In order to make fair housing a reality, real estate professionals must first uncover and understand the biases that exist within themselves. Bias is a benign term in theory, because every human being possesses some form of it. A number of factors—our upbringing, race, religion, and socioeconomic status—inform the way we see the world.
The problem, however, occurs when our biases get in the way of our ability to foster an equitable and safe space for those around us. It doesn't matter the merit of our intentions if we still cause harm to someone else, said co-presenter of the three-hour Bias Override training, Ron Phipps, principal broker of Phipps Realty Inc. in East Greenwich, R.I.
This interactive course during the REALTORS® Legislative Meetings in Washington, D.C., was designed to help attendees uncover their biases to see how those biases might affect their business or lead to unintended fair housing violations.
It’s Time to Get Uncomfortable
Phipps and co-presenter Natalie Davis, founder of The Evolution Group in Greenwich Village, Colo., made it clear at the beginning of the session: Things were about to get a little uncomfortable. To get to the bottom of bias, they said, attendees would need to look inward and ask themselves some difficult questions.
First, Davis and Phipps defined the term “out-group,” which means someone feels as though they don’t belong in a space, and how this feeling informs how they interact in that space. Davis then made it clear that the training was designed to help attendees take a look at whether or not they foster a space, even unintentionally, in which any of their colleagues, employees, agents, or clients feel like a member of the out-group.
“You have to ask yourself, ‘Am I creating a space where people can come as who they are without having to shed a part of themselves?’” Davis said in an interview.
Confronting Race and Identity
Both presenters urged attendees to look through the lens of race and identity for the duration of the session. Davis and Phipps then presented lists of questions.
The first list asked participants to identify themselves. They were to identify their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and whether or not they were able-bodied or differently-abled. These questions helped individuals see that we all fit into different categories in terms of race and identity and gave them language to describe themselves from the race and identity lens.
Additional questions helped attendees understand their worlds:
- The school I attended was…
- The last wedding or union I attended was…
- The members of my family are….
- My friend group is…
- My professional team is…
Attendees could then use the answers to these questions to ask additional questions of themselves about how much diversity they have invited into their own lives.
Historic Unfair Housing Practices and the Science of Bias
These questions were coupled with a look at historical discriminatory housing practices, redlining, and even how the National Association of REALTORS® has contributed to biased housing practices in the past. After all, Phipps said, the first step to making change is admitting past transgressions.
Attendees then had the opportunity to dig into the science of bias and how it shows up. They were introduced to three specific terms:
Implicit bias: the process of associating stereotypes or attitudes toward categories of people without conscious awareness.
Identity anxiety: In cross-group interactions, someone from the out-group may fear they will experience discrimination, hostile treatment, or invalidation. Meanwhile, in-group members may fear their words or actions will be perceived as biased.
Stereotype threat: We all have different identities that shape who we are, as attendees learned in the questioning section of the training. Some or all of those identities, though, might have certain stereotypes associated with them. For instance, “women are overemotional” is a stereotype. A “stereotype threat” refers to one’s fear that a part of their identity will be stereotyped.
Probing questions followed each term in an effort to give attendees the means to reflect.
Pushing Past the Comfort Zone for a More Equitable Future
The training, Davis said, isn’t meant to be a one-and-done–style training, noting that it’s very different from NAR’s At Home with Diversity certification course, where participants attend a six-hour class and leave with a blueprint for implementation.
“The Bias Override course is so personal. It’s an opportunity to reflect within so that we can take action as needed,” she said. “The work is not done or completed once you leave this training. This is about cultivating awareness and being able to draw from that awareness.”
She acknowledged how uncomfortable the Overriding Bias training might be for some but encouraged them to push through those initial feelings to complete the course.
“Lots of us have heard the saying ‘the magic happens just beyond your comfort zone,’” she said. “If we continue to push right up against our comfort zone but do not move past it, nothing changes.”
Fair housing, she said, isn’t the only thing at stake if real estate professionals don’t move in a forward direction when it comes to implicit bias. The industry itself will remain unfair within.
“We have untapped talent that’s not been identified because we have subconscious beliefs that some talent shouldn’t be invited to the table for whatever reasons,” she said. “We have to remember that we represent the REALTOR® brand always, even when we’re off work and out at a restaurant or a bar. We have a need to make this part of our Code of Ethics still, and the work is not done yet.”
It’s important to be ready to receive the information provided in the course, but not to wait too long, Davis said. Course attendees might not be completely comfortable, but that’s to be expected. Instead, focus on showing up with an open mind.
“If you are respectful and curious, feelings are not hurt. Are you curious or are you defensive? You can either be defensive and hold true these limiting thoughts and beliefs that got us to where we are or you can be curious and explore new ways to show up and embrace diversity in your organization.”