Diversity in the industry is not keeping pace with the consumer of the future. At ICNY on Wednesday, three of the industry’s top talents discussed how to change the equation.

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WomanUp! Co-creator Sara Sutachan moderated a panel on Wednesday featuring Ivonne Furneaux, vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at Realogy; Kathleen Lappe, CEO at DirectOffer; and Julia Lashay Israel, head of diversity, equity and inclusion for Keller Williams. The four discussed how women could and should be instrumental in guiding the conversation around DEI issues.

According to WomanUp!, an initiative of the California Association of Realtors, the diversity statistics in the real estate industry do not align with what the research states is the consumer of the future. What’s more, women, who make up more than 60 percent of real estate agents, are poorly represented at the highest levels of decision-making in the industry. 

Each panelist brought a personal perspective to her work with issues around DEI. For Furneaux, early life experiences taught her that as a girl, she was “too assertive and too opinionated.” As she built her career, she came to realize that she had to own the power of her voice and use it, not just to point out what was wrong but also to lead change.

Israel was planning to move to Texas when her son came home from college and began experiencing leg pain. Doctors discovered that he had stage 4 cancer, from which he would not recover. In the aftermath of his diagnosis, Israel’s Keller Williams colleagues rallied around, providing her with an accessible place to live, since her son could no longer navigate stairs, and with all of the furnishings and housewares needed since her belongings had already been shipped to her new home.

For Israel, a commitment to inclusion comes, in part, from the sense that she’s always representing others.

“Those people who poured into me at that time allowed me to do what I do for others now,” she said. “In all my board positions, I’ve always been elected, not appointed,” said Israel. “When I am in a space, I am there to show up for others.” 

Lappe’s commitment to inclusion is motivated in large part by her experience as the mother of a daughter with a disability. Her company, DirectOffer, creates proptech designed to help agents create more robust marketing and communications. 

One of their products, Audio Tours, is designed to help agents record and embed insights into each listing photo, making them easier to access for potential buyers with visual impairments or those who are unable to decipher property descriptions.

Furneaux pointed out that much of the bias that keeps organizations from implementing diversity is unconscious. She pointed out how the concept of professionalism is sometimes used to favor particular types of people or particular appearances. 

Furneaux suggested reframing the conversation around professionalism to determine what it really means and how it might be keeping agents and staff from accessing opportunities within the company.

“When we truly become inclusive, we are talking about all types of life circumstances and situations that go beyond race, gender or sexual orientation,” Furneaux said.

Israel’s biggest takeaway for adding more diversity and creating a more inclusive environment? Diversify your team. Whether you own a brokerage or are a single agent choosing a home inspector, lender or other professional colleague, look for different perspectives and skills.

“We don’t just want some of the market; we want all of the market,” said Israel, and inclusiveness allows you to reach more people and make that happen.

Furneaux’s takeaway was that women are overmentored and undersponsored.

“We need people who have a seat at the table and who will advocate for you, even when you’re not in the room,” Furneaux said. “If you have a seat at the table, take it as an opportunity to bring the elevator up for other women who want a seat at the table, too.”

Christy Murdock is a Realtor, freelance writer, coach and consultant and the owner of Writing Real Estate. She is also the creator of the online course Crafting the Property Description: The Step-by-Step Formula for Reluctant Real Estate Writers. Follow Writing Real Estate on TwitterInstagram and YouTube.

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