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Looking Beyond the Visible Dimension of Diversity

Charmaine Brown, Director, Outreach and Engagement, Office of Minority and Women Inclusion at Fannie Mae, was recently appointed as Vice Chair of the American Mortgage Diversity Council (AMDC). Partnering with Chair Kathy Cummings, SVP, Homeownership Solutions and Affordable Housing Programs at Bank of America, Brown will assist with the implementation of an aggressive agenda for the AMDC this year, working to equip the industry with the education and advocacy tools needed for fostering an industry-wide culture of diversity and inclusion.

Brown completed her Diversity Management Program at Cornell’s ILR School, as well as the Harvard Kennedy School for Executive Education, Diversity, and Inclusion Leadership Program. She is certified in the Intercultural Development Inventory, a cross-cultural competency assessment tool.

Please tell us more about your role as Director, Outreach and Engagement, Office of Minority and Women Inclusion at Fannie Mae.

I’m focused on outreach and engagement strategies that cultivate a more inclusive marketplace and workforce. Our aim is to create environments that value, appreciate, and embrace differences; ones that see differences as a source of learning and a competitive advantage, rather than a source of conflict. I’m also leading outreach strategies that focus on building strong partnerships and alliances with critical stakeholders to help our customers increase their understanding of how diversity and inclusion, when done right, drives better business outcomes.

What are your goals for the year as the newly appointed Vice Chair?

My key goal is to support our Chair, Kathy Cummings, in her vision to further the objectives of the organization, by leveraging the strength and expertise of AMDC members to be a resource to the industry. Additionally, I will focus on helping the industry to understand and address holistically the pressing issues of the day—not only what we should be talking about today, but also what we should be doing about today’s diversity and inclusion challenges. The challenges include supply chain opportunities, gender inclusion (cisgender as well as transgender), pay equity, and how we connect the dots to the marketplace.

We want to address the question: how are we addressing, anticipating, and proactively meeting the needs of the underserved community and communities of color? There’s work to be done to try to help low- and moderate-income communities get on a path to sustainable homeownership. All of those things are strategic priorities for us, but most importantly as the Vice Chair I am invested in the success of the entire organization and furthering the vision of our Chair, who is an exceptional leader.

What does the word "diversity" mean for you?

Diversity is relational. I often hear leaders say that they want a “diverse” candidate. Another misperception is that diversity is solely visible—what we can see. This is quite limiting. When we focus on the visible dimensions, so much is missed and oftentimes assumptions are unconsciously made. It’s not that identity isn’t important, there is indeed a corollary between the visible dimensions and deep level diversity. However, the richness is in the deep level diversity, the diversity we cannot see. I encourage business leaders to think about the diversity of skill sets, mindsets, socioeconomic backgrounds, and cultural views, and to look at strategies to get the right mix of talent to achieve business goals.

Can you share some best practices in the areas of diversity and inclusion that companies should adopt?

Among the best practices in recruitment, retention, and development is to expand outreach to multiple sources where you are likely to engage a variety and broad mix of talent and capabilities. In retention, for example, mentorship and sponsorship can help build talent within the organization. Have a healthy and balanced “buy and build” strategy; acquire the talent that differentiates and builds promising talent internally. Undeveloped high-potential talent is such a loss to organizations. And expose your organizations to opportunities to engage with cultures that they are unlikely to engage in their normal course of business to counter stereotypes.

How can building a more diverse market in the workforce help Americans achieve their dream of homeownership?

We are in the business of working with our partners to serve the housing needs of all communities, in good times and bad. I always keep in mind the lessons learned from being on the front line during the foreclosure crisis. Buying a home is an emotional decision for many and lots of families, particularly those in low- and moderate-income communities of color, those who were disproportionately impacted by foreclosures during the crisis, did not understand their mortgage product. Sustainability is key, and we can help to position families for successful homeownership through education and counseling. At the same time, not everyone wants to own a home, so providing safe, decent, affordable rental options remains critically important. Finally, providing transitional and supportive housing for those in crisis and suffering from the trauma that can lead to homelessness is an important aspect. For example, LGBTQ youth between the ages of 18-24, veterans suffering from PTSD, etc. are more likely to experience homelessness.

About Author: Radhika Ojha

Radhika Ojha is an independent writer and editor. A former Online Editor and currently a reporter for MReport, she is a graduate of the University of Pune, India, where she received her B.A. in Commerce with a concentration in Accounting and Marketing and an M.A. in Mass Communication. Upon completion of her master’s degree, Ojha worked at a national English daily publication in India (The Indian Express) where she was a staff writer in the cultural and arts features section. Ojha also worked as Principal Correspondent at HT Media Ltd and at Honeywell as an executive in corporate communications. She and her husband currently reside in Houston, Texas.

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