Elizabeth Birch was ready for a new challenge, for a third time. The celebrated human rights activist who has advocated for the rights of her LGBTQ peers most of her adult life found her new career here at CBRE. We chatted with Elizabeth, a Vice President in Advisory & Transaction Services Occupier, in Washington D.C., about her life and career.
Tell us a little bit about how you came to CBRE.
I came to CBRE after a lengthy career in the corporate, legal and nonprofit worlds. I am a lawyer by training and began my career at a San Francisco firm. I was recruited to head litigation globally at Apple Computer, Inc. and did so for a number of years. In the mid-1990s, I came to head the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ advocacy organization in the nation. Our team was responsible for a tremendous period of growth and visibility. I was a lobbyist on all manner of issues concerning Diversity and Inclusion on Capitol Hill and appeared frequently in the media to advocate for Human Rights.
You've had an amazing career! Tell us why you decided to start a career in commercial real estate?
Commercial real estate is a third career for me. After the Human Rights Campaign, I became a consultant to many institutions — corporations, nonprofits, association, the U.S. military – on issues related to diversity, inclusion and attracting and retaining exceptional talent. But I needed to stay in the Greater Washington area to raise my twins. I decided to work in commercial construction and did business development for a friend. This allowed me to learn and have the flexibility to attend to my kids. I quickly learned that to truly serve a client you have to control the real estate journey from the beginning. So, I joined CBRE when the twins left for college. It has the largest nonprofit practice in the country. We differentiate ourselves by bringing my expertise on nonprofit management, analysis of cultural factors and working with great architects on planning and design that truly reflects the organization's culture. We sweat the details because we want a space that will serve the client's mission.
What is the biggest challenge you've had to overcome during your career?
The biggest challenge I have ever had is to figure out is how to help others see gay people as sons, daughters, friends and coworkers. Our goal was to move the conversation out of the streets and into the living rooms of America. Thanks to the individual brave acts of thousands of LGBTQ people over many decades now, LGBTQ people are far more accepted and fewer young people are on the street as a result.
How did you achieve this?
We used a multi-year, highly disciplined and multi-dimensional strategy that included growing the resources of HRC to significant heights. Today, the nonprofit has a budget of over $70 million and much of that foundation was set down in the 1990s.
How have you overcome discrimination in your career or in your life?
I have been an out gay person my entire adult life. I have had to channel a lot of energy into teaching institutions that LGBTQ people are worthy of respect and have enormous gifts to bring to any work setting.
What advice do you have for others?
Make sure your path includes what your soul is calling you to do.