Building a business that prioritizes diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging

Why equity and belonging isn't a nice to have. It's a business imperative.

Study after study has confirmed that people who bring alternative perspectives, experiences, and skill sets to a business enable it to excel, identifying needs and solving issues that their peers didn’t notice or didn’t know how to address.

Kristi Ambrosetti

Kristi Ambrosetti’s CV has some differentiators you don’t see every day. She’s a Senior Global Real Estate Advisor with the Sotheby’s International Realty – East Side Manhattan brokerage, a former All-American lacrosse player, a longtime Broadway performer, and a proud member and active participant in the LGBTQ+ community. She also happens to rank consistently in Realogy Brokerage Group’s Top 2 percent of brokers nationwide. Chances are, this isn’t a coincidence.

Study after study has confirmed that people who bring alternative perspectives, experiences, and skillsets to a business enable it to excel, identifying needs and solving issues that their peers didn’t notice or didn’t know how to address. This is why prioritizing diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging (DIEB) is imperative—along with the simple reality that it’s just the right thing to do.

For Ambrosetti, being a member of a minority can bring frustrations others don’t see or feel—“I spent years having to ‘come out’ to people who were surprised to learn that I’m gay,” she says—but more than that, it has brought opportunities for education and authentic connection.

“Someone once looked at my hand and said ‘Oh, that’s a beautiful ring. Your husband must really adore you.’ I smiled and politely said, ‘My wife really adores me,’” she laughs.

“My mission has always been to be the change I want to see in the world in an organic and honest way, and when appropriate, I have found opportunities to share a bit of my personal life with clients. If I can create space for someone to gain a greater appreciation for the LGTBQ+ community because of their experience with me in business, then I’m making a difference one person at a time. That makes me so happy.”

Here are two of the most important and immediate benefits of prioritizing DIEB initiatives in your business, and three ways that you can start to move the needle.

Benefit 1: Welcoming the world

Holly Brainard and Michael O’Dwyer

The luxury real estate industry serves a diverse and international clientele, and Holly Brainard and Michael O’Dwyer—Associate Real Estate Brokers with Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty—know that by building DIEB into the DNA of their practice, they’re opening the doors to people, places, and opportunities all over the world.

“A diverse brokerage makes a client or customer feel more welcome, comfortable, and part of the community they are exploring,” explains Brainard. “We are very fortunate to be based in such a multicultural city.”

O’Dwyer adds, “The agents who embrace the principles of diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging benefit from the enriching experience of working with people of all backgrounds.”

Benefit 2: Bringing new business

Appreciating and celebrating people of different races, ethnicities, gender identities, sexual orientations, ages, abilities, socioeconomic statuses, or any other measures of diversity makes for happier clients—and that’s the most significant success metric for luxury agents.

“Our business is based on referrals,” says Brainard. “When we treat someone with fairness, equity, and honesty, they then refer us to their friends and family.”

Value variety when building your team

Sotheby’s International Realty – East Side Manhattan Brokerage

Having captained her college lacrosse team, and volunteered as coach and co-commissioner of the Greenwich House Girls Basketball League in West Village, Ambrosetti’s experience as an athlete has shown her the value of a varied and heterogenous team, whether in sports or in real estate.

“You don’t have to be the most talented to win in the end, but you do need to have diversity and know how best to contribute to the benefit of the team—and inclusivity, open-mindedness, listening, and supporting are all values that I bring to my real estate team as the leader,” she says.

Be a champion of diverse communities

“I am an active member of NAGLREP, the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals,” Ambrosetti adds. “Having the opportunity to visibly, vocally, and financially support non-profits such as the Matthew Shepard Foundation is the biggest bonus of my real estate work. This is my passion in life.”

O’Dwyer and Brainard agree. “We are actively involved in our community, volunteering for various non-profits,” says O’Dwyer. “Supporting community events and services are helpful and important ways to connect and establish relationships with diverse groups.”

A focus on inclusivity also means recognizing that different groups of people—in particular, visible minorities—have different levels of access to resources.

“Due to the high cost of housing and the lack of inventory in the current seller’s market, affordability in this area has been difficult for many,” notes O’Dwyer. “There are certain loan programs that can assist some buyers—first-time home buyer grants, for example. Unfortunately, financial inequity persists, and one thing we can address is educating clients on available funding sources.”

Make time to stay informed

Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty

O’Dwyer also encourages agents to continue learning. “Educate yourself and learn more about other cultures. Use the tools available from your brokerage, as well as the National Association of REALTORS® and other associations in your region. Most of all, always do what is right and treat all people fairly, with honesty and integrity.”

Globally, companies are pivoting their focus to DIEB, and Ambrosetti sees a future full of promise for the next generation—as long as the pace of change doesn’t slow down. “We have to get in front of this and go above and beyond, aligning our brokerages and our industry with diversity and inclusion practices,” she says.

“Brokerages, brokers, and agents who embrace and prioritize diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging are the future of real estate,” agrees Brainard. “They will be viewed as tomorrow’s trusted advisors and community builders.”