New Inman contributor Anita Legacy Blue, president of the 2024 LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance, writes that despite a move away from corporate DEI, real estate can’t afford to move backward.

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Most who know me in real estate know me as the 2024 president of the LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance or as an agent with eXp Realty. But they don’t know my background in the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) world — a place that is, unfortunately, under attack from so many misguided and misinformed people who have no idea how challenging it is, and has always been, for a minority person in America. Trust me, it hasn’t been easy being Black, let alone a lesbian.

I spent almost my entire life serving the U.S. Air National Guard, retiring in an active duty status. Before entering real estate, I managed the Military Equal Opportunity office at what is now known as the National Guard’s 147th Attack Wing. 

My job was not only supporting diverse military members but also working hard to ensure that diversity-led companies had equal access as suppliers. I got to see first-hand how DEI programs help positively change our organizational culture.

The U.S. military is certainly not the easiest place to change but I’m so proud of how far our armed forces have come in fully listening to and appreciating the LGBTQ+ community, along with other diverse groups. And I say that knowing that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which prohibited “out” LGBTQ+ people from serving in the military, wasn’t even repealed until 2011. 

Real estate is another sector where I’ve seen DEI make a difference. I’ve met DEI leaders and hundreds of members of DEI-led Employee Resource Groups that allow their organizations to hear and learn from the views of diverse communities and ultimately allow access to new customers and clients. 

This is why I am so disheartened to hear how DEI staff nationwide are currently facing layoffs and erasure. According to an Inc. article, top-performing companies around the nation are scaling back their DEI programs as a response to rising conservative backlash.

Ron DeSantis’ laws in Florida forced the University of Florida to fire its entire DEI staff, despite the school having made positive strides on its still woeful record of minority students — AANHPI students made up just 11 percent of the total student population while Black students made up just 5.5 percent

The 2020 murder of George Floyd sent a shockwave nationwide for change. Our nation seemingly woke up and realized how difficult it has been for the diverse community. Corporate America, and so many other organizations, wanted to be better, and 2023 saw the peak for new DEI hires.

But then the backlash came with fear and intimidation. A vocal minority believes that DEI efforts hurt the white community. Really? Come on. Walk in the shoes of a Black, Hispanic, AANHPI, LGBTQ+ or any other diverse person. You could argue we have had the same access as whites. But we haven’t, and we don’t. Our road to success is so much harder, and it’s been that way forever.  

Real estate is supposed to be the great equalizer where everyone can succeed no matter their education level, race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation or anything else. I have met some of the kindest, most caring, non-judgmental, willing-to-learn and “do better” people, but we still have a lot of issues.

Real estate is not immune to a lack of diversity within our walls. “Steering,” refusal of service, blatant discrimination and unconscious bias still run rampant in real estate and make the buying and selling experience a nightmare for minority groups. The Alliance’s most recent member survey found that real estate agents were the second greatest culprits in how discrimination shows itself against LGBTQ+ buyers and sellers.

Real estate needs DEI training. We need greater diversity in the agent pool, along with brand, company and association leadership.

Don’t believe me? Just look at NAR’s 2023 Member Profile. NAR membership consisted of 81 percent of white agents, up from 77 percent the year before. Hispanics made up 10 percent of the population, while Black and AANHPI agents made up 5 percent. LGBTQ+ agents made up about 4 percent of the membership.

And clearly, our nation still has a problem with homeownership levels for diverse sectors. Non-Hispanic whites have a homeownership rate of 73.8 percent according to the U.S. Census, followed by the AANHPI community (63 percent), Hispanic (49.8 percent) and Black (45.9 percent). UCLA’s Williams Institute reports the LGBTQ+ homeownership rate to be 49.8 percent. All diverse groups are below the national rate of 65.7 percent.

The entire rationale for DEI is to level the playing field for everyone, no matter who you are. Diverse hiring is not an attack on the white workforce. We simply need to have programs in place to remind all of us that there are millions of diverse candidates who are smart, creative, skilled and driven. They just haven’t been given the same chance and access to succeed. 

Diverse perspectives, experiences and backgrounds bring in countless ideas, fostering creativity and adaptability in an ever-evolving business environment. But we can’t get there if we don’t welcome DEI and work to get rid of unconscious bias, discrimination and hatred.

Thankfully, thousands of real estate professionals have already taken the Stop Hate in Real Estate initiative pledge to help rid our real estate and society of animosity against diverse sectors.

The scaling back of DEI programs in corporate America is a disastrous trend that warrants reconsideration. We cannot allow it to happen in real estate; DEI is too important. In fact, rather than think about getting rid of DEI, let’s move forward and ensure that every Realtor association, every brand and every company continue to embrace it.

Anita Legacy Blue is the 2024 president of the LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance.

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