Join Sara and Debra for a “Shine A Light On Her” conversation with Ivonne Furneaux, Vice President of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Realogy.
In this crucial role, Ivonne is tasked with amplifying Realogy’s mission to empower diverse communities, overseeing DE&I initiatives across the company’s employee, franchise owner, and affiliated agent populations.
During this chat, Ivonne shares her leadership story, top tactics for inspiring and implementing change, and more of her wave-making wisdom!
We love this quote from Ivonne:
"The possibilities at the intersection of real estate and DE&I are limitless. From driving entrepreneurship and enabling homeownership to empowering careers and building an inclusive workforce that represents the communities we serve, we have a tremendous opportunity to drive meaningful change. I’m honored and excited to join Realogy and advance the great work already in motion as we drive even more impact in the company, the industry, and beyond.”
Ivonne Furneaux joined Realogy in late 2021 as the company’s Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). In her role, Ivonne leads the company’s DEI team and business strategy to drive DEI both internally and externally.
Ivonne is a business leader with more than 20 years of experience in corporate communications, culture and DEI. She has worked in large, multi-national organizations across various industries including retail, manufacturing, healthcare and real estate. Most recently, Ivonne led DEI programs at UnitedHealth Group, a Fortune 5 healthcare company. Ivonne previously led communications, community relations and DEI for SSAB, one of the largest steel manufacturing companies in the world. She has also previously held leadership roles at several companies including Target Corporation, Office Depot, Coinstar and GMAC Home Services.
Ivonne holds a bachelor’s degree in Communications from the University of Minnesota and has completed graduate studies at the University of Denver in Strategic Human Resources.
Ivonne is originally from Brooklyn, New York, but as a military “brat,” she grew up all over the United States. Ivonne and her family currently reside in the western suburbs of Chicago.
Tell us about your leadership journey…
My leadership journey has been more of a winding road than a straight line. Early in my career, I started working primarily in Corporate Communications, and employee communications, along with change management, became my bread and butter. There was a period in my career where I worked for several companies that either went through a merger, major layoffs or a corporate relocation. Every time it happened, I was left to figure out what was next for me. For many of those years, I was a single mom, too, so I couldn’t move out of state when relocation was offered, and taking time off while I figured out my life simply wasn’t an option. This meant I had to make a lot of tough choices along the way, taking lateral moves and jumping to different industries. But along the way, I also got really adept at being adaptable. I began taking on roles that encompassed not only communications, but also employee engagement, corporate social responsibility, culture and eventually diversity, equity and inclusion.
My passion for DEI really blossomed over the years as I became more immersed in it. I really resonated with the idea of creating more diverse workplaces, more inclusive spaces and with fairness at the heart of everything. DEI sparks my passion for people and progress. Also, I worked in communications for a long time telling the stories of others. I’ve written speeches for CEOs, governors and even wrote a speech for Julie Andrews once. So transitioning into DEI work is a chance for me to tell my own story, and to give a voice to others whose stories often go unheard.
This brings me to my current role. I saw this position posted on LinkedIn, and I was immediately drawn to it. I love real estate as a personal passion, but I had previously worked for a real estate company where my experience was not positive. I’d also had my share of negative experiences when renting, buying or selling a home of my own. So for me, while this role was everything I was looking for in my career, it was also a chance at redemption -- an opportunity to advance this industry to being a more diverse, equitable and inclusive place for customers, agents, brokers and employees alike, in a way that had not been my own experience. Rather than apply online for the job, I actually sent an email via LinkedIn to Tanya Reu-Narvaez, Realogy’s Chief People Officer, to express my interest in the role. I got a call from a recruiter not too long after that. Sometimes it pays to be bold!
“Strength of many. Power of one.”
As you look back, tell us about a challenge you faced. Perhaps it was a risky move that didn’t pay off, a failed project, a fork in the road, or a personal mishap. How did you address it? Did you ask for help?
As I mentioned, I had a series of challenges throughout my career, so I had more forks in the road than I care to count. That said, I had one moment in my career that really defined my trajectory. I was divorced, a single parent, and I was working for a company here in Chicago that had merged with a company in Seattle. I was asked to step up to lead the communications function for the new, larger company, which was a great opportunity. But it meant traveling to Seattle on a pretty regular basis. On one fateful morning, I had sent my son to school and hopped on a plane to Washington to host a company-wide meeting with the CEO. After school, my son was supposed to go to the home of babysitter, where he would spend the night and I’d pick him up the next day. But about five minutes before I was set to go on stage, I got a phone call from the school nurse letting me know my son was sick and I needed to come pick him up. My heart sank. I was literally thousands of miles away. I had no family in Chicago, so I scrambled to find a friend who could help and luckily my friend came to the rescue. Thank God for the power of good friends. But I got on a plane a few hours later and cried, knowing that this job just wasn’t going to work for me. I started my job search the next day.
From the perspective of where you are today, how would you handle a similar situation this time around? In hindsight, what would you do differently?
The only thing I would do differently when I look back would be to not be so hard on myself or see my obstacles as personal failures. I know now that those challenges made me stronger, made me who I am, but at the time I couldn’t help but feel like a failure. The older and wiser me would tell the younger me to be kinder to myself.
Would you share your top tips/tactics for inspiring and implementing CHANGE? (Let’s talk about attraction and retention of talent here, for sure!)
I think the first step in inspiring and implementing change is understanding where you are now, where you want to go and WHY you want to do it. It’s always the why that serves as your inspiration and motivation. This really means looking outward, looking around and looking inward. What I mean is -- what’s the future vision, what’s the current state and what are my barriers or obstacles? And more importantly, why is this important? For example, I’ve been using Noom to try to lose a few pounds, and Noom’s model is entirely based on psychology. One of the first steps is getting over your fear of the scale. You have to step on the scale to understand your starting point, for better or worse. Then you also have to learn not just how to lose weight, but why you want to and what’s been keeping you from doing it all along. You have to dig deep. It’s not just about fitting into a dress, it’s about wanting to change your health or your self-esteem.
Let’s relate this to the example of being a brokerage leader and wanting to attract and retain more diverse agents. My first step is to look outward at my community. What’s the demographic makeup of my city? What are some groups of people I know are prevalent here? It could be that you have a large contingency of immigrants from a certain country who speak a certain language, or maybe you’re right near a military base, or in a location with a vibrant LGBTQ+ community. (There are resources online to get this demographic data, such as datausa.io.)
So now that I understand my community, I have to look around my office. Does my team reflect the broader community that we’re serving? Where are the gaps? Then, look inward. Think about your own potential biases or blind spots -- we all have them! The trick is to recognize them and then minimize them. And lastly, as I said before, figure out your why. If you want to bring in more diverse agents because it will help you reach new markets and make more money, then great, use that as your motivation. If you’re inspired by the idea of creating economic opportunity for communities that have been historically marginalized or oppressed, yes, please let “the right thing to do” be your motivation.
If any of these efforts only serve to check a box, then don’t do it. It’s like a crash diet; it won’t last. Real change takes hard work and intention.
What upcoming challenges would you say every brokerage leader needs to have on her radar? How can she prepare?
I think we all recognize that the real estate industry will continue to be challenged in the year ahead simply due to market trends and conditions. But if we think long-term, there are a number of global trends that all leaders within or beyond real estate should keep in mind, and they’re all related to diversity. In short, our world is becoming more and more diverse. We have a diversity of markets, a diversity of ideas, a diversity of customers and a diversity of talent -- and all of these things will continue to become more diverse over time. We have multi-cultural populations that are growing, and our customers are more diverse -- and have more choices -- than ever before. A diversity of ideas will continue to jumpstart innovation, and we have more generations of talent in the workforce than in any other period in our history.
Leaders of any business, big or small, will have to embrace these changes in order to thrive. For a brokerage, that will mean thinking about how to attract more diverse agents, how to grow into new markets, how to cater to customers in different age groups and from different cultures. And all of this requires both being proactive and being inclusive.
We are all deep into defining and refining our 2022 plans. What is on your vision board that you’re most looking forward to next year?
My vision for 2022 is to take our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategy at Realogy to the next level. Realogy has been a leader in the real estate industry when it comes to DEI for many years, long before I joined the company. We created an inclusive ownership program to bring more franchise owners into our network who are people of color, women and LBGTQ+. We’ve had great success with this program and continue to make strides in diversifying our network. We also have a long history of working with industry partners like the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals and others to advance our mission of diverse representation in our industry.
So my job now is to take all of this work to the next level, starting by looking inward at what we can do better within the company that will enable us to enhance our impact externally and beyond. I’m really focused on four things longer term:
Strengthening our internal culture -- being a culture of inclusion and innovation where everyone can thrive
Enhancing diverse representation amongst our employees, agents and franchise owners -- reflecting the communities in which we live, serve and operate
Economic empowerment -- empowering people to live their best lives through real estate, whether through homeownership or entrepreneurship
External impact -- Leveraging the collective impact of our network to drive meaningful change in our industry and beyond
I believe we can make progress on all of this in 2022. I’m most looking forward to being bold and moving the needle toward progress.
Before I ask you for your final words of wisdom… would you please share a few books or podcasts you LOVE and recommend to other leaders in your life?
Right now, I’m reading Edge by Laura Huang. It’s about turning adversity into your greatest advantage. I am loving it so far.
For anyone transitioning into a new role or career, I strongly recommend The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins. It gives very practical advice on how to be successful quickly as you enter a new role.
As far as ongoing learning, I love IdeaCast from Harvard Business Review for general leadership topics.
Lastly, for anyone looking to gain deeper understanding and empathy on issues related to race and culture, I would urge reading books from noted Black authors like Ta-Nehisi Coates and others. One of the most powerful pieces I read recently was The FIre Next Time by James Baldwin, which was written in 1963 but still resonates so powerfully today. I’d also recommend following thought leaders on LinkedIn and Twitter for insights and inspiration.
Connect with Ivonne:
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