Editor's Note: This feature first appeared in the September issue of DS News, available now.
When people think of diversity, what comes to mind? Is it a photograph of friends of varying ages, races, sexes, and ethnicities sharing a meal, laughing? Or, is it people of various religions—Catholics, Jews, and Muslims cohabitating the same space as they did and continue to do in Toledo, Spain?
The answer to all the above is: yes. No matter what the example, diversity comes in many forms, and the same fact is true in business and diversity and inclusion programs. No one program will look the same, but that begs a second question. If a business wants to implement and develop a diversity and inclusion program, where do they start, and how do they ensure that said program continues to evolve in tandem with the company?
The answer lies within.
Mirror the Model
The beginning of every great endeavor starts with an idea. Fortunately, for companies that currently have little-to-no current infrastructure in place, one can look to Section 342 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which has outlined a basic voluntary model for companies to follow. In the mortgage finance industry, this model has been instrumental in pressing toward progress.
According to Ashley Woodworth, VP of Product Management at First American Mortgage Solutions, this was a step in the right direction. “There has been improvement overall since Dodd-Frank and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau created regulations for servicers and vendors,” she said. “The mortgage industry is a risk-based, data-driven community that tends to favor evolution over revolution.”
This means progress is bound to be slow, but the industry is certainly making strides, and for companies that are behind, a few guidelines from Dodd-Frank should help to get the ball rolling.
Drive from the Top Down
Next, these programs should start at the executive level, with robust training programs and quantifiable goals. One thing to keep in mind: While the goals should be measured and documented, it is counterproductive and sometimes right-out detrimental to meet arbitrary quotas.
Another point to note: Although diversity and inclusion initiatives need to be promoted and encouraged by the highest corporate echelon, most of the progress will actually come from the diverse individuals who make up a company’s workforce, as they’re the ones who will actively be participating in molding the culture. And everyone needs to be involved.
Align with Others Like You
Companies should also engage with and do business with other diverse companies and have a continuous dialogue to broaden horizons and find different ways to make their companies more diverse and inclusive to their employee population. Organizations such as the American Mortgage Diversity Council (AMDC) can be a great resource for companies to turn to.
“Efforts are underway by the Supply Chain Diversity Subcommittee in the research of state and federal set-aside requirements that have an impact on supply chain processes,” said John Golden, Executive Director of the AMDC. “A centralized reference tool is a missing component within the industry. Further, best practices on methods to measure supply chain diversity are being researched.
Additionally, the Workforce Subcommittee is engaged in the development of a diversity scorecard that includes best practice for noncertified, nonminority majority-owned companies to exemplify and benefit from their intentional building of diverse organizations.”
Stay on TAP
Finally, transparency, accountability, and publicity (or, TAP) will help to ensure that companies are keeping their promises—holding up to what they say they’ll do. It’s one thing to say you have a diversity program—it’s another to create a successful one.
And, while these may seem like broad and unspecific standards, they can be implemented in a variety of ways that have tangible, real-world results, according to James McGee, Senior Compliance Analyst at Colonial Savings. “Create a platform and programs within your company where employees know that diverse perspectives are welcomed and where leaders actively seek diverse viewpoints as part of their everyday business. In addition, provide cross-cultural access for managers and employees such as mentoring, reverse mentoring, social events (i.e., company picnic, sports leagues), employee resource groups, community involvement, employee engagement, and transparency,” he said.
He also advises taking these guidelines a step further. “I would like to encourage mortgage companies to consider hiring Chief Diversity Officers. Companies in other industries have had CDOs for a number of years.”
But, of course, no great endeavor is without its roadblocks.
Define and Create
There are many challenges to creating a diversity program. And, like diversity itself, these issues will forever be unique to each individual company. As such, each organization needs to examine itself internally.
According to Sheri Crosby Wheeler, VP of Corporate Social Responsibility at Mr. Cooper (Nationstar Mortgage Holdings), this self-examination is paramount.
“The first hurdle is simply to define what diversity and inclusion means,” she said. “The second is starting an open and transparent dialogue. Discussions regarding diversity and inclusion in the workplace can be sensitive, so you have to create an environment where people begin to feel comfortable expressing themselves on the topic. At Mr. Cooper, we’ve taken advantage of an enterprise social networking tool called Yammer to facilitate sharing and communication. Since our launch earlier this year, we’ve found hundreds of team members are interested in learning more about diversity and inclusion. Additionally, oftentimes, employees see all of the activity when a company is first implementing a diversity and inclusion program and expect to see immediate results. However, a culture shift takes time and energy and sometimes moves at a glacial pace.”
Crosby Wheeler continued, saying, “We started with the bedrock principle that in order for an organization to be culturally fluent and more diverse and inclusive, everyone should participate. Regardless of the resource team we are creating, we encourage participation in our diversity and inclusion programs across the board. For example, at our Women’s Resource Team meetings, we want male colleagues joining in. By being inclusive, we are making real progress towards a better understanding and appreciation for our differences and similarities. That’s why our diversity and inclusion programs are open to each and every team member.”
Woodworth echoes this sentiment, stating that a lack of education on the benefits of having a diversity and inclusion program, as well as a misunderstanding of the pitfalls of not having one are the main challenges presented to companies. “The common thread could be a lack of understanding or education about inclusiveness and diversity and the business benefits that result from authentically embedding diversity into organizational culture,” said Woodworth.
The most important thing to remember is that progress, in any form, takes time.
Once a diversity and inclusion program is implemented with solid infrastructure and a commitment to continued forward progress, the question becomes what does that progress look like? And the answer lies in identifying the needs of your workforce and the varying walks of life it embodies. As such, there are no right or wrong answers here, so this is the place to find out what your employees want. What would energize them? What types of programs might motivate them? Dig down and be creative.
For instance, at Orlans PC, they ensure that their diversity and inclusion program isn’t merely a “check-box exercise” but a real, honest look at the needs and expectations of those they employ.
According to Julie Moran, Senior Executive Counsel, Orlans PC, in her article “Build, Don’t Buy—Recruitment and Retention of Diverse Talent,” Orlans PC remains committed to diversity at all levels of the organization. They were early implementers of same-sex health care benefits, and they allow two floating religious/cultural part-time off in their holiday package with an understanding that diversity doesn’t stop at race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or age.
Orlans also uses a 28-question survey to track employee satisfaction and make necessary changes to their organization based on the feedback they receive. They recognize the multigenerational differences between millennials and baby boomers, opting for quarterly appraisals rather than the more traditional annual appraisal process.
At the end of the day, there will always be road bumps in a diversity program, and nothing is to say that a company will ever be able to please everyone. Diversity and inclusion is a mindset—a way of thinking. What matters, however, is that companies keep that avenue for dialogue open and that their employees feel comfortable in pursuing those avenues. Morris understands this sentiment.
“Being blind to a problem doesn’t make a person bad, but being open to seeing a situation from a new perspective is essential, if we want our industry to enjoy all the benefits that diversity offers. It’s up to those of us actively working on diversity in the mortgage industry to offer that new perspective.”