Online real estate giants Zillow and Redfin have joined with a handful of other major companies to launch a new effort aimed at increasing diversity on corporate boards.
The effort is called the Board Challenge and debuted Wednesday with 17 “founding pledge partners.” Those partners have promised to add a black director to their boards within one year. More broadly, the initiative also “seeks to accelerate action to improve the diversity of corporate boards,” according to a statement.
Zillow is one of the effort’s founding pledge partners, and in a tweet Wednesday company CEO Rich Barton argued that “there’s no excuse for an all-white board in today’s environment.” In an accompanying post on LinkedIn, Barton added the “search for a Black director is already well underway at Zillow, and we’re very excited about the talented candidates we’ve been able to talk to.”
Zillow has had an opening on its board since April, when former CEO Spencer Rascoff stepped down as a director.
Other founding pledge partners include Nextdoor — a social network that has shown a significant interest in real estate — as well as clothier M.M. LaFleur, software company PagerDuty and healthcare benefits provider Accolade, among others.
The Board Challenge also includes 27 “charter pledge members,” which are companies that already have at least one black board member. The charter pledge companies have committed to “use their resources to accelerate change.” Both charter and founding members of the Board Challenge have further committed to “true and full representation” among their directors.
Redfin is among the charter pledge members, as are a number of other high-profile firms such as Uber, Lyft, Nordstrom and Verizon. Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman is also personally listed as a supporter of the Board Challenge on the initiative’s website and Kelman has made repeated calls for greater diversity in real estate this year.
A Redfin spokesperson told Inman human resources executive Kerry Chandler became Redfin’s first black board member in August. The spokesperson also said Kelman has “founding member” status in the initiative, meaning he has committed to enlisting one other company for the Board Challenge.
The Board Challenge was the brain child of financial services company Altimeter Capital, black professional community provider Valence and networking company the boardlist, which focuses on helping diverse job candidates.
The initiative’s launch also comes amid a national reckoning on race in the U.S. That reckoning was accelerated earlier this year by a number of police shootings. The shootings prompted widespread protests calling for greater racial equality at all levels of society.
Those calls have had a significant impact on the real estate industry. In August, for example, companies such as RE/MAX opted to honor Juneteenth — a yearly celebration marking the ending of slavery in the U.S. — and in June Compass CEO Robert Reffkin told agents at his company to guide 15 percent of their spending to Black-owned companies or vendors.
A number of industry professionals also argued this summer that the real estate business needs to “change from within.”
All of these efforts all came less than a year after a landmark report from Newsday indicated widespread housing discrimination was taking place on Long Island, New York. In the wake of that report, many real estate professionals said discrimination was a problem in their regions as well.
Though the Board Challenge is specifically aimed at increasing diversity at the corporate level, Zillow’s Barton framed it Wednesday as part of a “new point of reckoning to address racial issues and equal representation.”
“Business leaders of all backgrounds can’t let this moment pass,” Barton continued in a statement. “If we aren’t part of the solution, we are part of the problem. We need change and action to build more diverse boardrooms.”
Barton also called on members of the business community to “be active” in engaging with diverse leaders.
“The perspectives and ideas we listen to, and the voices we elevate, will determine the future of our industries, our companies, and ultimately our world,” Barton concluded. “It’s obvious that Black people are underrepresented in corporate boardrooms and other positions of leadership and power.”
Update: This post was updated after publication with additional information provided by Redfin.