Balancing Leadership with Diversity
A Diverse Viewpoint
How can AEs help association leaders understand the extent to which diversity in the board room will help balance the organization’s services?
John F. Kennedy said, “The wave of the future is not the conquest of the world by a single dogmatic creed, but the liberation of the diverse energies of free nations and free men.”
Better discussions and better decisions occur when people with a variety of viewpoints and life experiences come to the table. That’s why it’s essential that your leadership be diverse. Here are some tips on how to cultivate a leadership that embraces and embodies a variety of perspectives, backgrounds, and expertise.
Diversity recruitment should be part of an ongoing “diversity in leadership development” plan that has buy-in at all levels. Help your current leaders understand the extent to which diversity in the board room will help the organization realize its inclusive vision. As Pat Vredevoogd Combs, 2007 NAR president, understands, this requires much more than simple word-of-mouth recruiting. It requires strategic planning, hard work, and the ability to seek out people who don’t just look different, but think and act differently. “NAR is working diligently to increase diversity within our own ranks,” Vredevoogd-Combs explains. “We need leaders from all walks of life, all business models, all backgrounds, ages, and experiences. In 2007 we will continue our campaign to get more diverse members interested in leadership.”
So how do you increase leadership diversity? First, figure out which areas of expertise you still need. For instance, you might be looking for someone who has an understanding of the unique housing needs of the Vietnamese community. In that case, seek out a member who has strong leadership or communication skills and who is active in the Vietnamese community.
“First and foremost, we look for people with talent to move up in the organization,” says Victor Raymos, 2006 president of the Realtor® Association of New Mexico. “Diversity is secondary.”
Sometimes talent is natural and sometimes it is raw. When the latter’s the case, cultivating involvement is key. “We looked for people who are already vocal but not necessarily comfortable enough with their skills in other areas or organizational life, like public speaking or parliamentary procedure,” says Edwin Resuello, 2006 president of the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors® in California. “We set up a Toastmasters group, and this helped to produce a new talent pool of people who wanted to be involved in the community and learned how to present themselves,” Resuello says. (Toastmasters International promotes communication and leadership skills through local member clubs.)
The recruitment is just one phase of the process, though. Actually getting your new leaders to stay is the big challenge. “A huge part of the process is mentoring,” says JoAnne Poole, immediate past president and the first African-American president of the Maryland Association of Realtors®. “You need to help people through the stages of leadership and make them feel comfortable taking an active role in the association.” This may take some extra time and care on the part of the association executive. Keep in mind that it’s intimidating to find yourself among people who have known one another for a long time. Find ways to invite and welcome these new leaders into the fold. Another consideration is the cultural changes your organization will undergo as you incorporate diversity into your leadership. For instance, Baby Boomers communicate differently than Gen Xers, and associations may need to vary the way they conduct their communications. For instance, meetings may need to switch from parliamentary procedures to a more conversational tone. Also, communicating by phone might become secondary to other electronic forms of communication, such as e-mail, instant messaging, or texting, that younger generations may prefer. Just remember to be considerate and flexible.
Incorporating diversity into association membership and leadership is a long-term process. It requires insight, planning, creativity, and someone with a passion to bring the pieces together to make it work. Although it is a lot of work, witnessing the careful linking of people’s hearts and minds in ways that will benefit the organization as a whole for years to come makes it well worth the effort.
Diversity Tools for Success
In addition to recruiting members who better reflect your community, another way associations can weave diversity into the organizational paradigm is by providing specific tools and programs that make organizations or businesses more successful. NAR has a variety of tools that can help you and your members get off to the right start when planning for diversity within an association or business. From the Diversity Toolkit, which provides time-tested ideas and case studies to increase diversity within associations; to the new “Developing Diversity in Leadership” manual (addendum to the toolkit); to a number of educational offerings, new and traditional. For more information, visit REALTOR.org/diversity.
14 ways to build leadership diversity
1. Understand why you need diversity
2. Build diversity into your strategic plan
3. Develop clear goals for a long-term action plan
4. Create a committee to implement your diversity program
5. Know your existing and required resources
6. Know your community’s demographics
7. Improve outreach and recruitment
8. Encourage immediate, broader minority member participation
9. Invest in training your diverse leaders
10. Survey often and ask for feedback from new members
11. Develop strategic partnerships with local minority and community organizations
12. Encourage diversity and fair-housing training
13. Provide opportunities for social interaction
14. Measure your progress
Find more information and specific case studies in NAR’s Diversity
Toolkit for Realtor® Associations at REALTOR.org/diversity. Order hardcopies by calling 800/874-6500, ext. 1278.