Furthering The Diversity And Inclusion Conversation: Angel Brown Talks About BOMA/Chicago Foundation Diversity Ambassador Program

Fenger High School Diversity Ambassador ProgramWe’re living in a time where diversity and inclusion initiatives are receiving the spotlight they deserve in organizations. At the BOMA/Chicago Foundation, we’ve had one of those critical initiatives in place through our Diversity Ambassadors program. To share her experience as a Diversity Ambassador, we reached out to Angel Brown, Property Manager with Piedmont Office Realty Trust, for an in-depth conversation.

Angel, in your own words, let’s talk about what being Diversity Ambassador not only literally means, but what it means to you.

I am a Diversity Ambassador for the BOMA/Chicago Foundation because I feel that it is an effective and meaningful way for me to give back to the community. And by giving back, I mean actually paving the way for other members of my very own community to enter the commercial real estate industry and be exposed to a vast array of opportunities.

By educating and mentoring underrepresented high school and college students about job opportunities in CRE, I’m talking to them about opportunities that they never knew existed. When I speak directly to students at our Ambassador events, it is always interesting to get a sense of their thought processes about real estate. Usually, when you ask them, “what is the first thing that pops into your mind when you hear the words “real estate”?” They mention buying and selling homes – and that’s it. They never think about the huge commercial buildings that they can design, develop, lease, manage and maintain. All of that explains why I’m a Diversity Ambassador…so that I can expose them to this industry.

Along those lines, I’m curious as to what led you even to explore this field?

When I was looking for a job right out of college, I didn’t know about the commercial real estate industry. I started with Chicago Title as a title searcher. I learned quickly that commercial real estate was ever-evolving, fast-paced and lucrative. As far as property management, I kind of fell into it. I searched for commercial real estate roles and jumped at the opportunity to become a property administrator for Willis Tower in 2005. This marked the beginning of my commercial real estate career. When I look at the inner city and where I’ve come from, thinking about career choices is typically confined to sports or being a doctor or lawyer. Nobody thinks about being an engineer, architect, elevator tech or property manager. It’s been my motivation to change that perception right from the start, early on. Being a Diversity Ambassador plays a fundamental role in that.

What are some of your favorite events where you can make an impact?

I have many favorite experiences as an Ambassador, but I think the one that stands out for me is when I went to visit my Alma Mater – my own high school – on career day. I had a chance to speak to the young adults there as one who had grown up in that same environment and graduated from the same school while facing some of the very same challenges that they currently face. I was able to shed light on my career, my challenges and the many different career opportunities available. When you talk to them about the many different career opportunities that are available in the industry and see their faces light up, it’s just amazing. I was able to show them beautiful, big buildings and change their thought processes concerning those buildings. Now, when they come downtown and they see these buildings, they don’t just see beautiful buildings anymore. They view career opportunities for themselves. I love that.

To have someone like you really shed light on the things that you can do in this particular industry is outstanding. You can say ‘I’m living proof that it can be done.’ That has to resonate with a lot of students. You were an Ollie Scholarship winner as well, correct?

Yes. Getting an Ollie Scholarship through the BOMA/Chicago Foundation definitely boosted my career for sure. Upon becoming an Ollie Scholar, there was a spotlight that shined upon me within the industry. I became more marketable. I ended up being able to take RPA courses and obtain an RPA designation, which helped even further. I received internal mentors within my own firm. And I had mentors outside of the firm who were a part of the BOMA/Chicago Foundation Diversity Committee.

I wanted to ask you about the present day where you’re at right now and where you’re working. What captivates you as a member of this industry and what do you love to do day to day?

I love to learn and read. I just love soaking up information and I’ll tell you, in this industry, you continue to evolve. There’s much to learn. That’s what is intrinsically rewarding for me. I’ve learned so much about accounting, lease administration, construction, the guts of a building – it goes on and on. That’s the cool thing. 

I’m a property manager, but here I am with the ability to learn aspects of other commercial real estate trades just in day to day operations. I meet all sorts of people. Networking is amazing. I can be inquisitive and learn as much as I want to know.

One way folks work their way up in property management is to move to larger or higher class office buildings to obtain more responsibility. Has that been your path thus far?

For the most part, yes. It’s not just the classes. It’s the types. There’s retail, which is a beast in and of itself. There is so much there. Then you go to office towers that have a retail aspect. In one position, I may have learned so much about lease administration. But then you get to another building and they’re redeveloping an asset. So now, you’re learning about building improvements and construction. Then you may go to another building that’s stable, so now you’re learning how to build relationships with your tenants because that’s what you probably spend most of your time doing. So, every building offers a unique learning opportunity.

From your perspective, what are some of the things that potential new Diversity Ambassadors should consider in terms of the time commitment?

I’d say knowing that your involvement could help create the diverse pool of talented, bright minds required by our industry is worth any amount of time you can provide.

What comprises the range of things one can do as a Diversity Ambassador?

You could volunteer from an administrative aspect. On the Diversity Committee, I chipped in my time to put together a PowerPoint for when the committee members would go out and speak to high school students. When there are events, you can volunteer to secure sponsors or volunteer to give a little bit of feedback on a resume. Just giving 15 to 30 minutes of your time to talk to a recent graduate or someone trying to look for a job is invaluable to that individual.

Do you ever have one-on-one meetings with students besides speaking in big groups?

Yes. We have interactions one-on-one and even after the presentation is done, you’ll get to talk to people. The other thing I think is important to mention too is that the Diversity Ambassadors program is for anybody. Building engineers. Sales. Any range of jobs that interact with our buildings is fair game.

How does someone get started with Diversity Ambassadors if they want to take the next step?

It’s easy. Just fill out an online form and BOMA/Chicago will place you in the proper environment for you to get started.

And hopefully, you will hold some hands along the way, right?

Count on it!

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If you’re passionate about ensuring that diversity and inclusion efforts are continually strengthened in our industry, take the first step by applying to become a Diversity Ambassador today! For further questions, contact Jaclynne Madden, Director of Education, at jmadden@BOMA/Chicagochicago.org or (312) 870-9608.