Driving Diversity in Real Estate: A Discussion with Jasmyn Sylvester

Last modified on October 30th, 2020

Diversity is a word we hear often, but what does it actually mean? As defined by Global Diversity Practice, diversity is any dimension that can be used to differentiate groups and people from one another. It’s also about empowering people by respecting and appreciating what makes them different. 

To better understand diversity, why it’s important to have a strategic Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Plan in the workplace, and what real estate leaders can do to foster inclusivity, our team at AppFolio reached out to Jasmyn Sylvester, Chair of the Diversity Advisory Board at IREM and Property Manager at The Shopping Center Group. Here are few of the key takeaways from our conversation:

Diversity Is More Than Just a Word

While diversity can be defined in many ways, it’s a part of a larger equation that involves inclusivity and equity. Each is different on its own, but when combined, all three elements create a full experience. 

Jasmyn gave a great example of how this could play out in a social context, “Diversity is where everyone is invited to the party, equity means that everyone gets to contribute to the playlist, and inclusion means that everyone has the opportunity to dance.”

Listen and Lean In

As a leader in real estate it’s crucial to listen and be open to suggestions and recommendations. People look up to you, and you have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others and set the gold standard across your organization and the industry.

This is something that Jasmyn believes is a vital step when it comes to creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace, “So many of the conversations going on right now in particular are primarily focused on hearing directly from minority leaders, minority members, and minority employees, etc., to gain a better understanding of what actions can be taken to better diversify our industry and to foster more inclusive environments. It’s important to allow those who have been directly impacted to share their experiences and for those who may not have similar experiences to listen with an empathetic ear.”

Prioritize Your DE&I Plan 

Without a working Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Plan, it’s difficult for businesses to hold others accountable, work towards actionable goals, and to make a true difference in the lives of their employees. Even those who have one in place need to make sure it’s embedded in their company’s core values and practiced at every single level of the organization. 

Like any business plan, Jasmyn noted a DE&I plan should include actionable steps, and continually be revised and evolved to meet the needs of employees, “Every good company conducts strategic planning, where they go back to the drawing board, see what works, what didn’t work, and DE&I needs to be embedded in that plan. DE&I needs to be a part of the company’s core values and it needs to be understood across all tiers of leadership. It’s a simple practice of good governance.”

Allow Everyone to Contribute to the Conversation

When crafting your DE&I plan you don’t have to go it alone. Jasmyn believes it’s important to seek help and advice from others, especially from those who have experience in DE&I consultation and come from diverse backgrounds: 

“I think it’s a very important piece to this, reaching out to those who may have experience in DE&I consultation to really unpack policy and systems that need to be changed to be more inclusive of all parties. Focus groups can also be another method. Establishing a focus group within the company composed of many individuals from all backgrounds and lived experiences. This group must include several minorities and include those from each tier of leadership within that organization from the executive or board member to the entry level staff, so that everyone can contribute to the conversation. This way everyone is heard, and everyone can bring their experiences together to devise a sustainable plan that works for all.”

Invest in Diversity Training

In order to encourage diversity in the workplace, it’s important to give employees the space and mentorship to learn and grow themselves through diversity training. This is something Jasmyn advocates all businesses should take part in, especially training that is geared toward checking biases, “We all have unconscious biases, and it’s important to learn how to overcome them and to replace our biases with changed behavior. Micro-aggressions also need to be checked. I think that diversity training should be mandatory and made a priority by organizations that want to establish change. It could definitely help all employees, but more specifically leadership positions, board members, executives, hiring managers, and HR. A top down approach sets the precedence for the company and that’s vital.”

By taking the time to truly understand what diversity means, to listen to others, and come up with an action plan to effectively foster inclusion and equity, you’ll not only create a better workplace, but a better world for all, “When you have an eclectic and diverse group of people bringing their best ideas, you create a melting pot of innovation, and that’s where your company is set apart from others and that’s where you’ll see it equates to dividends at that point as well.”

To listen to Jasmyn’s conversation and to hear others share their thoughts on diversity, be sure to check out the episode on The Top Floor, AppFolio’s latest real estate podcast. The Top Floor features stories from leaders and change-makers in property management, community association management, and investment management as they reflect on the industry’s future. 



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