As the world continues to grapple with the realities of racism and injustice brought most recently to the national spotlight by the murder of George Floyd, many in the real estate industry are looking inward and acknowledging that there is work to be done to heal and support our communities, while best representing our industry.
“The real estate industry is a key vertical in the fight against racial injustice,” said Leading Real Estate Companies of the World® EVP of Operations and Corporate Counsel Jessica Edgerton. “Our nation’s housing landscape carries with it a painful history of redlining, racial covenants, and both de jure and de facto segregation. By the same token, we are uniquely positioned to take a lead in breaking down the enduring binds of institutional racism and inequity that continue to inflict damage on our communities, our families, and our colleagues.”
Edgerton notes that, as an industry, we have the power to face this issue on multiple fronts. “From the consumer-facing standpoint, we must ensure that we provide services that meet and exceed Fair Housing standards. And as leaders—business owners, agents, association executives, relocation directors, all of us—we must be deeply intentional about making this an inclusive profession. Without inclusivity and diversity, we are unable to effectively serve any community.”
LeadingRE is taking this charge seriously, both for its own staff and for its network of 550 member firms. LeadingRE is expanding its library of Fair Housing resources, building alliances with inclusivity-based organizations, developing new plans to support members in their diversity recruitment efforts, and creating an information co-op with resources and insights from members—members like Chicago’s Baird & Warner and Boston’s Jack Conway & Company.
Baird & Warner builds on its history
As an early advocate of Fair Housing in the 1960s, Baird & Warner has a legacy of opening housing opportunities for all, and the company is now doubling down on its efforts. “Housing inequities continue to happen on our watch, and we are intent on being part of the solution,” said COO Jennifer Alter Warden.
The company hired a consultant who conducted an internal assessment on diversity, equity, and inclusion. “While these conversations can be difficult, what we are learning is vital in shaping our long-term plan for engaging and serving a broader community—a plan that involves training, awareness and action,” Alter Warden said.
Expanded educational offerings include a lecture series on racial equity and housing and training that focuses not only on what agents should not do when it comes to Fair Housing, but also what they should do to engage and serve more diverse clients. As part of a massive archiving project that covers its 165-plus year history, the company has also documented the progress and set-backs of racial inequity in housing as a means of ensuring those experiences are not forgotten.
When it comes to awareness, Baird & Warner is using its charitable arm, Good Will Works, to address larger issues. For example, one of this year’s beneficiaries, the Spanish Coalition for Housing, will speak to agents on the importance of understanding the specific needs of diverse consumer segments and offering services in multiple languages.
Jack Conway & Company encourages conversation and action
Similarly, Jack Conway & Company approaches diversity and inclusion with a multi-part plan. President/CEO Carol Bulman directly addressed George Floyd’s killing in a video message sent to agents and staff. “It broke our hearts to see so many of our people in pain. It was important to acknowledge it openly and honestly,” Bulman said.
Next, the company developed a marketing vision with themes that emphasize inclusivity and caring for your neighbor. Social media graphics are made available to agents every week, giving voice to these issues and reflecting the values of the company. Education is also a top priority, including holding a Fair Housing CE class and enlisting a diversity trainer.
One of the most impactful components of Jack Conway’s strategy was a panel discussion, moderated by Bulman and COO Al Becker and featuring a diverse group of staff and agents. “Our discussion was raw and emotional, and the feedback has been overwhelming. As leaders, we have the obligation to close the gap of silence and truly listen. We shouldn’t be afraid to actually ask the questions because our own insecurities can keep us from having important conversations.”
Edgerton acknowledges that the work that’s been done to date, while significant, is just the beginning. “This isn’t a sprint. It’s not even a marathon—marathons have finish lines. In the end, as real estate professionals, we are in the business of dignity, of community, of helping others build wealth. And our way forward is to ensure that these things are not out of anyone’s reach due to their skin color, or their national origin, or their membership in any other protected class. Inclusivity needs to be in our blood.”