While companies need to take the lead on being more institutionally inclusive, inclusivity can start with individual actions. The following are a few thoughts on how to be an inclusionary leader.
Sponsor Women and People of Color
It’s been said that women in corporate America are over- mentored and under-sponsored. While sometimes these terms are used interchangeably, mentors and sponsors are very different. Mentors provide advice; sponsors advocate on another’s behalf. However, it’s clear that in CRE, women are not even necessarily being mentored. In order to find a mentor, many are required to go outside their companies to organizations like CREW Network. However useful mentors are, they are basically advisors and, in the case of women and people of color, often not even part of the same organization. What women need are male and female sponsors within their organization who will actively advocate on their behalf for high profile projects, leadership training and opportunities, and public speaking engagements.
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One way to increase the sponsorship of underrepresented groups is to “bundle” your sponsorships and nominations. When given the opportunity to put forth a name for a promotion, leadership opportunity or a high-profile project, include multiple names. Or, if you are soliciting names, ask for multiple recommendations.
This slight change in how nominations were sought proved ground-breaking for the Nobel laureate awards in 2018. Until 2018, 97% of all Nobel laureates were men. But in 2018, two female scientists won for the first time ever, along with another woman for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Begin the path to sponsorship by putting women and non- white professionals on your team. Next, make sure your team operates transparently and with an open play book. Do not assume everyone is privy to the unwritten rules. Realize that anyone who is underrepresented within your team will need extra support until the group becomes both cohesive and inclusive.
Finally, be an advocate for women and other underrepresented team members. Do not assume that they have anyone else sponsoring them. And when you do sponsor an employee, ensure it’s based on their skills and performance, and not perceived cultural fit and potential. That alone will start to even the playing field.
Amplify the Voices of Women and Underrepresented Team Members
A recent study has found that high functioning teams have three characteristics: they communicate a lot, participate equally, and possess good emotion-reading skills. In addition, the study reported this occurred more frequently when women outnumbered men on the team.
In CRE, we probably won’t find too many working teams where women outnumber the men. The more likely scenario is that if there is a woman on the team, she will be the “only.” While it’s a start, she will need your help to fuel that problem-solving competitive advantage. Why? Because when there is only one woman, her differences are exacerbated. In addition, she may be devalued or viewed as a token by other members. The same applies to all underrepresented groups.
If you are a team leader and have an “only” on your team, that’s great because it’s likely that they will have a different viewpoint from the rest of the team. However, recognize that it can be intimidating for someone to be a lone voice. Not only are they likely to have a different take on a problem, “onlys” are burdened with the perception that they speak for their entire gender and race. That’s when you, as a leader or even as a supportive colleague, need to not just provide a safe environment for different opinions, but should also help amplify their voice by vocally supporting their contributions to the conversation.
On social media, make sure you are sharing information by and about women and people of color. Currently, there are many women and diverse professionals in CRE using social media to create a presence in the industry. It’s easy to support them and amplify their impact by re-sharing their information to your networks.
Diane K. Danielson is the COO of SVN International Corp. The views expressed here are the author’s own and not that of ALM’s Real Estate Media Group.