Make that change

by Mary Gilbreath Pope

When asked to contribute an article for Atlanta Agent, I felt the same sense of excitement I imagine a young journalist would feel getting her first writing assignment. This is an incredible time for our industry, where we have a real opportunity to affect positive change for the communities we so passionately serve. As I reflect on how Atlanta REALTORS® are already making a difference during this momentous time, I can’t help but think of the 1991 video for “Right Here, Right Now,” with images of the Berlin Wall coming down and George H.W. Bush meeting Mikhail Gorbachev. It’s during these pivotal moments in history that we’re reminded of what is actually possible if we embrace the discomfort and growth that comes with change. The pandemic has proven to be a catalyst for change, for better or worse, not only for an industry that serves the communities we live in, but for the communities themselves, and I believe the two are inextricably connected. I feel privileged to be a part of the industry as we embrace diversity and inclusion, seek opportunities for more affordable housing, educate our members about fair and equitable housing and engage more members in community service.  

The concept of community may look quite different today, since rapidly evolving technology has effectively removed any constraints on how we communicate and establish new connections. But even as communities take new shape in our modern world, organizations like churches, businesses and civic groups continue to step up to lead them, fostering collaboration, community-building, hospitality and engagement. COVID has forced us to work in silos over the past year, and I wonder what unforeseen changes await our industry, personal lives and, particularly, the next generation. Whatever the impact, I believe we have an opportunity to make it a catalyst for positive change. In lieu of returning to the comfort zone of doing things the way we’ve always done them, I challenge all real estate associations, brokerage offices and leaders to take a close look at how new agents are engaged, leaders are selected, directors and committee chairs are appointed and possibly how unconscious bias is perpetuated, as the old guard chooses the new guard.  

The National Association of REALTORS® has developed an Actionable Roadmap to help REALTORS® associations better understand their membership and to implement diversity and inclusion initiatives. For real estate associations and organizations, one of the first steps is knowing your membership. If your association is in a community that is, for example, 20% Latino/Hispanic, 20% Asian/Pacific Islander and 20% African-American/Black, then your membership and your board of directors should reflect that. Otherwise, your association is missing the mark as it relates to the local marketplace and issues impacting it. I’ve heard association leaders proudly state the reason we don’t ask members’ race, gender, or sexual orientation on membership applications is because we don’t discriminate or because there’s no reason to ask. The problem with that is that without asking these questions, we don’t know our members, and we don’t know if our association mirrors the communities we represent. 

Does your organization’s leadership reflect your community’s diversity? If it doesn’t, it’s time to start cultivating new leaders. Ask your brokers to recommend the rock stars in their offices and tap future leaders from your local multicultural associations if possible (i.e. NAHREP, AREAA, NAREB, LGBTQ+ Alliance and WCR). It’s okay to say, “We’re trying to be more intentional about bringing more diversity into our association. Can you help?” Engage new members and personally invite them to get involved. As these efforts begin to yield results, both in your organization’s diversity and inclusion goals and in its overall success as well, be sure to reflect on those victories and document them for future leadership teams. 

If you’re an agent who wants to become a leader, start by joining a committee or community service project. Unfortunately, potentially good leaders are often overlooked because they haven’t been involved in committee work and are waiting to be invited, welcomed and wanted. This is a process that may take time, but the benefits are worth the work.  

If you belong to a REALTORS® association looking to satisfy the DEI and fair-housing requirements for NAR’s Core Standards, you’ll be pleased to know that self-study modules on each topic are now available through NAR. These two stand-alone modules are designed to increase awareness and greater understanding of these two topics. Andrew Scoulas of NAR also recently reported that NAR is in the process of developing a course that will provide volunteer leaders with an overview of the Core Standards. There has truly never been a better time to affect positive change for our REALTORS® organizations. We have more resources than ever, and more opportunity than ever.  

On my desk is a sticker from Bob Harris that states, “Board Governs, Staff Manages.” As an association executive, I feel fortunate to support REALTORS® and our association leaders. I am constantly amazed at the level of commitment our REALTORS® share in making a positive impact and giving back to the community. The fact that fair housing and diversity, equity and inclusion have been added to our Core Standards speaks volumes of their significance, and I can’t wait to see how REALTORS® work together to cultivate meaningful change.  

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