Despite becoming a larger part of the REALTOR® conversation over the last few years, the journey toward diversity, equity and inclusion is just beginning, according to Ryan Davis, National Association of REALTORS®’ director of engagement, diversity and inclusion. “DEI within the real estate industry is still in its infancy among organizations that strive to be responsive to the needs of a diverse constituency and to achieve equity in the marketplace,” he says.
To promote DEI as an integral part of daily business, NAR has included it in each of its strategic priorities for 2022 and beyond. It encourages members and requires state and local REALTOR® associations to do the same in their own strategic planning. In addition, NAR is developing a growing number of resources to support local and state associations in their DEI efforts.
“One of our goals is to help bring everyone within the industry to a healthy level of awareness,” Davis says. “We have ever-changing demographics that populate our nation. It’s becoming a more diverse United States than ever before. We need to come to a shared language and understanding about how people see themselves, evolving our nomenclature and discourse so we can have meaningful and humanizing conversations with everyone.”
Getting Started? Follow the Roadmap
For associations just beginning their DEI journey—or that want to better understand the big picture—Davis recommends starting with the Actionable Roadmap for Local Association Diversity and Inclusion.
The Roadmap presents a four-step outline for DEI:
- Step 1: Research. In your community and market area, whose needs and interests may be overlooked or misunderstood? What are the demographics of your membership and leadership, and who on the association staff can take on DEI responsibilities?
- Step 2: Discovery. If you find one or more demographic groups that are not well served, “identify those [members] who are serving the underrepresented community, if and where they gather to discuss real estate, the real estate–related issues they need action on, their knowledge and experience with the community and their passions for member education, ethics and advocacy,” the Road-map advises. “Find ways to build personal relationships between your existing leadership and these members.”
- Step 3: Engagement. Encourage the involvement of these members in the association and build relationships that broaden community connections.
- Step 4: Outreach and growth. Mentor and train new leaders, build upon ongoing efforts to include diversity on your key committees and in your activities and create cooperative relationships with any multicultural or related group of REALTORS® in your area.
The Roadmap points the way toward DEI success. But even the best map isn’t enough by itself to get you where you want to go.
NAR has a variety of grants specifically designated to sup-port DEI initiatives at local and state associations. With DEI a priority, “we didn’t want finances to be a barrier,” says Davis.
Grants of up to $1,000 are available to support, among other things, an association’s diversity and inclusion events, collaboration with multicultural real estate organizations and conference attendance. Grants of up to $5,000 are available to increase diversity and inclusion among leader-ship, for education and workshops, and for other activities that advance DEI.
Associations are finding creative ways to put their diversity grants to use. “Funds might pay for document translation for clients who did not learn English as their first language or scholarship programs to attract members from demographic groups underrepresented in the association,” Davis says.
Or a local association might team up with a partner organization and invite leaders to host a panel discussion or seminar. “These partner organizations include the LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance, the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, the Asian Real Estate Association of America and the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals, all of which have local chapters,” he adds.
Taking the L.E.A.D.
Most associations focus grant money on DEI education and learning, often through courses developed by NAR. One specifically designed for volunteer leaders is the latest addition to the L.E.A.D. series. (L.E.A.D. stands for learn, elevate, accelerate and deliver.)
“You can find all kinds of leadership training out there, but there’s very little that is tailored to the needs of REALTORS®,” says Amanda Stinton, NAR’s director of leadership and sustainability/member development. “We wanted to craft courses to help fill that need, taking a research-based approach to provide a pathway for every stage of a volunteer leader’s journey.”
Developed by experienced AEs and REALTORS® who’ve held national leadership positions, the four L.E.A.D. courses aim to help REALTORS® and AEs become effective and visionary association leaders.
Within the DEI course, Stinton says, “We talk about what DEI means, defining the difference between ‘equity’ and ‘equality’;dive into how stereotypes, prejudice or dis-crimination can prevent volunteer leaders from practicing DEI principles; and help students gain a better under-standing of all the ‘isms’ that fall under the scope of DEI: racism, sexism, ageism, ableism. And we explore all these topics from the perspective of leadership and how DEI can benefit the members of your association, your work-place, your committee—whoever you’re working with.”
Long Island Board of REALTORS® CEO Tessa Hultz, RCE, CAE, was one of the course’s subject matter experts. Her participation reminded her just how important it is to continually address DEI assumptions and overlooked opportunities.
“Despite how much DEI issues are part of our conversation and mindset, it is still very easy to have blind spots,” she says. “I mean, look at how we are still being told to think about the different generations: ‘Boomers are like this, Gen X is like this, Gen Y thinks like this.’ As stereotypes go, these are fairly benign. But nobody is just one thing.
"Generalizations about any group of people, no matter how benign they may seem, need to be questioned and challenged in our own thinking,” Hultz says. “A big part of DEI education is simply uncovering all of those implicit biases, all of those times that we use shorthand to suggest we know something about someone when we actually don’t.”
The course has been available since November 2021, and Stinton says the response has been encouraging. “Several state and local REALTOR® associations, as well as broker-ages, have contacted us about providing this course to their members or volunteers. They’re making a commitment to train their agents and volunteer leaders on DEI. Some are even purchasing bundles of courses to distribute so they can ensure their members have the educational baseline on DEI principles that the course provides,” she says. “Although these topics have been part of the conversation for a while, there is still a need for DEI education. It’s especially import-ant that it is woven throughout our standard practices and not approached as a separate topic or an option. It truly is a significant puzzle piece in an overarching volunteer-leadership strategy.”
A Never-Ending Journey
Arizona REALTORS® Chief Operating Officer Christina Smalls, RCE, is one such diversity champion. Introduced to Spire at the AE Institute in March 2022, she was convinced the program would be a meaningful one for her association. “Our DEI committee was already in the process of research-ing a mentorship program in our state,” she says.
“Anytime we can help our members participate in a program that speaks to their passion of helping people, it can only make our membership stronger,” Smalls adds. “I’d like to encourage more associations to form committees or work groups dedicated to DEI initiatives. If the size of their staff makes that difficult, they can partner with other local associations or reach out to their state association for support. Associations also can offer classes and webinars to help members navigate and understand the importance of complex subjects such as race and the challenges faced by their minority colleagues.”
None of these goals—mentoring, training association leaders and building a more diverse, inclusive membership—is achieved through one-time effort. They’re ongoing. “As association staff, we have the ability and responsibility to provide the best resources and information to our members,” Smalls says. “Let’s help our members be better equipped to represent all consumers and support the growth of more inclusive communities.”