Knock Talk: Ep. 19 – The empowerment of a diverse and inclusive workplace

In this episode Knock VPs Steve Wunch and Alycia Anderson talk about how multifamily firms can better embrace disability in their diversity, inclusivity and belonging efforts. Alycia is also a professional speaker and inclusion consultant, and lends her expertise on this subject to this conversation.  

 

Episode Highlights

What is the role of disability in diversity and inclusion?

What are some areas of improvement for multifamily?

What are organizational blockers that inadvertently exclude people with disabilities?

Full Transcript

Steve Wunch: Hey, everybody. Welcome to Knock Talk where we’re shedding light on all things multifamily, front office tech. I’m Steve Wunch, RVP of Sales for the Mountain Region for Knock, and I’m also a 27 year veteran in the property management industry. In this episode, I’m happy to introduce professional speaker, inclusion consultant, and VP of Sales at Knock, Alycia Anderson. I’m really looking forward to our conversation about how multifamily firms can embrace disability in their diversity, inclusivity, and belonging efforts. We couldn’t be more excited than to have you here on Knock Talk, Alycia. Please go ahead and introduce yourself.

Alycia Anderson: Thank you so much for having me. This is such an exciting opportunity and I really appreciate it. Introduce myself. I started in multifamily and software sales following my identical twin, straight into the multifamily industry. Her career was flourishing. It was fun and exciting as we all know that it is in our industry and I was inspired and I wanted in.

The opportunities for career advancement seemed endless and on top of that, my love for technology and leveraging it to solve real problems in our industry is where I found my perfect fit.

10 years later, I’m still here, VP of sales at Knock, a multifamily tech platform that helps leasing agents connect with renters and property managers understand how the business is performing.

Steve: Awesome.

Alycia: It’s been incredible to be a part of a team that’s innovators and go-getters and an industry that celebrates diversity. On top of that, having the opportunity to speak to organizations about diversity inclusion and all the power behind those two words, is inspiring. 

I was born with my disability. I live my life from a wheelchair. The perspective and experience that I have, and that I share is from the perspective of somebody living with a disability, but the messaging does transcend everyone.

From my perspective, the part of diversity and inclusion conversations that is left out sometimes or a good portion of the times is the disability piece. For me to have an opportunity to spread some light on it and some perspective, especially in our industry, is an absolute honor. I’m on a mission to encourage progression and all of this, accepting that it’s ongoing collective work and effort to be successful in it and choosing to pursue it anyways.

Steve: That’s awesome. Alicia, I’m so excited to have this conversation with you today. We all, hopefully, are a little bit more mindful of diversity and inclusion and equity in our lives, just given the state of the world today in both our personal and our professional lives. Tell us what you think the main point of inclusion is, from your perspective.

Alycia: I’m glad you asked. We all know that we are living in a world that is propelled by technology and having access to anything at your fingertips at any moment in time. It gives us the feeling that anything is possible, but what it also does is it magnifies inequities and it forces us to start to take a harder look at who we are, what we have, what we believe, and most importantly, how we treat it and how are we treating people along the way.

You’re right, these days, we’re finally starting to take a closer look and understand professionally that inclusion brings amazing things to our life and the organization. That there’s a competitive advantage to maximizing the success of inclusion in a business environment. It’s become a popular thing, implementing these diversity and inclusion programs and initiatives in company cultures and processes, I’m mind blown that today there are job roles being created like VP of diversity and inclusion within companies.

I frankly can’t hardly believe it sometimes and it’s amazing. We are definitely moving in the right direction, but I think it’s important to really take a close look and ask ourselves, are we checking off the box? 

Are we adding diversity and inclusion training to our once-a-year training schedule and moving on, or do we really understand what we’re trying to accomplish and understanding and caring about the process? Ccare being a keyword here to put in the effort that takes to really be successful. If we don’t care about this stuff, if we don’t have heart behind it, we’re going to fail because at the end of the day when we’re talking about diversity inclusion, we’re talking about people.

Steve: The multifamily industry prides itself on being diverse and inclusive and from a resident’s point of view, I think it is but with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in the ’90s and federal and local fair housing laws, renters are highly protected, yet it seems there’s always more to be done and more awareness and more about inclusivity on our radars. What do you think are some of the areas where you see the multifamily could make some improvements regarding this?

Alycia: There has been a lot of headway, but you’re right, there can always be improvements. The one thing that comes to my mind right now, you brought it up, Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA. It’s one of the most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation in our history. It’s right up there with the Civil Rights Act of ’64, women’s suffrage. ADA is modeled after the Civil Rights Act, it prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities will have the same opportunities as everybody else. We’re talking about basic rights, like education and medical services, and employment.

It not only gives us the right to have access and the same rights as everybody else, but it gives us access to get there, which is a key component and something that we get caught up on a little bit in our industry for sure.

The hard truth is, is that about one in four of us will have some sort of an experience with disability at some point in our lifetime. Again, whether it’s for a season of our life or as we age or forever like me. Unfortunately, laws like ADA are oftentimes punitive and stigmatized and feared when I really think we’re missing the real purpose of all of this, the goodness of it, of what it brings to everyone, which is the ability to have a full life, no matter what stage we are in it, or what happens.

Where we can improve it in our industry, I believe is just starting to shift the messaging a little bit, and take some of the stigmatization out of it and as a financial burden or something that we have to be afraid of, but rather something as a privilege or an honor to sponsor a part in to make the world more inclusive every day.

In doing this collectively, we widen the doors of life opportunities, business opportunities for everyone. Over time, we change the narrative into more of a positive thing.

Steve: I know you talk about this in your Keynotes and speeches, and I want to be as specific for our audience as possible. Alycia, would you share with our viewers, what are organizational blockers that inadvertently exclude people with disabilities?

Alycia: That’s another great question. Definitely, something that I touch on. One of the things that I talk about a lot and dig into most of my speeches is, how inclusivity can remove invisibility.

This is one of my biggest challenges that I’ve been trying to overcome my entire life, like since I was a little girl, is to be seen for me. 

When I first meet somebody, whether it’s in a job interview or popping into a meeting that the team isn’t expecting me to show up in a wheelchair, there’s always a moment. It’s typically a split second. It could last longer depending on the situation. Where my wheelchair gets all the attention, center stage, the star of the room. It’s an exchange for me.

This is an object that is super important to me. It gives me my independence. It gives me freedom to navigate this world alongside everybody else. It empowers me to have a career and a livelihood, but many people have a hard time figuring out how to incorporate into a normal situation, which I totally get it’s unfamiliar, it’s feared, it’s considered weak sometimes, it’s considered less than.

Disability, a lot of times, carry stigmas and biases around it.

The fear of making a mistake in our words, in our actions, stops us in starting conversations where we’re going to learn something about somebody else. Fear stops us completely in our tracks and we’re stuck and we don’t progress. The narratives stay the same year after year after year. For me, the biggest challenge is to be seen for me, a living, breathing woman with a heart and soul and expertise and knowledge and value.

Steve: That was a great insight into some of the things that block inclusion, what do you think some of the bright spots are, from your perspective in the multifamily space?

Alycia: Hard to pinpoint one. I’ve had a really great career so far. Definitely landing my job at Knock is certainly one of them because what makes this moment stand out to me, was the fear and anxiety that we all feel when we’re going to do job interviews. I overcame this when I met with Demetri. Having the right experience and mindset and tenacity for a role that I know that I’m qualified for, was never in question. It was really the obstacles of overcoming biases that are related to a physical wheelchair.

This is something that I have faced in interviews of the past. Instead, my uniqueness was fully embraced, he barely flinched. He didn’t know I was showing up in a wheelchair, he didn’t flinch. Over time, as we got through our conversations, it was seen as a value, an attribute to be an added value in our work environment, that it added the energy and the planning of every day that I have, just to get from point A to point B would translate over to my work.

Demetri saw beyond my wheelchair, and he knew that it was core to the qualities that make me uniquely qualified for my role. I just felt valued and motivated and inspired like never before and fully embraced for 100% me and my object. This was something that I’ll never forget. It’s these moments where inclusion and diversity lends itself to be valuable, unique attributes, as a person and in a professional environment. That’s what all of this stuff is about is what makes us unique, how does that lift us up? How does that bring something special to the table that might advance business and opportunities there?

Steve: That’s awesome. Good for Demetri. [chuckles] The way multifamily organizations can expand inclusivity efforts to include people with disabilities, can you give maybe three examples of how a company could potentially move their organization in the right direction when it comes to inclusivity and whatnot?

Alycia: The first thing that comes to mind is, start. [chuckles] Just to start the process and not be afraid of it because there’s zero chance that we’re ever going to be experts on this path. Be willing to make mistakes in the process, and be willing to ask bold questions and the hard questions, despite how hard it might be.

Communication is key in all of this. It’s like a dance, it takes two, it takes trust, it takes vulnerability, it takes practice, and it takes a lot of hard, uncomfortable, awkward work. Over time it becomes habit, and we execute it beautifully and naturally.

This will break down biases and stigmas and stereotypes that are holding us back right now. Then just open up a world that has more opportunities for more people and that blocker to inclusion, is hopefully coming down a little bit because there’s more than enough room for inclusion for everybody. What we might not take part in today, that is seemingly for somebody else, it may turn into our tomorrow. Just challenging everyone with the collective work that it takes to move forward in such a thing, is just being willing to communicate and learn from somebody else’s experience, and be adaptable in the process.

Steve: I for one, I’m honored that you’re part of my circle because you’ve surely made my life a better life by being in it. I really appreciate you sharing your perspective with us today. I hope our listeners will take away, if anything they take away, just start talking about it, don’t be afraid of it, and hopefully, the world will become a more inclusive place for everyone. Alycia, you’re amazing. I love you. I’m so glad you’re my friend. I’m so glad that everybody had a chance to join us for this Knock Talk. Thanks, everybody. We’ll see you next time.

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