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Mentoring and leading

DEI program leads to new career development opportunities for marginalized professionals

By Journal of Property Management

IREM’s DISI (Diversity & Inclusion Succession Initiative) program has made great strides in its new iteration as a career development program. Transitioning in 2023 from a focus on recognition, the program has expanded its benefits and goal to support those pursuing their IREM CPM certification. With a generous sponsorship from the IREM Foundation, the program was able to support a new DISI scholarship, in addition to other new benefits.

We talked to five 2023 DISI Leaders and six 2023 DISI Mentors about their experience in the program with its new changes and benefits.

Participating in the conversation were:

DISI Leaders

Chelsea Maher-Harris, CPM®, ACoM®, Shannon Waltchack Management, LLC, AMO®, Birmingham, Alabama
Destiny Robinson, CPM® Candidate, Interurban Real Estate, Portland, Oregon
Jill Hunt, CPM® Candidate, ARM®, CBRE, AMO®, Washington, D.C.
Maria Richardson, CPM® Candidate, ASI/Absolute Storage Management, Inc., AMO®, Cordova, Tennessee
Marvette Perry, CPM® Candidate, ACoM®, Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), Fort Worth, Texas

DISI Mentors

Barry Blanton, CPM®, Blanton Turner, AMO®, Seattle, Washington
Jaymi Lacap, CPM®, Rockhill Management, LLC, Los Angeles, California
Kasara Smith, CPM®, Cushman & Wakefield, AMO®, Washington, D.C.
Kelesia Kinchen, CPM®, ARM®, Cortland, AMO®, Pearland, Texas
Kelly Tang, CPM®, Interstate Equities Corporation, Brea, California
Samantha Thornton, CPM®, ARM®, Endeavor Real Estate Group, Austin, Texas

JPM: Do you have any career highlights you’ve achieved this year with the help of the DISI program?

Destiny Robinson, CPM® Candidate

Destiny Robinson: I was promoted from associate real estate manager to real estate manager at the end of 2022/beginning of 2023. I’ll also be serving on the local chapter board as the VP of communications for 2024 due to my involvement with IREM in 2023 as the committee chair of IREM Young Professionals.

Jill Hunt: I’ve been incredibly lucky to be matched with an awesome Mentor. She’s helped me navigate the CPM process and strategize how to complete it based on my goals. Our friendship has expanded so much that we’ve met multiple times beyond the quarterly calls. I appreciate engaging with someone who has gone through the CPM process and is working in the industry; we both can learn from each other.

Maria Richardson: This program supported my application to become a licensed Tennessee real estate instructor, with a dedicated emphasis on fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion!

Kasara Smith: Being a DISI Leader several years ago catapulted my career. I was able to attend the Global Summit sooner than expected, and it also put me on the map with my chapter. I was given the opportunity to shine as a volunteer and then get on the leadership track. I was a DISI Leader in 2014 or 2015 and became chapter president in 2019. I credit the DISI program with giving me the opportunity to shine!

Barry Blanton, CPM®

Barry Blanton: I had wanted to be involved in the DISI program for quite some time. This opportunity fulfilled that goal for me, and the DISI Leader I was paired with was exceptional. She was easy to share with, and I learned a lot from her!

Samantha Thornton: When I had my first meeting with my mentee, I thought the IREM DEI team were psychics. We immediately hit it off and couldn’t wait to meet again. Without IREM and the DISI program, there’s no way I would have made such a valuable connection with a woman of color in property management who I can call on for advice and just chat with. I’ll forever be grateful for the opportunity to be involved in the DISI program for the ideas it generated, the fellowship with others in the industry it provided, and the inspiration to keep going because I am not alone.

JPM: This year, we instituted a DISI orientation and two community calls for program transparency and engagement. Did you see the benefit of these virtual check-ins? What stood out to you?

Jill Hunt, CPM® Candidate, ARM®

Jill Hunt: The DISI orientation was great! It helped give a better understanding of the program and career development opportunities. IREM is truly invested in leveling the playing field by creating a diverse organization and supporting those who identify with marginalized groups. The DISI program provided valuable access to financial resources for certification scholarships, individual recognition, and a platform to give back, all of which help promote my career.

The community call was an open forum, and we immediately understood it was a safe place to share our thoughts, feelings, and emotions without judgment. That’s super important. So often in a work environment, there isn’t an opportunity to say how you truly feel and be heard.

Maria Richardson, CPM® Candidate

Maria Richardson: As a participant in the DISI program, the introduction through the DISI orientation and the two community calls have been instrumental in fostering a sense of transparency, community, and engagement. The virtual check-ins have proven to be invaluable in several ways.

First, the DISI orientation provided a comprehensive overview of the program, its objectives, and available resources. This clarified any uncertainties and set the stage for a more informed and empowered participation. Knowing the program’s structure and goals from the outset allowed me to align my personal and professional aspirations with the overarching mission of DISI.

The community calls further reinforced this sense of connection. Being able to virtually engage with fellow participants, program leaders, and guest speakers created a supportive environment that transcended physical boundaries. These calls facilitated open discussions, the sharing of experiences, and the exchange of valuable insights. It was inspiring to witness the diversity of perspectives within the DISI community, contributing to a rich tapestry of ideas and collaborative learning. The virtual format of these interactions made it more accessible for everyone.

Destiny Robinson: The orientation and check-ins were vital to feeling accepted and integrated into the DISI program. They showed us that we were in this together and gave us the opportunity to bond. I believe that the engagement during the check-ins was essential to help us stay connected and involved. This is important as the DISI program is one of inclusivity and equity. Allowing us the space to unite and collaborate helped bring cohesiveness to the program in 2023.

Chelsea Maher-Harris, CPM®, ACoM®

Chelsea Maher-Harris: The virtual orientation and check-ins were very helpful! I enjoyed meeting and getting to know my fellow DISI Leaders, who also helped us connect with resources in other markets. For example, I started managing a property near Indianapolis, but my company is based in Birmingham, Alabama. I connected with a fellow DISI Leader via email, and she connected me with some of her trusted vendors in the area.

Marvette Perry: Yes, I saw benefits. It was important to see what other Leaders and Mentors are doing to more easily learn from challenges, struggles, and lessons learned. It was also great to meet people before we met in Toronto.

Marvette Perry, CPM® Candidate, ACoM®

Samantha Thornton: The check-ins were extremely helpful in keeping our mentor meetings on track and seeing what other Mentor/Leader teams were discussing and gaining from the program. I enjoyed seeing how these conversations and interactions were inspiring new ideas and growth within our careers.

Kelly Tang: Overall, I thought the orientation and community calls really set the expectations and pace. What became quickly apparent was the level of engagement and excitement everybody had. Being selected for this role felt like a privilege, and getting everybody together only reinforced it.

Kasara Smith, CPM®

Kasara Smith: The orientation and community calls were critical to the success of the mentorship component of the DISI program. They provided guidelines and tips that were very helpful to me as I developed a partnership with my mentee. The discussion questions for quarterly calls were great at sparking conversation and a fun way to get to know each other. The guiding points were also beneficial, as I like having a checklist to work through. As a former DISI Leader, I’ve seen how the program has evolved, and the mentorship aspect is more structured, which benefits all parties.

JPM: This year, we waived the CPM Candidacy and CPM graduation fees. How has this benefited your career development?

Maria Richardson: I was honored to receive a diversity award that significantly supported my CPM journey. This proved particularly beneficial amid challenges such as inflation, the resumption of student loan payments, and the additional hurdles faced as a woman of color. This program played a pivotal role in enabling my focus without the burden of worrying about costs and expenses. It has taught me the importance of paying it forward once I’ve completed the journey. The acknowledgment of being a CPM Candidate itself is a source of great recognition.

Destiny Robinson: The DISI waiver of the CPM Candidacy fee allowed me to register for and begin my CPM journey. This is the first step in my path to expand my career in the real estate industry.

JPM: This year, we offered a DISI scholarship covering 75% of the tuition for up to three courses toward the CPM. Why was taking advantage of this scholarship important to you?

Jill Hunt: The DISI scholarship is one of the reasons I applied to become a DISI Leader. I was always interested in getting my CPM; however, paying for the full certification on my own seemed impossible. When a fellow IREM member shared that the DISI scholarship program would pay 75% for three courses, I jumped at the opportunity. By gaining industry knowledge and education, I hope to become a leader for diverse needs in property management.

Maria Richardson: The opportunity to utilize the new DISI scholarship has been transformative for me personally and professionally. The scholarship has opened doors that were previously financially challenging to access. In a world where personal and professional growth opportunities are not always equally distributed, the DISI scholarship has been a vital step toward fostering inclusivity. Reducing the financial burden associated with education empowers individuals from diverse backgrounds to excel and become leaders in their respective industries. I’m grateful for the DISI initiative, recognizing its significance in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion. The program enables me to contribute more effectively to my workplace, community, and broader society, showcasing the immense value that a diverse and educated workforce brings to the table.

Destiny Robinson: Having the scholarship is a blessing because I can begin working toward my CPM designation. This opportunity will take my career to the next level, and it would have been much more difficult to begin had I not been awarded the DISI scholarship. This benefit is highly valued and gives DISI recipients the opportunity to increase their knowledge.

Chelsea Maher-Harris: The DISI scholarship covered three courses, and I had only three courses remaining for my CPM education. This scholarship allowed me to register and complete the required courses sooner, bringing me closer to earning my CPM designation.

JPM: Attending the IREM Global Summit has been the biggest benefit of the DISI program since its inception. DISI Leaders receive $1,000 of travel assistance and complimentary registration, while DISI Mentors receive a new registration discount of 50% off. This year, we hosted a new DISI luncheon for Leaders and Mentors to engage in person. Did these incentives make attending the conference easier? If you did attend, what did you enjoy most about the DISI luncheon?

Jill Hunt: The IREM Global Summit was incredible! The DISI luncheon was truly a highlight, from hearing great stories about the inception of the program to mapping out the future and how we can give back to keep it going. I was completely inspired to take my advocacy for DEI to a new level for our chapter. The $1,000 travel assistance and complimentary registration were crucial to attending the Global Summit. It means so much when you have the understanding and financial support of your colleagues. It encourages me to complete my certification and excel in the industry.

Maria Richardson: The incentives were a tremendous asset; they made the conference attendance considerably more accessible and enjoyable. Recognizing the potential for positive change, I am now even more inspired to actively contribute to the program, ensuring a brighter future for our emerging leaders.

Destiny Robinson: Being a recipient of the DISI Award, I was excited about the stipend and complimentary registration for the Global Summit, as I would not have been able to attend had it not been for these benefits. The Global Summit was eye-opening for me. I networked with some amazing people and cultivated some ideas on how to bring inclusion and equity to my local chapter and region. It lit a fire in me to really find a way to grow the DEI initiative in the Portland market. This fire is steadily growing as I use my position as a DISI recipient and future board member of my local chapter to help institute change in an area I’m passionate about.

Samantha Thornton, CPM®, ARM®

Samantha Thornton: One of the highlights of my year is attending the Global Summit and making new connections within the vast property management community. While I was already planning to attend the Global Summit, it was, of course, a bonus to have the discount. Having a designated day and time for the DISI Leaders and Mentors was great. It was delightful to meet my mentee in person and make the time to meet everyone in the DISI program. In these times when DEI programs are being challenged, it’s nice to be in a room of like-minded people who are looking to make changes and help level the playing field in IREM and property management as a whole.

Kelesia Kinchen: Certainly, receiving a 50% discount on the registration fee was of great significance to me. It served as a small token of appreciation for my time and volunteerism. The first meeting with my DISI Leader was both exciting and meaningful, and I thoroughly enjoyed the fellowship and camaraderie among like-minded members with great enthusiasm.

Kasara Smith: The discount for Mentors was very helpful to me. The DISI lunch was also fun and a great way to meet my mentee and other DISI Leaders and Mentors. Having this luncheon early in the Global Summit was also great since we knew each other going into the various sessions.

Jaymi Lacap, CPM®

Jaymi Lacap: The incentives were certainly beneficial and made it easier for my mentee and me to attend the Global Summit. Travel can be expensive, and the assistance we received took the sting out of it. The luncheon was a great idea. It helped the Leaders and Mentors get comfortable together in person and prompted good dialogue and brainstorming as we shared our experiences over lunch with individuals from different markets and backgrounds.

JPM: This year, we enhanced the professional mentorship aspect of the DISI program by creating eligibility requirements, introducing a formal application process, and opening the opportunity to all IREM CPM members. Knowing the importance of powerful mentorship, how did you ensure your DISI Leader felt supported as they navigated their career goals? Why is mentorship important to you, and what’s a valuable lesson you took away from being a Mentor this year?

Kelesia Kinchen, CPM®

Kelesia Kinchen: Participating in the DISI program has been an immensely rewarding and fulfilling experience. The exchange of experiences and insights has reinforced my belief in the power of mentorship and support within IREM. I have had the chance to impart knowledge and gain new perspectives, making this a mutually beneficial experience that I hope will positively impact both of our professional journeys.

To ensure that my DISI Leader felt supported in navigating their career goals, I prioritized active listening and creating a safe space for open dialogue. I consistently sought to understand their aspirations, challenges, and strengths, offering guidance and constructive feedback when needed. I also made a concerted effort to share my own experiences and insights, fostering a relationship based on mutual learning and growth.

Kelly Tang, CPM®

Kelly Tang: My goal was to connect with my DISI Leader personally and professionally. It would have been easy to “stick to the business,” but that’s not what drives most of our motivation or excitement. I shared stories of my many, many failures to illustrate that career growth is not a simple journey—it’s arduous and sometimes confusing, but there are many opportunities to leverage the issue at hand to further support your development. Everybody would be doing it if it were easy—it should be challenging! Mentorship is a great way to do some self-reflection, and it allowed me to “share my story” without being judged (or perceived to be judged), and candidly, I got just as much out of this experience as I believe my DISI Leader did. I learned a lot from my DISI Leader, and we’ve created a friendship that should persist. I’m truly excited to see how he continues to develop in his career!

Kasara Smith: I wanted to be a Mentor because the mentorship I received as a DISI Leader helped me tremendously. Talking through the next steps of my career or an issue at work gave me the support and confidence I needed at that point in my career. I wanted to pay it forward and offer that support to another DISI Leader. I have scheduled calls with my mentee and checked in with him randomly. It was also important to ask him about his career goals so I could tailor my advice accordingly.

Jaymi Lacap: I communicated with my DISI Leader almost every week. As a former DISI Leader myself, I wanted her to know she was not alone in the program or the CPM Candidate journey. During the program, I provided career advice, introduced her to my network of connections, and encouraged her to apply for a scholarship with IREM. I believe in mentorships and know firsthand that a strong mentor can help shape someone’s career, especially when they’re just starting out in the industry. I also viewed this mentorship as a way to give back to the industry that has given me so much.

Journal of Property Management

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