Committee
Director of Business Development
Carter Milchman & Frank Inc.

Nayada LugjiCREW New York Taskforce Co-Lead and 2022 Chair of CREW New York DEI Committee
Senior Compliance Manager of Workforce and Supplier Diversity

Marianne Mathieu

Marianne Mathieu is Vice President, National Agency Accounts, Fidelity National Title Group. Mathieu works with multi-state title insurance agencies in both the commercial and residential sectors and is responsible for maximizing profitability and optimizing opportunities in technology, business relationships, market growth and operation improvements to ensure the long-term profitability of customers.

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