Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Leading By Example

By Mike Sorohan
December 12, 2017

Diversity & Inclusion


WASHINGTON--Diversity and inclusion is no longer a concept; it's a reality that is changing businesses all over the country--particularly the real estate finance industry.

"There is a sea change going on," said MBA President and CEO Dave Stevens, CMB, here at the recent MBA Diversity & Inclusion Summit "We're seeing it on a daily basis."

DiversityPanel"Diversity is deliberate; inclusion is intentional," MBA Chairman-Elect Chris George, who also serves as chairman of the MBA Diversity & Inclusion Committee. "We have to think of more ways to be inclusive, particularly in the customers we serve."

George, president and CEO of CMG Financial, San Ramon, Calif., said while the industry has made "great progress" in a diverse and inclusive workforce, more has to be done. "All of this has to lead to sustainable communities," he said. "It's not going to be easy; at times it's going to be painful and awkward. But when has personal growth been anything but somewhat painful?"

Knowledge, George said, is the antidote to prejudice. "The more educated you become, the more enlightened you become," he said. "When I think of a diverse and inclusive work environment, the word that comes to mind is 'strength.'"

Kristy Fercho, president of the mortgage division with Flagstar Bank FSB, Troy, Mich., said CEO commitment is a key driver of diversity and inclusion efforts at any company. She said Flagstar's CEO, Allesandro DeNello, signed on early to promote the company's efforts and gave those efforts momentum.

Flagstar's Diversity Council comprises 48 employees directly involved in different capacities, led by Zahira Gonzalvo, Senior Vice President of Enterprise Risk and Diversity and Inclusion Leader. A D&I Core Team for this initiative that includes the five leaders of each of the company's Diversity & Inclusion Pillars. The program has been in place for nearly two years and was recognized this year by MBA in its Diveristy and Inclusion Award program.

"We're focused on not only promoting these efforts internally, but making sure that it mirrors our efforts in the community," Fercho said.

"Diversity doesn't work without inclusion," said Sean Grzebin, managing director of consumer originations with Chase, Jacksonville, Fla. "We saw early on in the journey that while we were hiring a lot of diverse candidates, we were losing a lot of diverse candidates as well," he said, noting it took a concerted effort to improve retention rates.

Grzebin noted that improving diversity and inclusion at Chase is in his job description--and his performance review. "It's interesting that we spent as much time during my performance review talking about diversity and inclusion that we did my other duties," he said.

Cathy Pharis, managing director with Wells Fargo Multifamily Capital, McLean, Va., noted the company's board of directors has become increasingly diverse. "In the commercial world, it's not quite who you're lending to, as you're lending to buildings," she said. "Our primary focus on diversity and inclusion is on team building. Diversity is who is in the room; inclusion is what happens in the room."

Mark Stewart, chair of Ballard Spahr LLP, Philadelphia, whose company was also recognized by MBA in 2016, said it's important for ideas to become core values.

"To get there, we talk about diversity and inclusion constantly," Stewart said. "When our clients say they want to see diversity on our team--and that they doing work--is an important value to us."

However, in an industry that remains male-dominated, Fercho said nonetheless it's important for female employees to "remain 'you.'"

"When you're in the room, be unapologetically who you are, because that is who you are," Fercho said.

Pharis agreed. "What I have learned is that you have to take opportunities for the younger people in your company," she said. "Become a mentor, or seek a mentor who can help you advance your career...keep your mind open, take opportunities and don't become complacent in your career. Let yourself be pushed."

Stewart cautioned that diversity and inclusion is simply not a goal. "It's important to our clients, and it's a business opportunity," he said. "The law business is changing, and being recognized as a diverse and inclusive environment is attractive, not only for clients but for recruitment."

George noted "unconscious bias" still plays a huge role, which creates barriers in the workplace. Grzebin said it exists even in diverse workplaces.

"A lot of decisions get made without recognizing that bias occurs," Grzebin said. "It may seem innocent enough but it has an impact on the workplace. Recognizing those decisions and changing is a good way to promote a more inclusive environment."

George said the dialogue must continue. "Let's take the 'road less traveled,'" he said, "and let's make all the difference."

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