ABIDE with Me: Five Meaningful Steps to Activate DEI(B) in Your Organization

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I tend to see more serendipity than mere chance in life. It is, for example, more serendipitous than chance that my last name is House, and I now work in housing. And it’s even more powerful for me that as a DEI advocate, strategist and practitioner, my “model” for engaging DEI particularly in the housing industry focuses on calling us to “ABIDE” … to come together, dwell together and weave DEI into the very framework and foundation of what we do. It’s my pleasure to share an introduction to that ABIDE framework, which offers five steps toward creating more equitable and inclusive workplace cultures and fostering belonging within our multifamily organizations.

Accept Accountability

Contrary to popular belief, “bias” may have four letters, but it is not a four-letter word. Acknowledging bias can be difficult, because we often make the mistake of equating “biased” with “bad”: to say, “I have bias,” for some, feels too close to saying, “I am a bad person.” Here’s a better equivalency for you: to say, “I have bias” is tantamount to saying, “I breathe.” Bias, like air, is simply a fact. Acknowledging that it exists in us and within our organizations is the first step to also acknowledging that there are tangible, meaningful things we can change. Acknowledgment and accountability are not threats; they are opportunities. Beginning your DEI journey with this type of transparency helps build trust, and believe me when I say you’re going to need a lot of that as you take this journey! 

Build Belonging

In our industry, we’re all very familiar with the idea of operational audits that dive into our financials, record keeping, marketing, etc. to ensure our organizations and functions are “healthy.” Perhaps it’s time to start looking at our organizational cultures the same way. Is your culture “healthy”? What systems and operational “norms” may be backed by implicit biases? What “tried and true” policies and practices stand in the way of cultivating belonging and inclusion in your organization?

As you assess your organization’s culture you should also take time to consider what doesn’t exist now that could help move you forward. How are you currently engaging with your team members and encouraging their active participation in owning your culture? Are all decisions made from a top-down model that calls for “buy-in” only once choices have already been made? Where and how are you building community within your organization? Whether through task forces, committees, employee resource groups (ERGs) or other models, the keyword is: Engagement.

Initiate Inclusive Leadership

Inclusion is an operational imperative. If DEI is a part of, not apart from, your organizational culture and expectations, it’s time to activate it and invest in it as integral to how your organization functions.

Initiating inclusive leadership also means incorporating inclusive behavior as a performance measure. That sometimes sounds scary to company leadership, but it is arguably already part of some of the standard evaluations we have in place for our teams. For example, we already measure how well leaders motivate their teams; part of motivating team members is including them in decision making, communicating effectively, and considering the needs and circumstances of team members in planning events and setting expectations … in short, inclusion.

Consider the words of John E. Jones III: “What gets measured gets done. What gets measured and fed back gets done well. What gets rewarded gets repeated.”

Dive into Diversity

Getting to know yourself, others, and the culture that is defined by how your full team comes together is an adventure of discovery. It’s about story, sharing, and sonder. A term coined by John Koenig, “sonder” is a noun meaning “the realization that each random passerby is the main character of their own story, in which you are just an extra in the background.” Diving into diversity is an opportunity to discover unknown territories and ways of thinking, to acknowledge the value of stories and perspectives other than your own, and to celebrate the power of diversity shaping your company culture. Consider how you and your team might engage and start learning about each other in new ways. Take every opportunity to celebrate your diversity, whether by days on a calendar or simply in conversation where you learn something new about someone different than yourself and celebrate how that shifts your perspectives and the ways you work!

Elevate Equity

Equity strives to provide all people with the access, engagement, opportunities, and resources they need to attain their full potential. Equity requires both fairness (avoiding unjust advantage or disadvantage) and context (meeting actual need rather than assuming everyone needs the same things).

Equity is where things get hard again because we are forced to acknowledge that inequities exist—in society, within our organizations, even within our own perceptions—and that, as well meaning as we might be, chances are our organizations are not level playing fields. However, there is incalculable value in acknowledging potential barriers, asking how they impact our team members and acting to counter inequity so our people can thrive in ways that are meaningful to them!

In residential property management, we are in the people business. DEI(B) is a powerful way to put people first, whether the people within our organizations or the people served by them. It is challenging work, but it is also necessary work. As I like to say, it is hard work, but it is also heart work. Let’s start today to do the heart work of creating pathways for a more inclusive and equitable multifamily industry of belonging for all.