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Moving forward

IREM’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Board outlines the ambitious work it’s undertaking

By Kaci Hancock, CPM, ACoM

Progress. We know it when we see it, but what do we actually mean when we use the term in everyday language? In its most general sense, progress is any forward or onward movement toward some destination.

As an organization that represents all real estate managers, IREM has for years developed initiatives and programs to advance diversity within the Institute and the profession as a whole. Since being established in 2018 by the Diversity Advisory Board—now known as the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Board (DEIB)—the Diversity and Inclusion Succession Initiative (DISI) has recognized IREM members from diverse backgrounds who have demonstrated leadership skills within the organization and their respective companies.

DISI is designed to build a pipeline of up-and-coming leaders within the organization to ensure a diverse leadership, bringing with it the value of diverse points of view. A 2018 Pew Research Center report found that 48% of Generation Z is made up of racial or ethnic minorities. This data clearly highlights the need to expand both our employment and membership channels to properly reflect these changing demographic trends.

Foundations for growth

Thanks to a generous grant from the IREM Foundation, 50 DISI leaders have been provided with enhanced skill-building educational courses and paired with a mentor to further their leadership skills and career goals.

Additionally, members of the DEIB over the last several years have participated in outreach to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), making connections with these institutions to expose students to real estate management as a future career opportunity. Representatives have attended HBCU career fairs and festivals, increasing IREM’s exposure to students even further.

These tactics certainly all support diversity. However, throughout the past year, IREM embraced even more deeply what it means to foster DE&I across the organization rather than solely in the execution of special programs. Over the course of 2021, members and leaders within our organization took a closer look at what DE&I means to gain a better understanding of how its implementation can significantly drive progress.

Progress at work

So, how can instilling the principles of DE&I into our organizational culture move us toward our targeted destination?

IREM recognizes that strength comes from equity and inclusion. In fact, inclusion is one of our core values, and DE&I is a strategic goal, as reflected in the IREM Strategic Plan 2021 and Beyond. Significant, actionable steps have been taken to add fuel to this initiative in order to boost momentum and drive progress—steps that many IREM members have been closely involved in.

To date, we have:

  • Hired a consulting firm highly specialized in assisting companies and organizations in developing, guiding, and implementing a DE&I strategy
  • Introduced a regular DE&I column to JPM
  • Assembled a presidential work group consisting of members from both U.S. and international chapters as well as IREM Headquarters team partners to work with our consultant to build a formal, sustainable strategy
  • Embraced the learning phase of the process, listening in order to understand
  • Hosted conversation circles around the country through our individual chapters
  • Created the position of Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and hired a highly skilled leader in the field, Clifton Williams, to fulfill that role
  • Featured an African American keynote speaker to kick off the 2021 IREM Global Summit, who provided critical and thought-provoking DE&I knowledge
  • Crafted a DE&I vision statement and adopted our own definitions of diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • And last, but certainly not least, to encapsulate all of those steps, we formulated a foundational strategy and a clear roadmap to continue moving toward our goal

Where to next?

So, what progress have we made? We’re clearly moving in the right direction. And there will always be more work to do. Reflecting back on the definition of progress, it’s important to focus on the aspects of “onward” and “movement.” Similar to engraining DE&I within everything we do as an organization, it’s a similarly consistent onward movement that will actually lead us to evolve and change.

It’s not just a checklist of tactics, although those are helpful to move toward the destination. Incorporating DE&I requires reflection, conversation, and changes that have real significance. It requires us to work together, to learn, to look through different lenses, to evaluate practices, to establish partnerships, and, most importantly, to recognize whether our processes and systems are impeding or promoting our progress.

Our vision is a commitment to fostering a welcoming environment that continues to embrace equity, inclusion, and diversity. We will always be better tomorrow than we are today.

As we continue on this journey together, IREM will be increasingly communicating updates about our progress, and we invite you to participate wherever you can—every single step counts. As IREM commits to making this change, we will continue to support each of our members in their career journeys. We will provide the tools and resources that all our professionals need to make their impact in the industry.

Together we will make progress. Together we change. Together we can and will do great things.

Meet Clifton Williams, IREM Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Williams is an experienced senior nonprofit manager with over 20 years of work experience in the DE&I landscape. Williams started his career at State Farm Insurance, where he was one of two claims specialists selected to participate in the company’s national diversity recruiting program launch. That work became the springboard he needed to found the boutique consulting partnership Unique Communications.

Some of Unique’s service offerings included diversity recruiting, DE&I program implementation and assessment, corporate social responsibility initiatives, and community partnerships. During his time with Unique, Williams developed a passion for working with nonprofits which still defines his professional focus to this day.

He later went on to work in higher education as a director of career services and most recently as a director of partnerships. He also served as the executive director at Changing Worlds, a K–12 nonprofit with the mission of increasing cross-cultural understanding.

“I feel fortunate to have participated in leading the launch of two citywide workforce and higher education programs, including Complete the Degree,” Williams says. “These programs were instrumental in increasing diversity in higher education and a variety of workforce industries within communities throughout the Chicagoland area.”

Williams holds a Bachelor of Science from Illinois State University and a Master of Science in public administration/nonprofit management from DePaul University. In addition to his degrees, he has also completed a certificate program in workplace DE&I at the University of South Florida.

“I’m a firm believer that strategic DE&I efforts will help ensure the success and sustainability of any organization,” Williams says. “I’m thrilled to join IREM as part of the team at Headquarters in this new role where we can all help ensure that same level of continued success and sustainability for our organization.”

Journal of Property Management

Kaci Hancock, CPM, ACoM, is the 2022 chair of IREM’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Board. She’s the operations director of Rice Village Shopping Center for RESI Associates, LLC, in Houston. In addition to serving as the 2021 president of the IREM Houston Chapter, Hancock is also a member of the IREM Foundation Board of Directors.

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