February is Black History Month in America. As Realtors, the first thing that comes to mind in most forum discussions is the topic of fair housing. Yes, it’s indeed an important topic to discuss, as it has laid significant groundwork for fairness in homeownership for people of color. However, it should not be the only topic of discussion.
Coming into the industry, I was aware I would face some challenges as a Black woman. However, I was cautiously optimistic that people would be more open to diversity and inclusion when working with industry professionals who did not look like them.
Nearly seven years have passed, and I am now a managing broker with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Paramount, and I am still discovering how much inclusion is needed.
Put professionalism and knowledge first
First things first, I pride myself on being a professional and knowledgeable businesswoman. As a leader in our industry, I currently serve on two boards, three committees on a local and state level, and volunteer in my community.
More often than not, I find that I must rapidly go through my professional and educational pedigree just to seem worthy enough to earn the client’s business. This is something all Black professionals will deal with during their careers.
Even so, I have always been a firm believer in my abilities and the importance of self-assurance. As long as I am aware of what I am capable of, I have learned not to seek affirmation from others.
Recognize that our responsibilities are the same
At an early age, I learned that discrimination is prevalent just about everywhere. Nonetheless, an agent’s mandatory ethics training discusses discrimination’s relevance and where agents will find it within our industry. It’s our responsibility to correct any discriminatory actions we might come across in our line of work.
I have seen this occur, particularly with clients who are adamant about working with lenders, inspectors, lawyers, etc., who are the same race as they are. As a broker, it’s my duty to explain why I will not accommodate those specific requests and how they could be discriminatory.
In my experience, some agents feel better moving on from any topic of uncomfortableness or ignore it altogether. In turn, they fail to see the offense behind their behavior.
Avoid making assumptions
When we work in an image-driven industry, it might be easy to make assumptions about others, give in to those thoughts and believe them to be true. I’ve found that this can be a harmful way of thinking, especially as a real estate agent who meets new people every day. Whether you are dealing with other agents or prospective clients, making accurate assumptions after just one meeting is impossible because you simply do not know someone’s life story.
For that very reason, early in my career, I chose not to put my image on any marketing materials. I am confident that I am not the first to make this decision, and I definitely won’t be the last.
As a Black professional in real estate, I am often face-to-face with the judgment of other people’s assumptions of me. For example, while hosting an open house, some visitors are surprised to see me as the host and ask more questions about me and where I work rather than asking about the home they came to see. I have also spoken to successful agents who have turned down opportunities to lead discussions for fear of retribution or ostracism.
Host open conversation to combat unconscious bias
It goes without saying how prevalent unconscious bias is in our society. From a personal perspective, the only way to combat this bias is by having an open dialogue about the nature of discrimination that many people find uncomfortable.
Growing up in New Orleans, I was always around people who looked like me and had similar life experiences. When I moved to Edmond, Oklahoma, I could hardly find Black people anywhere. Upon meeting new (white) friends, I then realized how important it is to teach others about the Black experience and my story. I’ve held get-togethers with my friends and allowed them to ask questions about race and my experiences as a Black woman in America.
We called it “Anything you wanted to ask a Black person, but were afraid to ask.” Not only has this enlightened them, but it also allowed them to get a glimpse of the world through my eyes and have some understanding of racial struggles, their biases and our similarities as people.
Not only is this important to discuss in our personal relationships, but it’s also beneficial to do so in the workplace. When aiming to achieve diversity, many organizations and companies are looking to create a diverse and equal space between men and women.
However, they stop there and don’t consider how important it is to focus on representing people who don’t look like them.
Such representation might allow people to be more open to race and discrimination discussions, especially in real estate. It might result in a more welcoming and comforting work environment and enable our peers to recognize discriminatory acts that might be occurring right under their noses.
Hopefully, we will see these conversations happening not only this month but throughout the whole year. From the perspective of a Black American, Black History Month is every month.