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Sunday, July 19, 2020 12:00 pm

Inclusion is essential for growth

By Lynn Hackworth, Michael Jones, Rima Bazerbashi, Tracy Keffer, Kris Aldemir, Erica Sanchez, Jeff Cotner, Maima Kamara, BuZz Thomas, Sahar Shalash and Ian Thickstun

Events of the past couple of months have put us all in a space where we are reassessing how we treat one another, learning about our differences and celebrating those differences as a strength both in community and in business. Columbus REALTORS® is also looking at solutions for how we can become a more inclusive Association and recently asked a diverse group of our members to author short segments on “What the real estate industry can do to be more inclusive.” Here they offer advice that is both educational and actionable.

Creating space for all to be seen and heard
By Lynn Hackworth, Manager of Equity & Impact

“Diversity creates space, inclusion provides a seat and a voice.” I heard this description of diversity and inclusion in a TED talk and thought what a succinct, easily understood way to define what every single human being regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, national origin, familial status want, a space where we all can be seen and heard. Nothing more and nothing less.

I have been both saddened by and hopeful for the moment we’re in. Sad for senseless loss of life again and the pain the family must be feeling from the death of their loved one. Hopeful that folks from all walks of life, black, white, brown, gay, straight, not only here in America, but around the world, witnessed a horrific murder and are using their collective voices to say enough is enough.

And there seems to be something different, something transformative about this moment—the people, the protests, companies large and small taking a stand against racism, and the Columbus REALTORS® anti-racism statement. And, if I am being totally honest, I was surprised but uplifted by our statement. It is strong and it contains six very actionable commitments:

  1. Action: Create an atmosphere within our Association that is inclusive, that celebrate cultural differences, and where quality of opportunity is available for all members to grow to their potential and into leadership roles.
  2. Education: Through classes, workshops, seminars, presentations provide a positive learning environment where we can engage in healthy conversations about bias, race and racism and the impact it has on our members, the industry, and the community.
  3. Acceptance: Create messaging with data that show it is not only the right thing to do, but its good business to have good working relationships with diverse populations.
  4. Intolerance: Create clear metrics for accountability, growth, and success of our action plan.
  5. Involvement: Host events to learn about and celebrate cultural differences through food, music, dress, etc.
  6. Support: Continue to support and work with industry and community partners, elected officials and non-profits committed to equally providing opportunities for all central Ohioans.

These commitments are being backed up by an action plan created by you, our members.

So, if you have read a book, taken a class, heard a podcast, attended a cultural event you feel would be beneficial to our members and/or to making our Association more inclusive, we want to hear about it.

As you may be aware and before the incidents of the past couple of months, the Columbus REALTORS® leadership team had already committed to being a more inclusive Association with the creation of the Equity & Impact Department.

This new department will be focused on broadening our reach, raising awareness, and creating partnerships to look at innovative, impactful solutions to address issues of diversity and inclusion, fair and affordable housing, and sustainability within our Association and in the community.

So, again, we will be looking to you for your ideas/suggestions/questions, which can be emailed to Diversity@ColumbusRealtors.com.

Also, if you have not had an opportunity to read our , please do so here.

Inclusion: More than just a word... Get comfortable being uncomfortable
By Michael Jones, President-Elect, Columbus REALTORS®

Inclusion equals Opportunity. Opportunity for those who have otherwise not been considered to actively- and freely-participate.

In Columbus, REALTORS® have an “opportunity” to expand our horizons. Embrace the things that make us similar and acknowledge the things that make us different. That may mean sitting down and having a dialogue with the person you do not know in the room. Learning more about who they are, and their story, in general, and being comfortable enough to ask questions. And on the other side being comfortable enough to share. This dialogue should never be one sided.

Real estate and REALTOR® history teaches us that things have not always been equal. Let’s acknowledge that as the ice breaker. The why is next. Oftentimes, we do not like change. And the reality is we are all different in some way or another. In some cases we have recognized that and addressed it to become more inclusive. For example, our MLS Committee is comprised of different size brokerages so that there is a broader spectrum of representation from smaller independent brokerages and larger brands alike.

We have also adopted changes to the Association Board of Directors to broaden the viewpoints in the board room. It is time that we continue looking at ways we can learn more about others and consider what we learn in how we behave.

Conversations are key. Please do not be silent. Speak up respectfully and let’s bridge some gaps. Everyone has a story. Tell yours and listen to another’s. 2020 has been a year that will be defined in world history. How do we want to use the experiences the year has brought us to make us stronger, #BetterTogether?

Creating a culture that promotes and nurtures everyone’s differences
By Rima Bazerbashi, Keller Williams Greater Columbus

By alleviating the boundaries and letting the diverse minds meet freely we will certainly achieve a higher level of enrichment in our lives, and market centers. We will all enjoy a better culture and maximize our growth as companies and societies.

Here are my thoughts:

  1. Create and foster curiosity in how to look for and be comfortable with how people are different rather than similar.
  2. Look for potentials in these differences and how they can be a source of enrichment that can result in not one but two, three or maybe four solutions to a problem. Also, the great potential for more market share by having and including agents from different backgrounds.
  3. Create a culture that fosters the fact that everyone is created different with a different package. Our job is to get to know each other and declare that achieving accountability to oneself in dealing with differences is the level we are to thrive to get to.
  4. Be an example in practicing diversity and inclusiveness.
  5. Address all the above in mandatory continuing education classes such as ethics.
  6. Recognize MVPs (Most Valuable Players), not by sales but by how much they are being intentional on implementing diversity and being inclusive.

Enjoy the melting pot
By Tracy Keffer, Keller Williams Greater Columbus

Ten years ago, I was a professional working in a multinational advertising company in Vietnam and had a chance to meet people from different countries who came to work with us. I would say we treated these friends a little special. We were always ready to give them advice on what or how to do things. We took them to local places for food and connected them with the locals who might be able to help them with specific needs. Not sure if those folks had to pass any sort of “culture sensitive assessment” before they were sent to a new country, but I found them very cool and they genuinely enjoyed exploring local cultures. One of my favorite was Tony. He acted as a kid with a curious mind. He tried all kind of food at first just to form a decision if he liked it or not. He observed how the local do things and followed their lead, for example, take off shoes before he walks into any house. He asked questions about history, political or any sensitive topics just to know what local people really think and did not mind sharing the comparison with his homeland. He traveled to local places to appreciate the difference. He even learned the language. Eventually when I thought of Tony I didn’t think of an expat but more of a local. People in the office loved him and helped him with whatever he needed. He now owns a local advertising firm with all local employees.

When I moved to south Texas at first and then Columbus later. I keep that curious mind as Tony did and it helped me mingle with the new crowds fast. Yet the reality is some American have never traveled outside of this country with a passport and a foreigner is a foreign matter to them. I remember I invited a group of colleagues to a Vietnamese restaurant and tried to explain the menu to them to help them with their order and one of them decided not to look or discuss the menu but nicely said thank you for the invite and she would take a water. I respected her decision, yet I can tell you now if you have not tried Pho you need to call me, and we can set up a lunch date. I changed my name after marriage because I want it to be easy for people to call my name and do business with me. I am honest about what I don’t know, for example: I didn’t know why people paid more for those Longaberger baskets at garage sales (yes, deals finder here). And on top of it I was determined to be amongst the best of real estate professionals in Columbus by constantly learning and improving myself and my business to provide the highest customer service and expertise to my clients. I believe when you are amongst the best you are included in the crowd. Keep that curious mind of the kid. Be genuine. Be open minded. Be friendly. Travel to different parts of the globe (after Covid-19) and try international foods. Foods bring people together. If you as a real estate professional encounter a customer who comes from another part of the globe or comes from another part of the globe yourself I hope these tips help. Enjoy the melting pot that this country is meant to be.

Standing in unity with one another
By Kris Aldemir, HER, Realtors®

When Lynn Hackworth asked me to write an article about Inclusion for our In Contract magazine, I was thankful to have this opportunity to write about my deep and heart felt feelings on equality, inclusion, and education for all citizens. When we pledge allegiance to the Flag at every one of our Association and committee meetings, these words, “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” bring tears to my heart.

In the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, protests over George Floyd and other citizens’ unjust deaths and the brutal treatment of American citizens by police—these are the times that we should stand in unity to the Republic for which it stands. This Republic, our Republic where we wish for everyone to have equal opportunity to pursue and excel in any field they choose, education, politics, medicine, or real estate.

How do we accomplish this in today’s world of chaos, mistrust and leaders and politicians with no integrity?

My most basic belief is education. Continuing education classes on inclusion, equality in our real estate practices has to be continuous for all of us even if the classes are only three hours. These classes need to be repeated and offered three or four times a year as a regular part of our curriculum.

We need to host events where minorities or groups being discriminated against can talk of their experiences about non-inclusion and non-acceptance. These topics might be painful for all of us, but it has to be done. With understanding and empathy, we can then move forward to heal.

We need to get the communities involved. Every community can partner with another community group to do community projects together, have coffee or events for all of us to learn about changes and available resources in our communities. With understanding and working together, we can solve problems together, step by step.

We need to get every corporation to adopt a neighborhood or community as partners to help each other in work and in play. Joint community and corporate partnerships are not just about money, it can also be about working together towards a small goal or project for both sides to have better understanding of each other.

We need to be more political in our community and city government and make politicians we vote for accountable to everyone, including forgotten groups and individuals and families who have been left out.

Finally, we cannot just issue a statement about equality, not take a stand, and let others do the work for us. We have to be more proactive, take a stand not only in words or statements but in action every day, every month, and every year.

In my upbringing I was taught with privileges one has to have responsibilities. For me the Flag stands for, one nation Under God (any religious preferences or none); Indivisible (let no one or any outside forces or politicians split us apart). Liberty (to be able to protest without fear or bullied by police), and Justice for all (for all of us) as citizens of this great nation.

I can write and talk about this topic endlessly with passion and willing to join any meetings or forums on these topics.

Knowledge empowers everyone
By Erica Sanchez, Home Central Realty

One area where we can all have a part in being more inclusive is in coming up with literature that includes different languages. For example, I have found it very hard to locate materials in Spanish for my clients that can expand their understanding of the various home buying processes. Expanding in this area could include but not limited to; financing options, first time home buyers’ assistants, inspection reports to the closing of the home purchase. Translating can only do so much but having something tangible makes a difference. You can take that piece of paper home to read it and gain an understanding of what each element in the home buying process consist of. We all know that knowledge empowers everyone and can get us that much further.

An Inclusive Culture accepts, values and views differences as a strength
By Jeff Cotner, RE/MAX One

Being inclusive seems like it would not be a problem in the real estate profession. After all, part of our job is to help people from all backgrounds achieve the American dream of home ownership. We do not need to look far back in history to learn we did not do a good job with being inclusive, as the reason for the Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act. One would like to think those days are behind us, but are they really? The U.S. Supreme court just ruled that LGBTQ people cannot be discriminated against when it comes to employment. Hopefully this sets a good precedent for the next battle, as 28 states allow LGBTQ housing discrimination. The Fair Housing Act does not list gender identity or sexual orientation as a protected class. Ohio is one of those 28 states but several cities like Columbus have passed legislation adding those protections.

We are living with a great deal of divide in this country, both racial and political.

Unfortunately, this boils over into our profession as REALTORS®. Creating and maintaining an inclusive Association allows members from all walks of life to achieve their fullest potential. An inclusive culture is one that accepts, values and views the differences we all bring to the table as a strength. I was proud to serve as the first co-chair in 2019 of the newly formed Columbus Realtors® Diversity and Inclusion Committee. I am still a member of this committee and we are working on these very issues.

One term that always comes into play when discussing inclusion is bias. Bias, prejudice, mean a strong inclination of the mind or a preconceived opinion about something or someone. A bias may be favorable or unfavorable: bias in favor of or against an idea. We can be born with some degree of a bias, but for the most part it is something we have been taught as we grow up. It also comes from who we surround ourselves with, such as friends and co-workers. We all have what is called Unintentional or Unconscious Bias. It cannot be avoided but it can be overcome. To overcome it we need to understand and learn about our own individual bias. Training in this area would make a positive impact on your brokerage and the Columbus REALTORS®.

The Kirwan Institute for the study of race and ethnicity right here at The Ohio State University is an excellent resource, http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/. They have several articles/briefs/videos and great speakers that talk about their research that can make for excellent training opportunities. It is difficult to be inclusive without first understanding your own bias. If you take the time to learn more about your own bias and become more inclusive, you will have a greater likelihood of treating everyone with the dignity and respect they deserve.

Inclusion is essential to our growth
By Maima Kamara, Coldwell Banker King Thompson

To me, inclusion means that all people, regardless of their level of success, popularity, gender, or ethnicity, should have the right to be seen, heard, accepted, respected, and appreciated as valuable members of our communities.

Inclusion is essential to our growth and development within the real estate industry. Central Ohio communities are growing and becoming more diverse. I would like to see agents, central Ohio brokerages, and the Columbus REALTORS® Association promote and strive to be more inclusive.

Before becoming a REALTOR®, I thought that buying a home would be challenging. That is how it is viewed in many people’s eyes from my country, Liberia. We often lack the education and the access to the resources available in the real estate industry. Because of those barriers, the “American Dream” still seems untenable for many people in my community.

Real estate organizations need to be more inclusive culturally to strengthen the ties of diversity which will help create more excellent opportunities to collaborate and develop partnerships. It will also help individuals and organizations to gain a more extended worldview.

Real change happens when organizational leadership is on board
By BuZz Thomas, Coldwell Banker King Thompson

My name is BuZz Thomas. I have been a licensed REALTOR® since 1984. In 1984 there were so few minorities, diversity was virtually non-existent. Inclusion could be described like this; imagine you were divorced and had children. Your exes family reunion was taking place. Your children have made it clear they would like you to attend. Your in-laws are not going to prevent you from coming but they really don’t want you there.

The clamor for change may come from the ground up but real change happens when organizational leadership gets on board. At Columbus REALTORS®, for me, that happened when Rick Benjamin reached out to me and told me he recognized that diversity was lacking and sought my help in moving the organization in that direction. Rick and Stan Collins were among the first voices sending the message that diversity not only would be tolerated but should be a sought-after goal.

A gigantic step forward was taken when a courageous pair of leaders agreed to join forces and work together on a project celebrating the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Fair Housing Act. The legacy of Sara Walsh, who was the President of Columbus REALTORS® and Sheree Smoot-Johnson who was President of the Columbus Realtist Association hopefully will not be forgotten. They were fearless pioneers who resisted the naysayers in both organizations that wanted the status quo. They saw value in both organizations and strength in unity in the pursuit of shared goals and values and they were willing to join arms and fight for that in which they believed. Out of that partnership came a task force on diversity and inclusion, this has evolved into a committee.

I never thought I would be sitting in a room with 30 or so individuals who represented different nationalities, races, and gender orientation.

We still have work to do. Our organization is becoming a welcoming milieu. Our next step is to proactively seek those interested in becoming REALTORS®. I believe most of us got involved because of someone we knew; in my case it was a high school classmate, William C. ‘Bill’ Saxton, and stayed because we were mentored. My first mentor and broker was David Ingalls.

I would like to see us approach Columbus Public Schools on career days and talk to young people about a future in real estate, presenting a realistic picture of the life of a working REALTOR®. I believe it is a powerful statement when children can see people who look like them in a profession most know nothing about. As independent contractors, we are small business owners. As such, we would be teaching principles of small business management that are transferable to other pursuits. Perhaps we could set up a program that allows some students to shadow a working REALTOR® and dispel the myth of HGTV. I would welcome the opportunity to be part of that effort. Be safe and well.

Cultural niches can be a great source of revenue
By Sahar Shalash, Lash Realty Group

The concept of “inclusion” is a buzz word in all professions, including real estate. Having the opportunity to work in corporate America, prior to entering the profession of real estate, I can tell you that inclusion was an obstacle in particular areas.

To be clear, there are obstacles that women in corporate America inherently face—period. These are obstacles that can become strenuous and can cause a feeling of unfulfillment. However, the vocation of real estate allows anyone with a desire to expand and grow without these limitations. Specifically, the fundamental tenets of real estate breed inclusion as everyone has the ability to thrive and succeed as long as they possess the work-ethic and determination to accomplish same.

Surprisingly, some of the limitations and obstacles that are mired with a desire to have inclusion in corporate America actually are “strengths” in real estate because “cultural-niches” can be a great source of revenue and marketing. As a real estate broker and principal of Lash Realty Group, our business mantra promulgates inclusion and team support. At Lash Realty Group, we support, train, and advise all team members that we are a network of REALTORS® that work independently but the lines of communication are always open for support and guidance.

No quick fix
By Ian Thickstun, Co-Chair, Diversity & Inclusion Committee

Effective change will not be an overnight process; there is no quick “fix” to diversity and inclusion. Education, knowledge, and practice will be keys to success, but they are not static. These keys are always and will continue to be transforming, growing, evolving as our culture and society change. Below are a few suggestions on where to start, but the most important part is that you start somewhere. If there is one takeaway, it is to make a commitment to starting change.

Take a look at implicit bias within your organization. Implicit bias, “also known as implicit social cognition, refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control. Residing deep in the subconscious, these biases are different from known biases that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness. Rather, implicit biases are not accessible through introspection.” (The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, “Understanding Implicit Bias,” http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/, The Ohio State University, 2015).

Harvard University offers a free online implicit bias test through Project Implicit, which can be found through REALTOR® Magazine Online, or Columbus REALTORS®, this includes numerous types of bias through multiple quick tests, Google “REALTOR® Test Whether You Have a Hidden Bias.” This will help you gauge your understanding of personal implicit biases to better further your knowledge and understanding.

Reach out to the Diversity and Inclusion Committee. There are a variety of resources available through NAR, Columbus REALTORS®, and different brokerages. It can be overwhelming, but we are here to help. Invite educators and professionals from a local university, community leaders, consulting firms, NAR, and Columbus REALTORS® for trainings and advice. Provide training for everyone, at every level, not just during new member on-boarding, training does not have to be “in class” to be impactful. Especially in our current climate, there are many trainings that can be offered to your agents from a safe distance at home.

Speak up! Lead by example, especially when you feel another agent, client, friend, family member is not being inclusive. Use these times not for divisive arguments, but as learning opportunities. Be ready for the learning to happen both ways—being more inclusive is as much a journey for you as it is for others. Promote healthy conversations, be vulnerable, listen to what people are saying and how they feel, work with leadership to create action plans to effect change, whether at home, with your friends, showing houses, or within your office.

Refresh your understanding of the Fair Housing Act, why we have it, and how REALTORS® can advocate for unrepresented and underrepresented populations in our communities. The National Association of REALTORS® is currently supporting the expansion of the Fair Housing Act, but we do not need to wait for this national legislation to pass to act morally and ethically. CORPAC and RPAC also play large roles in our local, state, and national governments, investing here is a way to influence the communities in which we live.

“Fair housing, equality, and inclusion are among NAR’s most cherished values,” says NAR President Vince Malta. “REALTORS® follow a strict Code of Ethics that not only defines us as professionals but explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, gender, national origin, or sexual identity. We are committed to leading the way on policies that address racial injustice and build communities where people of every color feel safe to pursue their own American Dream.” (Daily News, “Test Whether You Have Implicit Bias,” https://magazine.realtor/daily-news (June 11, 2020).

Our success as real estate agents depends on our community; we have the ears of friends, family, and acquaintances. You as an individual are able to take responsibility for your actions, lead by example, listen, respect, and stand up for those who are not able to stand up for themselves. Promote inclusivity and diversity within leadership roles of your business and community, when everyone feels accepted and valued people work harder, work better, and are happier. After all, we are #BetterTogether.

 Please contact the Columbus REALTORS®, Diversity and Inclusion Committee for more information about how you are able to get involved and promote the changes you would like to see.

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