Embracing Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in Real Estate Finance: 10 Best Practices

The 2020 Census highlights a striking transformation in the demographic landscape. Compared to a decade ago, the nation is now more racially and ethnically diverse. Today there’s a 61.1% chance that two individuals selected at random will belong to different racial or ethnic groups, a notable increase from the 54.9% in 2010.

This change is more than just a statistic, it carries profound implications for the real estate finance industry.

On the customer front, the shift presents a vast untapped market for lenders. By providing historically underserved communities with fair and accessible lending options, real estate finance companies can not only address the racial homeownership gap but also secure a stronger foothold in the market. This approach goes beyond just meeting regulatory requirements; it reflects a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

On the people front, fostering an inclusive and equitable work environment and improving DEI is crucial for success – for both large and small organizations. Ensuring diversity of thought is important as it drives innovation and creates better decision-making for profitability and growth. And it does so in a safe space. McKinsey research underscores this connection. Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams are shown to be 25% more likely to achieve above-average profitability compared to companies in the fourth quartile.

Undoubtedly, integrating DEI into both your workplace and culture and lending practices is a clear win-win for all stakeholders involved – your business, your employees, and your customers.

How can DEI become a part of your company fabric?

 Here are 10 best practices to consider:

  1. Establish a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategy. Developing a comprehensive strategy that outlines the organization’s commitment to DEI is key to success.

How to do it: Set clear goals, objectives, and measurable targets to track progress. Ensure the strategy aligns with the organization’s values and is communicated across all levels with complete and active executive support.

  1. Leadership Commitment and Accountability. Leaders play a crucial role in driving DEI.

How to do it: As a leader, demonstrate visible and sustained commitment by actively advocating for DEI initiatives, allocating resources, and holding yourself and others accountable for creating an inclusive culture.

  1. Diverse Recruitment and Hiring Practices. Implementing inclusive and transparent recruitment and hiring practices is foundational to attracting diverse talent.

How to do it: Review job descriptions to eliminate biased language, expand sourcing channels, establish diverse interview panels, and ensure equal opportunities for all candidates. Consider implementing realistic diversity targets.

  1. Inclusive Policies and Practices. Regularly reviewing and updating organizational policies helps ensure they promote DEI.

How to do it: Review policies related to recruitment, promotions, performance evaluations, compensation, and work-life balance at regular intervals. Encourage flexibility and create an inclusive environment where employees feel valued and supported.

  1. Diversity Training and Education. Offering DEI training programs for all employees is a must do.

How to do it: Focus on building awareness, understanding unconscious biases, and promoting inclusive behaviors. Provide resources and learning opportunities to help employees develop cultural competencies and empathy.

  1. Associate Resource Groups (ARGs). Establishing ARGs or affinity groups provides a platform for underrepresented employees to connect, support each other, and contribute to the organization’s DEI efforts.

How to do it: Encourage collaboration between ARGs and organizational leadership to ensure their voices are heard. Allow them to bring in guest speakers to further the cause and help support cultural alterations in an orderly manner through “change management”.

  1. Mentoring and Sponsorship Programs. These programs are crucial to fostering career advancement and creating opportunities for diverse talent. The best mentoring will come from mentors that have experienced the same challenges and can help identify methods to assist mentees. While this may be harder to achieve in smaller companies, active listening, understanding and learning on the part of mentors can make a significant difference.

How to do it: Implement mentoring and sponsorship initiatives that pair individuals from underrepresented groups with more experienced employees who can provide guidance, support, and advocacy.

  1. Regular Assessment and Measurement. It’s impossible to assess the health of your DEI initiatives without regular assessment of diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

How to do it: Collect data on diversity demographics, employee satisfaction, and inclusion metrics to identify areas for improvement. Use this information to update targeted initiatives, track progress and identify trends over time.

  1. Inclusive Communication and Celebrations. Foster a culture of open and inclusive communication to ensure that all employees have a voice and are encouraged to share their perspectives.

How to do it: Recognize and celebrate diversity through internal communications, events, and initiatives that highlight the achievements and contributions of diverse individuals. This emphasizes the importance of diverse, equitable, and inclusive environments to the team and the organization. Organize live online celebrations to maximize participation of remote or hybrid teams.

  1. External Partnerships and Community Engagement. Engaging with external organizations and communities that promote diversity, equity and inclusion.

How to do it: Collaborate with diverse suppliers, participate in industry-wide diversity initiatives, and contribute to social impact projects that address equity and inclusion. This should include veteran and disabled owned organizations, amongst others.

Remember, creating an inclusive workplace culture is an ongoing journey that requires continuous effort and commitment. Lean into technology to regularly evaluate your progress and eliminate bias from hiring and lending decisions. Importantly, gather feedback from employees, and adapt strategies as needed to ensure long-term success.

Embracing Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in Real Estate Finance: 10 Best Practices Pete Butler Casual Headshot
Author: Pete Butler
Pete Butler is EVP of Growth & Strategy for Opus CMC. He is a long-time financial services executive with experience in multiple disciplines of banking, mortgage banking, consumer finance, and card sales operations. He is an advocate of garnering the best human capital and driving continuous improvement.

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