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Member Spotlight Interview: Alejandra Guzman, Chair of Mission Advancement, ULI Louisiana
By Natasha Powell Walker, Director of DEI, Urban Land Institute
September 27, 2021
Alejandra Guzman, executive director of business ventures at LSU Health Foundation in New Orleans, is the chair of mission advancement (CMA) at ULI Louisiana. ULI spoke with Guzman about her plans as CMA and what goals she is most excited about for ULI Louisiana.
How long have you been a member of the Urban Land Institute, and how did you get involved?
I became a member and involved with ULI Louisiana in 2016. I moved to New Orleans that year, and I knew that the best way to network and get involved with the local real estate community was through organizations like the Urban Land Institute. Since then, I have been involved with the district council and I can truly say that it is one of the best organizations in the state. Through ULI, I have been able to create meaningful relationships with real estate professionals across disciplines, keep up with international trends, find information to address real professional challenges, and make a positive impact on our community.
At the time I joined ULI, I was working for the New Orleans Business Alliance, an economic development agency where part of my job was creating policy and strategies to promote development in disinvested communities. Being part of ULI was helpful to shape, communicate, and implement our strategy. I am now the executive director for business ventures for the LSU [Louisiana State University] Health Foundation, and my portfolio includes multiple real estate projects. In this new role, I have been able to leverage the relationships I have created with ULI to address many of the issues associated with the job.
As the chair of mission advancement, what goals are you most excited about for ULI Louisiana?
I’m most excited to be able to promote diversity and inclusion within the real estate industry. There is plenty of evidence that proves communities that embrace diversity perform better than those that do not. It is a reality that we need more representation in all sectors and that the lack of this has an impact on our community well-being. ULI Louisiana has already taken firm steps in addressing this, but there is more work to be done—from awareness on how historically minority communities have been affected, to the policies that are needed to help communities advance, to practical solutions to address policy needs and fill in leadership positions with people with diverse backgrounds. I look forward to leveraging the ULI platform to raise awareness and provide a platform so that minority voices are heard, acknowledged, and celebrated.
How has being a Hispanic woman shaped your experience in the commercial real estate environment?
Our identity, traits, and experiences influence our worldview and shape our creative process. Through my experiences I have been exposed to international best practices, I’ve gained perspective on identity biases and how to address them, and [I’ve] learned that my identity and experiences can be leveraged for the greater good. Without a doubt there are challenges for people like me who represent a minority in their industries. However, I believe that those challenges can be turned into opportunities if channeled the right way.
I grew up and started my career in Mexico. During the first years of my career, I worked for a construction company, through which I learned about public/private partnerships and creative models to deliver affordable housing and services to poor communities. I later worked for a developer in a high-end community in Mexico to create mobility solutions, green space, and quality-of-life solutions in the neighborhoods surrounding our development. The knowledge and perspective I gained in the Hispanic market has influenced my creative process designing programs and solutions for communities in the United States.
Also, throughout my career I have seen how biases are limiting for career advancement. While working in Mexico, I was often the only woman in the room, and corporate policies were not conducive to attract or retain diverse talent. At the time, there was very little information on why diversity matters and how it has a financial impact on organizations. Additionally, there was lack of information available to be able to identify and address biases. As I have gained access to information, it has helped me to identify biases and productively call them out to be an agent of change. I take every opportunity I can to help raise awareness and promote policy change. I acknowledge that there have been some improvements over the years to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion, but there is still a lot of work to be done.