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September 26, 2017

Recruiting Diversity: Best and Brightest Under the Rainbow

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Recruiting Diversity: Best and Brightest Under the Rainbow

Bill Mathers didn’t set out to turn his residential brokerage into a melting pot reflective of the growing cultural diversity in Charlotte, N.C. But thanks to a recruiting and management style that’s drawn a loyal cadre of sales associates from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds, Mathers has found himself presiding over a microcosm of a changing America. And now he intends to nurture that aspect of his business.

“It never occurred to me that we were creating anything special here, but now I’m starting to think about it,” says Mathers, who launched his company in the early 1980s with a handful of associates and has since grown MathersRealty.com to 117 associates, all working out of one office.

Just under half of the company’s associates are minority or foreign-born, many having been in the United States for only a few years before earning their real estate license and landing in Mathers’s company. Some 22 languages are spoken at his office, including Chinese, German, Greek, Italian, Polish, Russian, and Spanish, making the company popular with immigrant customers. “Hearing so many languages spoken here adds to why I love coming into the office every morning,” says Mathers.

The inclusionary approach

As Mathers’s company attests, brokers don’t need to make upfront policy declarations to attract and retain associates from a range of cultures. But there are tactics you can use to actively recruit an ethnically diverse sales force, say brokers.

An open attitude. Embracing people of different ethnic backgrounds can’t be faked, says Gene Sampson, ABR®, a broker with Jobin Realty in Fair-fax, Va. “You must be willing to welcome cultural differences,” he says, such as recognizing what other cultures regard as a sign of respect. Sampson has an office with 80 associates; about 40 percent are minority or foreign-born.

Genuine openness means parking preconceived notions at the door before interviewing candidates from other cultures, says Sharon Taylor, CRB, CRS®, executive vice president of MathersRealty.com. “It’s easy to be judgmental based on the way non-native speakers approach English,” she says. But fluency and how English sounds coming out of a foreign-born person’s mouth are two different matters—an important distinction.

“I have one associate who is a non-native speaker and, when she gets excited, she speaks English really fast. Given her accent, it becomes hard to understand what she’s saying,” says Mathers. “It’s appropriate to help people for whom English is a second language address that because it can affect their success. But behind her language challenges, there’s no doubt how effective she is.”

Encouraging continuing education is a chief way to help with language problems. Taylor encouraged one associate who was self-conscious about her language skills to take English classes at the community college. She did, and it helped her speak more clearly, which bolstered her confidence. Taking classes toward professional designations, such as the ABR®, CRS®, or GRI, also helps non-native speakers hone their language skills while they develop their industry knowledge, Taylor says.

Community outreach. As communities become diverse, finding a pool of minority and foreign-born licensees to draw from becomes easier, thanks to licensing rolls that increasingly reflect the changing community. “That list gives us a great starting point,” says Taylor.

But that list is only one recruiting avenue. Others include
Community leaders. Learn who the cultural leaders are in the community you’re targeting. “We joined the Latin American Chamber of Commerce and asked the organization’s leadership to tell us how to best handle recruiting,” says Mathers. “Such involvement can be extremely important to give your efforts credibility, but you have to report back to the leaders on how it’s going. That reinforces to them that you’re serious. Soon they had people calling me.”

Places of worship. These are good sources, especially for finding African-American and Hispanic candidates. “It’s important for many faith leaders to get people in their community into these visible positions,” says Mathers.

Presentations. Speak at events that are sponsored by or that attract distinct communities of people. You can kick-start those opportunities by hosting your own career or homeownership events or joining your local or state association’s diversity committee.

Mathers, a member of the North Carolina Association of REALTORS® Equal Opportunity–Cultural Diversity Committee, touted real estate sales careers at a Hispanic high school career convention, which has brought exposure to both the industry and his brokerage. “Real estate is one of the few businesses in which people with a lot of initiative can succeed whether or not they choose to pursue higher education,” says Mathers. “That’s an important message for people to hear.”

Regional giant Coldwell Banker Burnet in Edina, Minn., sponsors job fairs and other events, including homeownership seminars, which can double as recruiting outreach, says Robin Peterson, GRI, company president. Among the events her company has hosted: the 2004 Cross Cultural Home Ownership Alliance Conference, which promoted homeownership among African-American, Hispanic, and Asian communities. The company has 3,000 sales associates in 38 offices in Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

Peer recruiting. The best recruiters by far are your own minority and immigrant sales associates, say brokers. If minority and foreign-born associates are comfortable at your office, they’ll pull in others from their community who are interested in a real estate career, says Peterson.

In early February, in what he says was a fairly typical week, Danny Brock, ABR®, e-PRO®, broker-owner of Century 21 Brock & Associates in Wilmington, N.C., had half a dozen interviews lined up with people interested in affiliating with his company, several of them minorities recruited by his existing associates. Brock, whose brokerage has 32 associates, says about 15 percent are minority or foreign-born.

Like many brokers, Mathers offers his associates a recruitment incentive: 8 percent of what the newbie makes (on the company side) up to $15,000 in a calendar year. The commission incentive continues as long as both the recruiting associate and the new associate remain at the company. If the new associate then recruits someone else, he gets the same arrangement and the original associate receives 4 percent of the second recruit’s commission. The arrangement continues to the third generation of recruit.

For Mathers, peer recruiting is the main reason for the growth of diversity in his office—and also one of the reasons the recruits fit in fairly quickly. “The beauty is that others [of that cultural background] can help with the recruits’ transition,” he says.

Diversity has also been good for business. In five of the last seven years, Mathers’s top producer has been either a minority or foreign born. Isn’t that what the American dream is all about?

A note about discrimination

As you recruit, be aware that the federal Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in hiring, firing, promoting, and other actions affecting employees on the basis of their membership in a protected class: race, color, sex, age, religion, disability, and national origin. State laws may cover additional classes, too. Although most sales associates are independent contractors for tax purposes, it’s sound practice to be aware of the prohibition against discrimination when affiliating new associates with your brokerage.

In addition, don’t automatically assign sales associates to work with prospective clients simply because the client and the sales associate are both members of the same protected class under the federal Fair Housing Act (race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, and familial status) or their state’s fair housing laws (which may also include sexual orientation, marital status, and source of income). Instead, let customers take the lead on whom they want to work with by letting them volunteer their preference, if any.

Respect differences, emphasize policy

Once new recruits are on board, it’s respect for cultural differences that keeps them from going elsewhere, say brokers. You show respect by taking seriously the different views recruits bring into the office -without changing your standards to accommodate them.

In some cultures, for example, it’s not unusual for buyers and sellers to continue negotiating for a better deal right up until the keys change hands—a far cry from the United States, where negotiations typically end after the purchase agreement is signed.

In cases of cultural differences such as this, brokers should acknowledge the different approach but hold firm on accepted practices in the market. Continuous education is key, says Gene Sampson, ABR®, a broker with Jobin Realty in Fairfax, Va. “We must teach associates so that they can in turn educate their customers and clients that transactions are conducted a certain way here,” he says. Reiterate the company policy to all associates.

Sampson pays half the tuition for his new associates to get post-licensing training in the first six months after affiliation and covers half their cost if they want to pursue professional designations.

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