Jason Golub brings a multifaceted background to his new position as Walker & Dunlop’s Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. He was a senior leader in GE’s legal department, where he focused on high-risk investigations, workplace culture, training and compliance, and served for five years as a senior member of the company’s Diversity & Inclusion Council. Earlier this year, he was appointed chair of the Police Reform and Re-imagination Task Force in Saratoga Springs, NY, a task force mandated by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo aimed at police reform and reducing racial inequality.
Q: Why is D&I so important in business—and why isn’t progress where it needs to be?
A: Let’s start with some definitions: The backgrounds and perspectives of your employees are diversity. Creating the environment and culture that unlocks that lens and allows employees to bring their full selves to work and thrive is inclusion. Together, they are one of the single most important drivers of innovation and growth. The inclusion of diverse experiences and backgrounds provides a missing perspective when you’re trying to solve complex client problems or looking for opportunities to innovate. More and more clients are demanding this diverse thinking and want teams working on their problems who reflect the community at large.
In D&I, everyone says the right things—no one says “We’re not committed” or “We don’t care”—yet too often the promise of D&I in corporate America goes unrealized. Companies see it as separate from the business rather than part of the business. This often leads to D&I not being built into the culture of doing business and viewed as a nice-to-have. Companies often don’t approach it with the same rigor as their business strategies, resulting in D&I activities, training, and communications that aren’t operationalized into the business. It’s all well-meaning but often not impactful long-term. There needs to be a more rigorous approach to implementing a long-term D&I strategy.
You need to start by understanding where you are as a company. Once you conduct that qualitative and quantitative analysis, you can use that baseline to identify problems, goals, and strategies aligned with a long-term view of where you want to go. Without that, it’s hard to see if there’s traction being made or if you’re actually solving the problems within your organization. Once that strategy is built out, organizations need to build accountability and transparency into their commitment, as you would in any other area of your business.
Finally, I think it’s important for companies to rethink and reframe culture. Many companies believe they have a strong culture and often begin with the question — “does someone fit into our culture?” When building and growing your team this is a narrowing approach. Instead I encourage people to instead ask, “how does this person add to our culture”? It’s a more inclusive way at prioritizing culture while leaving room for people to bring their full selves to the team.
Q: Talk about what Walker & Dunlop is doing to foster diversity within the company and industry.
A: Right now, we’re conducting two separate culture and equity audits to get a baseline understanding of where we are as an organization as well as building out our data analytics capabilities. The audits and data will provide us a foundation for making measurable, sustainable progress toward our D&I goals, like nearly doubling female and minority representation in management positions and top company earners by 2025.
Partnerships are another part of our D&I strategy. For example, we are participating with Management Leadership for Tomorrow, whose CEO John Rice has served on Walker & Dunlop’s board of directors since 2010, on an innovative new Black Equity at Work Certification program. We are also partnered with organizations such as Kahilla and the Crew Network that provide external leadership, growth, and community opportunities to our female leaders.” Across the board we are looking at partnerships that will expand the opportunities for all our diverse employees to grow professionally.
We’re also growing organizational partnerships to develop a more diverse talent pipeline at all levels of the company. Our goal is to expose more and more talented people to the commercial real estate industry and that requires partnerships, innovation, and patience. At times, the commercial real estate industry can feel like the professional equivalent of rowing—very insular, with not a lot of people exposed to, or even aware of it. We aim to change that.
For example, we’re working with Historically Black Colleges and Universities and their real estate programs to expose their students to commercial real estate and our business. We’re working with organizations like Seize Every Opportunity (SEO) and Project Destined on paid summer internships for college students from diverse backgrounds. Students work with leading commercial real estate firms on live transactions and get hands-on experience with technologies like REIRail, a real estate lead generation and business education platform, and the solutions developed by REPLI, which provides software to the owners of multifamily properties.
Throughout, we’re looking to innovate and learn from others who have innovated in the D&I space. We are not satisfied with running the same plays as before hoping to get a different result. We’re having conversations with peers and clients. We’re evaluating partnerships with underserved communities and developing potential new go-to-market strategies and businesses. We’re looking at understanding how we can help remove obstacles and unlock the potential of individuals and communities across our business. It all goes back to driving business innovation, harnessing the unique power of all our employee’s experiences, and looking through a different lens to solve our clients problems.
Q: What led you to join Walker & Dunlop?
A: I wanted to align with a company that was both committed to moving the D&I needle and changing the conversation. When I was introduced to Willy and the leadership team, I got the sense that Walker & Dunlop wasn’t looking to participate in performative D&I— saying the right things but not committed to long-term systemic change when the press releases and interviews stop. At Walker & Dunlop, I saw a senior management team with a real commitment to leading by example in a transparent and accountable way. It won’t always be perfect, and it will take patience and commitment to implement our vision, but I am confident in our direction and ability to be the industry leader.
Q: How can employees in any position contribute to a more diverse and inclusive culture?
A: My advice is to start small and be open. D&I can be very overwhelming as a topic, fraught with pitfalls, emotions and concerns about saying or doing the wrong thing. People don’t want to say
the wrong things or offend anyone, so instead they sit on the sidelines. That isn’t the answer.
I encourage diving in with honest conversations, by asking “How can I help? What can I do?” Create safe spaces for conversations.
There are little things you can do to move the needle that won’t be overwhelming. For example, create safe spaces for conversations. Ask questions you think are dumb but may open the lines of communications. Be wildly open to perspectives other than your own, even if it feels uncomfortable at first. Over time this is how you build an inclusive environment where everyone feels that their opinion and their way of being is valued.
Allyship is a verb, an act of doing anything in support of diversity. It doesn’t have to be a grand step, but it needs to be a step forward. Even the smallest steps are valued.
Overall, be patient and take a long-term approach, like you would in any other element of business. This isn’t something that is going to change overnight either internally or in our industry. It may take years to see the full impact. But the more we have external partnerships within the industry and work with clients on innovation, the more D&I will positively impact our business and become part of our culture and who we are.