How Do I DEI?
Mortgage lenders' diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs, initiatives, and strategies are as varied as the people they seek to enfranchise. There is no single "right" way to develop your DEI program or an exact amount of resources to put into it. The following list, however, features the recurring themes that repeatedly emerge from successful companies' DEI programs and are worth serious consideration. Most of these tactics require little financial commitment, but can improve the diversity of your workforce and borrowers.
Partnerships: Whether it's a national organization that represents minority mortgage professionals, or a local, HUD-approved Housing Counseling Agency, working with outside partners to achieve a specific goal shares the workload, gains access to underserved communities, and ultimately helps your bottom line. Partners can help with down payment assistance programs, consumer education, financial literacy, and more. You might get referrals for better prepared borrowers, save time and effort for your loan officers, or receive good word-of-mouth advertising in underserved communities.
Executive Involvement: Having your CEO or other C-Suite executives involved with your DEI efforts sends a clear message on how seriously your company approaches DEI. It also further ensures that your DEI goals align with broader, corporate goals. Leadership matters when it comes to DEI, so it is important that senior managers "walk the walk."
Recruit, Retain, Mentor, Promote: The best programs, particularly those focused on organizational diversity, understand the importance of personnel and that an effective diversity hiring program doesn't end with the hiring. Cultivating diverse talent is best treated with a "pipeline" approach, which looks at supporting those hires through their careers at your company.
Establish Metrics: "A goal properly set is halfway reached." (Zig Ziglar, author of See You at the Top). As any business owner or manager knows, goals must be measurable and relevant. Once you've staked out your vision for your DEI strategy, set quantifiable goals that you can check your progress against. The simple act of setting goals and holding your company to them will move your company in the right direction. Just be sure they will measure what you're actually trying to achieve.
Align DEI Goals with Company Goals: Diversity and inclusion are not "feel-good" initiatives that happen on the side of your company's ledger. When 44 percent of the largest generation of potential homebuyers, Millennials, are minorities, reaching diverse markets of potential homebuyers is necessary to stay competitive. DEI should be incorporated into your company's bottom line to ensure success for both.
Be Deliberate: "Intention without action is an insult to those who expect the best from you." (Andy Andrews, New York Times bestselling author). Good DEI programs don't happen by accident. Improving your company's DEI culture requires a deliberate, sustained effort, with leadership dedicated to its success. Not every company can hire a "Chief Diversity Officer," but many can appoint one from within its ranks. Human Resources professionals often have training and know about resources that could jumpstart your DEI program. At the end of the day, your company has to make a conscious, ongoing effort.
Education: A consistent theme among quality DEI programs is education, usually directed internally towards the workforce. The word "diversity" can carry a stigma, and the changing demographics of the country aren't necessarily common knowledge to customer-facing employees. Increased understanding within the workforce means easier adoption of the organizational shifts and market strategies you'll be making to stay competitive and ensures everyone is on the same page.
Don't Forget the 'I': "Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance." (Vernā Myers, Esq, Diversity & Inclusion Expert). As you approach your organizational diversity, it's important to know that a handful of minority hires does not make a robust DEI program. Employees need to feel that their point of view is heard and valued, and that they have a chance to make an impact on the company. Tactics such as ERGs, mentorship programs, and contact with C-Suite executives are low-resource methods to increase the all-important 'I' in DEI.
ERGs - Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are a scalable, widely appreciated feature of many successful DEI programs. These groups focus on particular constituencies within your workforce, to provide a forum for diverse hires to come together. Especially when paired with C-Suite involvement, ERGs provide a venue for employees to be heard by leadership, identify potential 'red flags' in your company culture, and show how serious your company is about hearing everyone's point of view.
Don't Be Afraid to Talk about Diversity: It probably doesn't come as a surprise, but companies that address diversity head-on are more successful at dealing with it. Too many leaders, however, are afraid to broach the subject with the larger workforce. The changing workforce and borrower markets are a reality, and ignoring it won't help your company take advantage of those changes. If you have concerns about the language to use, consult your HR team or a trusted outside partner.