UPDATED, July 29, 2020, 1:13 p.m.:
When Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman blogged about the brokerage’s pledge to fight racism, the move backfired.
Some former agents and employees saw his remarks as disingenuous, based on their own experiences at the national firm.
“Anybody who actually wants to impact Redfin and its culture for the better, my experience told me you won’t make it very far,” said Sam Tammareddi, who worked as a listings coordinator at Redfin’s headquarters in Seattle.
She and others took to LinkedIn over the past two months to call out what they felt was unfair treatment at the publicly traded company.
“Anybody who actually wants to impact Redfin and its culture for the better, my experience told me you won’t make it very far.”
In interviews with The Real Deal, four former employees described hiring decisions based on nepotism, a general lack of diversity among senior leaders and furloughs and layoffs they believed disproportionately impacted minority employees. Some of the former Redfin employees said they felt overlooked for promotions and other opportunities at the company.
“They kept on saying how much they value diversity,” said one former broker who worked at Redfin’s Boston office. He added, regarding that office: “Why are there no minorities in a management position whatsoever?” A Redfin spokesperson disputed this, adding that an African American manager worked at the Boston office until recently, when he was promoted to market manager in Rhode Island.
In his May 31 blog post, Kelman recognized that the brokerage hadn’t done enough to support minorities it hired. “The most obvious thing is hiring and developing more people of color to positions of power,” he wrote. “We say that we believe talent is equally distributed between people of different races, but most businesses, including Redfin, are run mostly by white people.”
According to an internal Redfin analysis, the percentage of its employees of color has inched up to 31 percent from 30 percent over the past two years. But only 8 percent of the company’s employees are Black.
In an interview with TRD in July, Kelman commented on some of the criticism from former employees, though he wouldn’t discuss specific people.
“It’s a failure of the company whenever someone feels that he or she was unfairly treated,” he said. “Anyone running an organization has to try to discern what actually happened. I should spend a significant amount of my time being accountable to those people.”
“An asymmetrical outcome”
Former employees of the Boston and Seattle offices said friends and relatives of managers were hired at the firm, which they viewed as part of a broader pattern of Redfin executives tapping into their personal networks for talent.
Kelman confirmed that the sister of the market manager in Redfin’s Boston office works for the company, but said the two report to different people. He said he views that and the fact that “a huge number of agents” have parents and children who also work as Redfin agents as a “testament that it’s a good place to work.”
At one point, however, a market manager in Boston hired a few relatives.
“We did think that was not good management practice,” Kelman said, noting that the manager left the company about eight years ago.
When Redfin temporarily cut nearly two dozen employees in its Boston office, all but one person of color was let go, one former agent wrote on LinkedIn.
“All management were white males, no one of color, and all the agents that were kept during the layoffs were white with the exception of one,” Stone Prum alleged in the post. According to his LinkedIn profile, he left Redfin in April and now works at Compass. Prum declined to comment for this article.
The Redfin spokesperson said the African-American manager and a female manager were at Redfin at the time.
According to Redfin, of the 22 who were furloughed in Boston, 17 were white. A spokesperson for the firm said all the furloughed employees have since returned.
Redfin, like many residential brokerages, was hit hard by the pandemic. In April the firm cut its staff by 7 percent and furloughed 41 percent of its total agents. The company offered its furloughed agents the option to take a severance package instead of waiting to return.
The spokesperson said that existing agents in several markets took over for those who were furloughed or who had opted to leave the company permanently.
Riode Jean-Felix, one of the agents who left Redfin’s Boston office, opted for a severance package rather than a temporary furlough, according to the firm, and now also works for Compass. In a social media post, he said his coverage area was taken over by a white agent who didn’t have the same market experience.
“Redfin, to me, was my family and I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into the company even with a lack of diversity which I tried to change,” Jean-Felix wrote in a post on LinkedIn. “How much more pain and disappointment can be added on to an open wound,” he questioned. Jean-Felix declined to comment further.
Kelman said the layoffs and furloughs were certified by an analyst to ensure that there was no “statistically significant evidence of bias.” But, in retrospect, offering former staffers the option of a severance package “really hurt” Redfin.
“You will have people who have fewer resources choose that because it’s in many cases tens of thousands of dollars, depending how long they’ve been here,” Kelman noted. “That’s when we saw an asymmetrical outcome. If you’re a manager who really cares about diversity, and I count myself as one of them, that drives you crazy.”
Tammareddi, who worked at Redfin for a year and a half before leaving in January 2019, said she discussed her career goals with one of the firm’s market managers in 2018. She expressed interest in a senior support manager role and the firm’s program management team.
When Tammareddi said she was eyeing these higher positions, she recalled, he told her she was being “too aggressive” and to “aim lower.”
“Telling candidates of color, in particular, that you have to move to Seattle has been fraught, because we don’t have as many Black people in Seattle as we should.”
Despite having five letters of recommendation written by internal references, Tammareddi said her application for the senior support manager position wasn’t taken seriously, and she was given a “courtesy” 15-minute interview with a recruiter. She felt that she was overqualified for the role.
“If you are an ambitious, driven and determined woman and a person of color at Redfin,” she said, “my experience was that management equates that to being aggressive, even if you are overqualified for the position.”
Tammareddi ultimately left, she said, because she felt certain managers were trying to get her fired and that she had a “target on [her] back for being an outspoken woman of color.” Those managers weren’t her direct supervisors but had been monitoring her use of time, she alleged.
Another former agent who worked at Redfin’s headquarters, who asked to remain anonymous, said after a decade with the firm, he applied for a market manager position. The agent, who is white, said he was granted a 15-minute Zoom interview, but it was clear to him that the company had hand-picked someone for the role before they began the official interviewing process.
He said he noticed a shift in the company’s culture after its initial public offering in 2017 and found there was less of an emphasis placed on helping agents grow. “It was very progressive and forward thinking,” he said. “Post-IPO, it was just essentially profit and shareholder driven.”
Kelman, who acknowledged that he didn’t speak to the former employees who spoke to TRD, said people at Redfin and other companies tend to “hire who they know” and draw from their social networks, which “doesn’t reinforce diversity.”
He said the company now keeps positions open for three months exclusively for candidates of color. A big challenge in diversifying Redfin, Kelman said, is bridging the gap between the agent side of the business and the higher-paying corporate roles at the company’s Seattle headquarters.
“We have to be really good at developing business skills that you don’t develop as an agent,” he said, “whether it’s writing software, whether it’s learning an income statement, whether it’s understanding statistical significance and analytics.”
But that comes at a cost for some employees.
“Telling candidates of color, in particular, that you have to move to Seattle has been fraught, because we don’t have as many Black people in Seattle as we should,” Kelman noted. “So we’re hopeful that there will be more cross-pollination, that there will be more opportunity, that there will be more mobility.”
Cynthia Wu, a former recruiter at Redfin who now works for Google, said she’s hopeful that the brokerage will deliver on its diversity goals.
She noted, however, that when she was starting out at Redfin a higher up pulled her aside and told her she was being “too aggressive” in a meeting. While she said that experience somewhat “dampened” how she approached her job, Wu described her experience at the company as a positive one.
“The only people who got ‘managed out’/let go/fired in my org were people of color. All had received consistent feedback about their personalities, attitudes, and communication style not meshing.”
She added that managers were intricately involved in the hiring process, which is typically ideal from a recruiter perspective but sometimes led to “overlooking candidates who have a non-traditional background.”
Jay Bergeron, who worked as a product designer at Redfin’s Seattle headquarters for nearly two years, noted in a LinkedIn post that he had a mostly positive experience at the company. He also provided several recommendations for the firm to meet its diversity goals.
“Hold managers and executives accountable for the hiring, promotion, and retention for women and people of color in the company,” Bergeron wrote.
“During my time the only people who got ‘managed out’/let go/fired in my org were people of color. All had received consistent feedback about their personalities, attitudes, and communication style not meshing,” he added. “This is coded language.”
In response on LinkedIn, a Redfin executive said all managers are receiving inclusivity training this year, and the company is basing a significant portion of next year’s executive bonuses on increasing the company’s diversity.
But Tammareddi criticized the bonuses for senior managers.
“So, as a brown woman, I have a price tag on my head at Redfin, and execs make money off my employment,” she said.
Kelman said he was “puzzled” by Tammareddi’s criticism. And while he thinks the executive bonuses will be effective, he added, the company’s ready to “try something else” if not.
“We have to drive revenue growth, we have to drive profit,” Kelman said. “It’s the only way to sustain the business, but we also are not going to build a sustainable business or one that we’re proud of if we only recruit white real estate agents or white software engineers.”
Updated with clarification: After this story was published, Redfin provided additional information on management in its Boston office. The company also clarified the relationship between the office’s market manager and support manager.
Write to Kathryn Brenzel at [email protected].