Women’s History Month Spotlight: Joanna Harrison

Real estate broker, Joanna Harris, is dedicating her career to dismantling the inequities that exist in commercial real estate for people of color. Similar to the racial disparities we see in homeownership, communities of color are missing out on the opportunity to build generational wealth through commercial property ownership and business ownership due to lack of access to resources and proper representation. For this week’s Women’s History Month spotlight, we chatted with Joanna about the barriers to entry she’s identified in real estate for people of color who are looking to buy and lease property, as well as those looking to enter the field as real estate brokers:

Can you tell us what power imbalances you’ve noticed while working as a commercial real estate broker and how you’re working to address these?

As soon as I started working in commercial real estate almost five years ago, I noticed the imbalance of marginalized communities not having their own representation when looking for commercial real estate. I also noticed that there was a gap in what these communities had not been taught. Most of the time if you don’t have someone to help guide you in commercial real estate you are doing it blindly and could leave room for a lot of error and headache.

My work allows clients to lean on me not only as a broker but also as a consultant and educator to help guide them through the steps while explaining what all it means. Empowering my clients to know the details is my passion. Addressing gatekeeping and access is also something I focus on a lot. There is no reason to keep any of the information locked up, we should all have access to it.

Women and BIPOC people represent a very small percentage of commercial real estate brokers. In your opinion, what is the main challenge preventing these groups from entering the real estate field and what is one way you believe this challenge can be addressed?

One of the main challenges is having enough capital to get through owning a new business.

As a real estate broker you work as an independent contractor, the firm you hang your license with is simply a way to market yourself, but you are not an employee so a lot of brokers create LLC’s for their real estate and business transactions. If you are a part of a marginalized community, you may not have the resources and capital that other groups may have to support you while you go to real estate school, take the test, pay for fees, and build your book of business. It takes time before you actually start making enough money to sustain your business.  

There are a few ways this could be addressed. 1) Community grants are one way marginalized groups can gain access to money to jumpstart their businesses and be able to get ahead. 2) Commercial firms can start paying new real estate brokers a base salary. 3) Commercial firms can provide new real estate brokers with leads that will at least keep them afloat for the first few years while they build their business and client list.

What can the community do to support your work?

One way I need support right now, is spreading the word about my work. I want to have conversations. Reach out to me with no strings attached and let’s talk! I want people to know about the different services commercial real estate offers.

Another way the community can support my work is to consider reaching out to me if they have commercial real estate needs like tenant representation for leasing, buyer representation for purchasing an owner user building, or commercial investments and listing representation for owners that have space available for lease. I am also available to speak and attend meetings to talk about the work I do.