NEW YORK — As a straight, white man, “until 18 months ago, I didn’t know what it felt like to be judged,” said Jim Garman of Better Homes and Gardens Go Realty.
Then, he got a divorce, “and heard those whispers, and felt those sideways glances,” from people who, he said, “could not possibly know my entire story.
“And man, it felt terrible,” he added.
Still, he acknowledged, the stigma of divorce fades. Garman said he wasn’t sure he could face discrimination every day of his life.
He stood up in front of his agents to tell them about his experience. “I’m not sure I could imagine being black, being a woman or being gay,” he remembered telling his staff.
And, he recalled, one of his employees stood up at the front of the room, lifted her hands in the air and said, “Or all three!”
Celebrate the differences
Garman asked his agents to pick labels — that they’d had given to them or imposed on them — and created a video showing his agents’ faces with those labels flashing up next to them.
To take the first steps to building an inclusive brokerage, “you don’t have to start with the big ones,” noted Garman.
“Every person in your brokerage has something they’ve been judged for.” If you can find out what it is, you can start building bridges.
“Every time I tell the story of my divorce or I talk about my 9-year-old little girl who wears a brace every day because of scoleosis — every time I tell those stories, I give permission to my team to be themselves at work,” Garman said.
By exhibiting vulnerability, leaders can encourage their employees to be more authentic (and kind) to each other.
Get it right at the top
Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate gets it right, said Garman.
CEO Sherry Chris’s commitment to diversity have drawn people who care about those issues to the brokerage, he added.
Go beyond tolerance
Garman asked everyone in the audience to turn to each other and say, “I tolerate you.”
“How did that feel?” he asked the group.
Being tolerated isn’t the be-all end-all. Being loved is better.
The full effect
“To get people’s best work, we have to create a place where they are welcomed, where they are accepted and where they are loved,” Garman concluded.
If Go Realty leaders had decided, for whatever reason, to exclude the former Marine who supported Trump or the young agent with a fauxhawk — or the gay agent with PTSD — “we would have missed so much,” said Garman, listing the contributions each employee made.
“Inclusion is about more than kindness, more than generosity. Inclusion is also very, very smart business.”