2021 Update: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Windermere Professional Partners
During the past few years, we have been working behind the scenes to improve our company in many ways. A huge part of this has included diversity, equity, and inclusion work. We wanted to take a moment to provide an update on our past DEI work, what we are doing currently, and what our plan is for the near future.
But first, some quick background. In case you are not familiar with the term, according to TrainingIndustry.com, “Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is a term used to describe programs and policies that encourage representation and participation of diverse groups of people, including people of different genders, races and ethnicities, abilities and disabilities, religions, cultures, ages, and sexual orientations and people with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and skills and expertise.”
Learning, training, gaining understanding, and implementing all that we learn is a long process. We have fully embraced a multi-layered training program on DEI, and we have implemented several different strategies and offerings to help better support our agents and customers. There is no one set path or one “right” way to do this, but we wanted to share our approach and what we have learned along the way.
For us, the most important thing to remember is that we at WPP all have a voice in this. We all have individual responsibility when it comes to matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion and how we show up as leaders in our communities. We know that sometimes, conversations surrounding DEI can create division, but we always want to respect each other, share each of our own perspectives, and come together. We want to mirror our community, and we strive to have more input and more group decisions. The outcome is always better when we can incorporate more people and voices.
Thank you for following along! Here is a brief overview of what DEI looks like at WPP right now:
Updating Windermere Professional Partners’ Formal Statement
As Windermere Professional Partners has developed and transformed over the years, so has our Formal Statement. Over time, we realized that our mission and vision was much larger than simply a couple of paragraphs. In 2021 we updated our Formal Statement yet again as we realized we had some opportunity to grow and expand. lind spots and areas we wanted to continue to grow in.
Our Formal Statement is much more than a generic mission statement that just sits on our website. We read it all the time, and in addition to having our formal statement on our website and framed in our offices, we distribute it in new broker binders, it is used in recruiting material, we utilize it weekly in the operations meeting to reflect on the work we do and our focus, it is used monthly in staff meetings, and it is distributed to new broker candidates and staff prior to interviews.
Our Formal Statement guides us and ensures we all have a clear understanding of our vision, mission, personality, work environment, business approach, and values in action.
In our 2021 Formal Statement, here are a couple of the big changes we made:
We changed “We are an inclusive and diverse community” to “We continually strive toward greater inclusivity and diversity.”
In our “Values in Action” section, we added: “We acknowledge the multifaceted nature of the diverse communities we serve, and we are committed to enhancing the professional standards across the industry through giving each customer our full attention and respect.”
You can read our current Formal Statement here.
Looking Back at WPP’s Evolution Regarding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
In 2016, we started our DEI initiative. This was the year we really started asking ourselves big questions about what DEI should look like at WPP. What does DEI work look like? What does this mean for us? What do we need to do?
This was when we first brought in a professional DEI trainer to work specifically with our managers and owners. Much of the learning and work at this time happened at WPP internally (i.e. it was not public facing), and there has been a constant conversation going on about our DEI efforts.
In 2019, we were ready to take our DEI conversations and work to another level. We began the process of hiring another DEI company and facilitator to come in and work with us. At this time, we had met with a DEI company and our Owner Kevin Mullin was doing one-on-one DEI training. Unfortunately, further work was pushed into 2020, and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. At this time we turned our focus to supporting our offices and agents in working through all of the unique issues brought on by the pandemic.
Navigating the Many Challenges of 2020
On May 25, 2020, the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked an intense wave of protests throughout the country. This was an incredibly traumatic event and in June 2020 we reached out to and checked in with our Black brokers and staff members. We had a trauma therapist meet with the group, and then our Owner Kevin Mullin also met with the group.
2020 was an opportunity for WPP to get our DEI efforts back on track. As we have learned over time, there is no set path or roadmap to doing this work. After Kevin had his one-on-one DEI trainings and was better able to support our Operations team, we began DEI trainings with our Operations team. Then we brought in the rest of the staff to join in.
The DEI work we all did was a bit similar to taking a Fair Housing class, but the work went above and beyond this. We have tried to bring in the human element to what Fair Housing really means. Our discussions extended far beyond Fair Housing; we really dug into what racism is and how it shows up. We discussed how to recognize inequality, we learned about microaggressions, and much more. We recognized that as a company, we must dive deeper than what we were doing before.
As part of WPP’s ongoing work to address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion both within WPP as well as in our community and industry, we held a Listening Session during July 2020. A group of stakeholders at WPP were invited to where they could share their thoughts, suggestions, and concerns with Kevin. Another Listening Session was held, and this one was open to everyone at WPP. This was a safe environment guided by specific Rules of Engagement, and people were invited to share their truth regarding any and all issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion to whatever level they were comfortable with.
During these Listening Sessions, Kevin asked several important questions including:
1. What can we do better?
2. What do we need to change?
3. What can I do as the leader of the firm to garner trust from and for all of you?
In July 2020, WPP’s management team also participated in off-site workshop training on DEI conducted by facilitators from Potential Unleashed Consulting, and the training was provided again to WPP’s staff team. During the same month, WPP also hosted an Introduction to Implicit Bias and Microaggressions class, and everyone at WPP was invited to attend if they chose to.
During this time, a group called Courageous Conversations was established outside of WPP by Sharon Chambers-Gordon, a broker at WPP. Courageous Conversations is a broker-led program where we have a broker guide participants through some history of racism and systemic inequities in our country. They also read books together (including books like “Color of Law” and “White Fragility,”) and watch films together (including the documentary “13th”).
As a group, people then share personal responses and reflections regarding the material. We wanted to make sure that people had a place to unpack all of the information they were learning. Courageous Conversations is a place where people can share their thoughts, share what they might not understand, and have a space where they can address topics that are often uncomfortable to discuss.
Revamping Our Broker Advisory Board to Include Two Diversity Members
Our Broker Advisory Board (BAB) is made up of agents who act as a liaison between agents, staff, and owners at WPP. In July 2020, we added two Diversity Members at Large, who were voted on by the entire company. In addition to performing the normal duties of a BAB member, members at large help to ensure that BAB activities take into account diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) throughout the year. These members help with addressing any blindspots we may have. Are we overlooking something? Are we asking all of the right questions? Are we looking at a particular issue from the right perspective(s)?
As soon as we had our Diversity Members in place, there were immediately positive changes. They helped us with our Formal Statement, and they asked many helpful questions that allowed us to clarify our mission and refine our statement.
They also pushed us to update our new agent and staff intake forms to include more questions that people can answer if they choose to. This includes information about pronouns, gender expression, language fluency, their level of different cultural competencies, and more. This information is not a requirement to share, but we welcome the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of our agents. Having this information is also useful in case we have customers who may have their needs better met by agents with unique knowledge, skills, backgrounds, etc.
Another positive effect of adding two Diversity Members at Large to BAB is how it helped other people with diverse backgrounds feel more comfortable to speak out. It helped create a more inviting space and reinforced the idea that this is a space for everyone, and you can be who you are. Branch Manager Jasmyn Jefferson also appreciated that this took some of the weight off of her—Jasmyn is biracial, and she frequently felt like she had the responsibility of figuring out what was missing from DEI-focused conversations, etc. Jasmyn kindly pointed out to us how she has only one perspective, and although she is biracial, she does not speak for all Black people or other groups of people. We truly always appreciate learning how we can support and better serve our staff and agents!
WPP Agents in Action: DEI Efforts in the Real Estate Industry
Our agents have been inspiring us with their own independent DEI involvement in the real estate industry. We have WPP agents sitting on the Windermere Diversity Committee, and we have agents working with Washington REALTORS® and National Association of REALTORS® on DEI issues.
We are also very proud that a few of our agents have participated heavily in the pathway to having a bill passed that will require all real estate professionals who are obtaining and renewing their licenses take extended clock hours regarding Fair Housing. This does not go into effect until Summer 2022 and some of the details are still in the works, but we are looking forward to the positive impact that this can have on our communities and customers.
Windermere Real Estate and Windermere Professional Partners have also looked into different ways to deal with racial covenants and have them stricken from a home’s deed. WPP agents have participated in efforts to have racist covenents automatically redacted, and these agents spoke up on the importance of cataloging these documents for historical purposes.
Ongoing Transformation in 2021
This year, Branch Manager Jasmyn Jefferson put together an initiative to guide DEI at WPP. Jasmyn has been working closely with Owner Kevin Mullin behind the scenes, and they have partnered up with local brokerages Windermere Abode in Tacoma and Windermere Real Estate Mount Baker in Seattle to provide their brokerages with DEI training.
This 12-month DEI education curriculum is taught by Archway Consulting Group. Topics include racial bias, serving diverse real estate consumers, sexuality and gender acceptance, gender and identity, coded language, cultivating awareness around microaggressions, being an ally vs. being an accomplice, and much more.
We also have specific training for managers and staff, and they are participating in a minimum of 6 hours of training. These sessions are happening on a regular, consistent basis, and our schedule for all of this extends into 2022.
What Has the Impact of Our DEI Training Efforts Been So Far?
We are glad to have received positive feedback from many of our agents so far. It can be challenging at first to participate in many of these sessions, trainings, and conversations, but we believe these topics are of great importance. Many of our agents have shared that they appreciate that more space is being created to speak up on these issues, and we will continue to create the space for these conversations to keep happening.
It is certainly a challenge to discuss racism and discrimination with a huge group of people who are all independent contractors (aka our amazing agents). This journey will look different between every real estate brokerage and office. We are by no means perfect in our journey, but thank you for letting us share what our path has looked like so far! We really believe that by focusing on what we have in common, we can make the world a better place.