Last month, the Daily Herald Business Ledger recognized eighteen companies from the Chicagoland area for its inaugural Diversity in Business Awards. The awards honor businesses that have taken initiative to promote diversity – across age, disability, gender, sexual orientation, race and religion – in the workplace. Among those standout firms: the Mainstreet Organization of REALTORS (MORe), headquartered in Downers Grove.
Speaking further on MORe’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) practices, CEO John Gormley said that while those at Mainstreet have always prided themselves on maintaining an inclusive culture, “Sadly, national and regional events in summer 2020 made clear that racial injustice remains endemic in our society. We wanted to do everything possible to ensure Mainstreet is diverse, equitable and inclusive in every respect.” By engaging in a deeper learning process, staff set out to improve the organization.
Following the murder of George Floyd, MORe released a statement to members condemning racism and discrimination. In “calling for our country to move beyond its legacy of racism,” this message emphasized the principles of the Fair Housing Act. Soon after, MORe released another statement — to both members and the media — denouncing the HUD’s termination of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) provision of the Fair Housing Act. HUD’s decision “hampers progress being made toward building more inclusive, affordable and equitable communities throughout the country and here in Illinois,” Gormley wrote at the time.
As the CEO describes it now, the publication of both statements “made us targets for criticism.” But the leadership continued in their mission and that August, met to discuss improving DEI initiatives at Mainstreet. In the past year, all staff took an online DEI course as well as NAR’s At Home with Diversity certification course. And as positions within the association open up, diversity has become a valued attribute alongside other qualifications. “By changing how we advertise job openings, expanding our reach and where we advertise, we’re able to draw from a more diverse pool of talent,” Gormley said.
Outside voices have also been brought in to educate the association. The St. Louis Realtor and DEI consultant Nate Johnson is now working closely with MORe. Johnson is an expert on the history of unfair housing in America and has spoken at various meetings and events. Alongside Mehrsa Baradaran, the author of “The Color of Money,” he also facilitated a program about the racial wealth gap in housing.
And there’re more in store. MORe is now completing its first diversity benchmarking study, modeled after one by the Austin Board of REALTORS®. Comprised of results from a widespread diversity survey, the results will indicate where MORe membership is at — and what to improve on in the future.
These numerous efforts were honored by the Daily Herald Business Ledger in a ceremony on August 12. That moment was “a byproduct of the hard work that our board and staff has done so far,” as Gormley described it. “It was gratifying to see in the award ceremony how Mainstreet was among some of the top companies in Chicagoland to be recognized for our DEI efforts.” As Linda Dressler, president of Mainstreet, puts it simply: “Mainstreet is creating an association home where all members feel welcome.”
All 18 Diversity Award winners will be featured in a special publication of the Daily Herald Business Ledger published on Monday, September 13.