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What’s better than celebrating a milestone birthday? It’s marking the occasion with another milestone altogether—-at least that’s what the Orlando Regional REALTORS® Association (ORRA) did.

The Florida-based organization brought in its 100th anniversary with its first all-women executive board. That appears to be catalyzing a year-long effort to break down barriers for members and improve their community.

Here, ORRA president Natalie Arrowsmith shares insights into the organization’s prioritization of diversity training among members and how this can help make a more equitable association and community.

How has 2021 been going for you and ORRA as you guys mark your 100th anniversary? What’s been the theme of your year-long celebration?

Natalie Arrowsmith: When I came in as president, I said I want my No. 1 goal to be that we celebrate our members, and we celebrate our community by giving back.

Every single month, I want to do something where we are giving back to the community, whether it’s sending 100 kids to Disney that couldn’t normally go or feeding 100 families. Whatever we’re doing, I want to make sure that, each month, we are giving back to the community.

We have our Orlando Regional REALTORS® Foundation which, over the years, has been utilized to build homes in small quantities. One of the goals that I wanted to accomplish this year is taking the foundation and making it bigger, better and stronger, and we are doing that.

Through our foundation, we are giving back to the community. We have a program called Art and Architecture, where we build homes for disabled veterans. We are also trying to come up with some ideas throughout the foundation to address affordable housing.

Tell me about the recent diversity challenge that ORRA is promoting. What was the impetus?
NA: We’ve always had diversity within ORRA, but it’s very organic. What we’ve started to do is really look around and ask, “Where are we missing?” and “What opportunities are we missing with leaders that we can bring up?”

Before last year, a lot of that stemmed from me coming from a background of being told, “You can’t do it because you’re a girl.” That just didn’t work for me, and I’ve always tried to say that we all have the same bones and we should all love each other.

Then, last summer happened (with the death of George Floyd), and I think a lot of people said, “Hey, we need to focus and look at this and see where we can grow and how we can move forward in a better situation and better ourselves.”

The diversity conversation that we are having right now really correlates with where we are seeing our executive line going and also our committee growth and our diversity that we see within ORRA.

What does it mean to ORRA to mark 100 years with its first all-women executive board?
NA: We are recognizing all sorts of leaders, and we are developing new leaders and pushing women forward. It’s a big thing, and it’s important to me and important for us at ORRA.

I have a huge background with the Women’s Council of REALTORS®, which is an organization that promotes women as leaders and as professionals and pushes women into leadership roles.

That’s where I started before coming to ORRA, and I kind of brought that mindset with me into the association by really trying to promote women and push women and everybody in that sense.

What do you hope to gain with ORRA’s current diversity challenge?
NA: A goal with the diversity challenge in the association is to look at where we can reach out and pull up new leaders from areas that aren’t represented right now within our association.

The diversity challenge that we’ve done for our members is part of a bigger picture. Growing leaders is a major part of it, but there are several parts that come along with it in teaching us to grow our members and grow our leadership based on talent and specific [qualities].

Tell me about the different components of the diversity challenge.
NA: There are many facets to this challenge that we have going on right now.

We have Fairhaven: a Fair Housing simulation, which we promote to our members. To complete the simulation, they can think if they are discriminating against someone and keeping them from having a house. It’s a fabulous way for our members to educate themselves.

We have the At Home With Diversity certification [course], and we also have the Implicit Bias training.

The National Association of REALTORS® put all of these together and Charlie Oppler, NAR’s president, started the challenge and then passed it down. Before he passed it down, we actually brought it to our Board of Directors a month ago and said, “We challenge every one of you to do this.”

What has the reception been like for ORRA’s members regarding the challenge?
NA: It’s been phenomenal. I think one thing that we are seeing is that a lot of leadership is doing it, and we are pushing it out to our members, and it has been embraced.

We’ve sent it out to all our committees and members—ORRA put a letter out, and it’s been very well received.

How can other organizations follow in ORRA’s footsteps in improving diversity?
Have an open conversation with one another without fear of being criticized.

That was my main requirement for everybody—that we were going to have a conversation in a safe zone, and we are going to ask questions. We are going to talk about it, and we are going to figure out how we are going to make ourselves better and how we can make our future better.

What is your vision for the future of Orlando’s real estate industry while you serve as president of ORRA?
NA: I want to make sure our members feel supported and have access to the most updated training and guidance possible.

We have expanded our educational offerings from new agents to the most experienced. With our new headquarters coming to fruition this year, we’ll be able to offer even more classes with more space available.

I foresee us incorporating more technology and providing more virtual assistance to buyers all over the country, as out-of-state visitors realize it’s an incredible place to live. Our communities will continue to grow and develop.

As REALTORS®, that means we, too, will have to evolve.

For more information on ORRA’s diversity challenge or 100th-anniversary celebration, click here.

Jordan Grice is RISMedia’s associate online editor. Email him your real estate news ideas to jgrice@rismedia.com.