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Understanding Diversity in the Multifamily Workforce

December 19, 2016 Elizabeth Francisco
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We often talk about how the demographic shift impacts multifamily in terms of rental changes, but what many people don’t realize is that this growth in diversity impacts the multifamily workforce as well. An industry reflective of it’s audience, multifamily employers have seen growth in millennials and minorities in the workplace, as well as a growth of women in leadership roles — and we can only expect these changes to continue.  

 

While these increases are positive in terms of their implications for continued multifamily business success, they have created a shift in the multifamily workplace dynamics that must be addressed. As new groups enter the workforce in greater numbers, it’s imperative that employers and employees alike remember that traditional business methods are no longer guaranteed to apply. Instead, efforts should be made for new and innovative ideas on how to incorporate the different needs and styles of these groups into the workplace.

 

The Myth of Millennial Laziness

Listen to anyone over 35 talk about their biggest complaints in the workforce, and inevitably the “millennial problem” will come up. The complaint is simple enough, and nearly every generation has it about the generation younger than them. The latest generation is “lazy, demanding, entitled, narcissistic, and selfish.”

Independent of the veracity of this statement, millennials are different from previous generations in one very specific regard—they have different expectations and attitudes towards the workplace, ones that have in fact grown beyond their generation into new workplace trends. For one, there’s an increased focus on the value workplace flexibility, oftentimes, even above other popular benefits like healthcare (in one example, at a rate of 19.1% vs. 16.9%). Preferences have also shifted towards collaboration and openness or transparency, reflected in the move towards open offices, and wider employee incorporation to overall strategy. AirBnB for example, has shifted to more company-wide meetings for employees to reflect a more open and purpose-driven business.

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While many multifamily businesses may not have the capacity to implement these widespread changes, there are still ways that millennials and other generations can work collaboratively and successfully within the industry. Perhaps most important is for employers and managers to be open-minded about these shifting trends that are by no means disappearing any time soon. Even small simple steps like squashing negative talk about millennial workers around the office can make an impact for those workers, showcasing a willingness to adapt. This simple shift in mentality is a great first step for those in the industry looking to work better with their millennial counterparts.

 

Supporting Female Talent

Another topic that has received a lot of attention in a variety of workplaces is the struggles faced by women in the workplace. Similar to millennials, a lot of women are breaking away from more corporate jobs with their traditional rigid structure, and towards more flexible jobs.

It’s not just the increasing prevalence of job flexibility that has cause this migration, but rather the meeting of a need that has been long overlooked. For many years women have given up executive leadership roles, or left the workforce altogether due to difficulties between trying to be a caregiver and working demanding jobs.

Now, as the opportunity has been presented in some workplaces, women are testing the waters to see how these roles can help benefit them in the pursuit of work-life balance. While this shift in workplace demographics is favorable (after all, studies suggest companies with 30% or more female leadership have profit margins of up to 6% points higher than those that don’t), some industries, multifamily included, are suffering from the migration of women to industries that offer this flexibility.

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The key for multifamily to continue to support its female talent is as follows. For one, it’s important that female talent is continually recognized and promoted. While women dominate certain roles in the multifamily industry, their presence at the top is limited.

Secondly, this talent should not be skipped over due to fears related to a family focus over a professional focus. Instead, the key to promoting and retaining women in leadership is to offer flexibility along the way. While the ability to be flexible may not be as extensive as in other industries, the mere ability to take off work in emergencies, or work at home on occasion to meet a need, is a good middle ground.

Finally, attitudes in the workplace should shift to be more inclusive. Workplaces are no longer a “boys club” but rather, a spot where diversity meets to overcome.

 

Minority Growth in the Workforce

Perhaps a more divisive issue, the increasing change in national demographics has created a major shift in workplace demographics. As the nation’s demographics shift overall, certain locations (e.g. Texas) are beginning to see a move to minority groups becoming the majority. This has led to a certain push towards “diversity”, and while it’s a step in the right direction, diversity is often not as thoroughly addressed as people might think. As the population continues to skew towards the minority groups becoming the majority, it’s important to get these issues of diversity right now, rather than suffer the consequences later.

The concern with this growth in minority groups is two-fold. For one, existing workplace policies, from vacation days to dress codes, have evolved around the needs of the cultural norm, predominantly Anglo-Saxon people. As we begin to add new cultures that have long been underrepresented, these workplace norms and policies might have to adjust accordingly. This may seem simple enough, but only time will tell how engrained in the system certain policies from the previous cultural majority are.

While total shifts may be difficult to implement, seek to improve is a strong first step. Increasing diversity in recruitment, adding training sessions on cultural sensitivity, and creating groups around the advocating of diversity is a great first step of companies who may not be able to create total change in their systems.

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In addition to this, diversity in the workplace creates concerns about tolerance and inclusion. While it’s desirable to hope that issues around racism and sexism won’t occur in your workplace, ignorance to issues and concerns of previous workplace minorities can create undesirable situations. Leading by example and cultural training are, again, great ways to to tackle these issues. Perhaps even more important is to create a workplace where people are unafraid to speak up if they see intolerance.

 

Creating Continued Success

Much like the new multifamily audience, new groups in the multifamily workplace will not tolerate their voices going unheard. As workplaces across all industries see similar changes, it will be increasingly important for multifamily to adapt with these changes in order to maintain and recruit the high level talent they need to be successful.

By being mindful of issues surround women, minorities, and yes, even millennials in the workplace, multifamily employers can begin to set the foundation for progressive changes in their business that will allow the continued growth and success.

 

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