As demand for social justice has swept the country, companies worldwide are re-examining their commitments to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I). For businesses in the real estate and home building/financing industry, that commitment is crucial due to the decades of discrimination baked into the system, including redlining, racist deed restrictions, exclusionary zoning and predatory lending to Black and minority homeowners.
While we cannot change the past, we can learn from history and make changes today to drive progress on these institutionalized problems. From cultural initiatives that create awareness of unconscious bias in business operations and decision-making to investments in minority groups, here are some best practices that today’s housing companies can implement to initiate the changes we need to see in the industry.
Utilize Technology to Eliminate Bias
The mortgage approval process is stressful for everyone, particularly for people from diverse backgrounds, because human error and bias has historically blocked underserved groups of people from loan approval. The right technology can help remove human error and bias from the process. Digital lending platform Better.com makes lending decisions based entirely on the buyer’s finances. The company reported a 532% increase in Hispanic clients between the ages of 30 and 40 and a 411% increase in African American clients in the same age bracket from 2018 to 2019. Its married LGBTQ client base increased tenfold in 2019. A fair mortgage approval process is key to extending homeownership opportunities for all people — Black and non-Black POC families, single moms and more.
Think Beyond Your Workforce
Look at the diversity of your entire business ecosystem. Do you serve consumers from various backgrounds? Does your organization have a presence in industry organizations for diverse professionals? Have you considered the diversity within your supply chain – vendors, contractors, agencies and other business partners? Reviewing your industry activities through the diversity and inclusion lens can help you expand your perspective beyond internal initiatives and fuel progress on multiple fronts.
One tangible way corporations can make an impact is by investing in minority-owned companies or entrepreneurs. Our client Coldwell Banker Real Estate recently announced its Inclusive Ownership program and welcomed three new brokerages. This program provides financial support and mentorship within the critical first two years of business to diverse entrepreneurs who open Coldwell Banker franchises. Financial backing fosters an equitable playing field for people trying to start/grow their business. It addresses inclusion at the broker-owner level to support business leaders from diverse backgrounds and ultimately better serve all consumers.
Make DE&I Part of Your Culture
If DE&I is core to your business and culture, ideas for increasing equity will flow naturally from your leadership and employees. Taylor Morrison, one of the largest homebuilders in the country, operates in a traditionally male-dominated industry yet has a female CEO, Sheryl Palmer. It was the only U.S. homebuilder recognized for diversity by the Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index. In Sheryl’s own words:
“Diversity is not just a feel-good issue that looks attractive on a report card or investor profile — it has to come from the heart of the organization and be embedded in the culture. I look at our diverse workforce today and am so proud of how it grew organically. Meeting quotas is not something we even have to talk about because the best talent always wins.”
Prioritize DE&I in Business Practices and Invest in Inclusion
Dedicate resources to recruiting and retaining an inclusive workforce. Invest in R&D with equity in mind. Build a formal training program, engaging – and genuinely listening to – employees from different backgrounds to ensure they have a voice in developing these programs and establishing measurable goals. As the program grows, internal champions will continue to amplify its efforts, making it an exponentially valuable investment for your company. Transparent, intentional reporting of progress will further solidify its value both internally and among external stakeholders. The name Inclusive Ownership was very purposeful for Coldwell Banker as the program is focused not only adding more minority-owned companies but also investing in their success to be inclusive and eventually boost equity of diverse groups of people. Inclusion as a part of housing and real estate takes on many dimensions – from ensuring that new minority-owned companies are key participants in company-wide initiatives to real estate and building CEOs stepping up on national conversations on equity issues such as inclusionary zoning and mixed income communities. Ensuring that support and resources are regularly provided and that voices and ideas are heard and acted on are all important parts of inclusion.
Home is a central element of every person’s life, and home and building companies have a responsibility to make the path to homeownership fair, equitable and accessible to everyone. With a dedicated approach to DE&I within your company, and a continued commitment to evaluation and development, you can show your stakeholders – and the world – your commitment to making homeownership attainable for all.
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