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AIM 2021 Session Recap: Leadership Roundtable: Workplace Diversity and Inclusion in the Portfolio

White men barely make up 30% of the U.S. population, but they hold more than 80% of executive leadership positions in real estate. During the 2021 AIM session, Leadership Roundtable: Workplace Diversity and Inclusion in the Portfolio, industry leaders discussed diversity issues in multifamily, the value of a non-homogeneous workforce, and some of the efforts being made to change the status quo.

To fully understand the value and objective of D&I initiatives – which also commonly includes “equity” to complete the DE&I acronym – it’s first important to clearly define what diversity, equity and inclusion mean.

Diversity is the representation of various identities and differences. Equity refers to fair and equitable treatment, access and opportunity. Inclusion is the effort to create an environment to respect, involve and value all people.

In multifamily, DE&I initiatives aim to create an inviting, non-exclusive culture.

“DE&I is a vehicle that can help drive what your company is about and bring a warmth to your brand. It helps team members to feel good about who they are and helps the company build its identity,” said Daryl Smith, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Kettler. “As members of an organization, we all have voices and experiences that we bring to the table. DE&I is a really important conduit to bring those voices together and create culture.”

Smith said he urges companies seeking to update their identity to form a DE&I committee that help to establish inclusive corporate practices, grow diverse teams and empower employee engagement. He emphasized that DE&I initiatives are primarily conceptual, and don’t require a big financial commitment.

“No matter your company size or what resources you may have, anyone can develop a DE&I program,” Smith said. “But for any DE&I program to be successful, you have to have an executive stakeholder be a sponsor. That communicates a lot back to your associates. It says that this is real, this is authentic, and we’re committed to a program that is fostering diversity within the organization.”

Bridge Property Management formed a DE&I committee in the summer of 2020, in the wake of the George Floyd murder and the wave of civil unrest across the country.

“It forced us to confront something that we’ve known for a while and that we’ve swept under the rug, and that’s just how homogeneous our leadership was, especially compared to the diversity of our onsite teams and the communities we serve,” said Rachel Mondelli, Senior Vice President at Bridge. “That dichotomy was very glaring.”

The Bridge DE&I committee deliberately features senior representatives from all Bridge verticals.

“That was important, because we want to actually effectuate change,” Mondelli said. “And we want our teams to know that this is something that we take seriously at the highest levels.”

Initial committee actions included the formation of several employee resource groups, the recognition of Juneteenth and other holidays that celebrate diversity, and the installment of four hours of PTO on election day specifically to ensure employees can vote.

Smith said such visible actions help demonstrate to associates that their voices and experiences are valued equally.

“It’s important to acknowledge that everyone is not the same and that everyone brings different experiences to the table. DE&I really just aspires to bring people together and have a better understanding of who you are and how the company can leverage those differences,” Smith said. “We won’t be able to solve everything, but the key to it is to have a foundation where team members feel like you are trying and you are making an effort to have some level of inclusionary behavior.”

To support its DE&I directives, Bridge mandated unconscious bias training for all employees, engaged a bot to poll all hiring apps for gender bias language, and added a DE&I section to annual reviews for anyone in a vice president position or above. The company introduced a mentorship program to help identify rising talent within the organization and promote diverse talent. Bridge also broadened its recruitment practices to capture a more diverse pool of candidates and applicants.

And it’s dispelling any misinformation about the value of diversity.

“There’s kind this idea out there, that if we focus on diversity it’s going to be at the expense of hiring the best person for the job. That’s a false dicotemy. That problem doesn’t exist,” Mondelli said. “We have a well-documented tendency to hire people who remind us of ourselves. If we don’t make an effort to break that pattern, it will continue in perpetuity. If we don’t confront that head-on, it will never change.”

Here is the replay:

  • Kari Warren, COO at Kairoi Residential
  • Rachel Mondelli, SVP at Bridge Property Management
  • Daryl Smith, CMO at KETTLER

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