DMA Development Co. is a standout for many reasons — its decades of experience, its mission-driven approach, and its creative, non-cookie-cutter methods of development, just to name a few.
But most interesting of all, perhaps, is its diversity. In a heavily male-dominated industry, DMA bucks the trend.
“It definitely happened organically,” says Diana McIver, cofounder of DMA Cos. and one of Affordable Housing Finance’s Hall of Famers. “Initially in hiring employees, I was trying to clone myself. I quickly learned that that's not how you build a business. You build a business by finding people with different skills, different personalities, and different likes and dislikes from you. It's through that diversity that I think you really become a good solid company.”
And diverse DMA definitely is. Four out of five of the firm’s executive leaders are female, and across its 17-person workforce, a whopping 76% are women.
It Starts at the Top.
McIver is also one of the few females to head her own affordable housing development firm, something she attributes to “being young and naive and willing to take a financial risk.”
She started the company in her 30s — fresh off a career on Capitol Hill, where she worked on the legislative side of housing.
“I don't know why, but I think that they're just more tendency for men to take that kind of financial risk and start a company,” McIver says. “When you look through our industry, there are very few female development companies. You see a lot of women in leadership positions in nonprofits or leadership positions in male-owned companies, but you just don't see a lot of female-owned companies on the development side.”
McIver has taken it one step further, though. Not only is her Austin, Texas-based firm one of the few with a woman at the helm, but it also has a majority female staff—a benefit McIver says makes a difference in both the developments they build and the people their properties can help.
“Women are very good at development,” she says. “They’re very in tune with how housing is used and how people like to see their environment.”
A Team That Sticks Around
JoEllen Smith is one of the many women who work alongside McIver—and has, in fact, for 25 years, starting as a receptionist and gradually working her way through the ranks to executive vice president. Janine Sisak, the company’s general counsel, has been there for 21 years, and many female employees on the property level have been around for decades, too.
As Smith puts it, “It’s really not that usual in the multifamily industry.”
What is it that has kept Smith and so many other colleagues around all these years? Mentorship has a lot to do with it, she says.
“Diana’s such a wonderful mentor to us—and to many others in the field,“ Smith says. “We’ve had someone to look up to and show us the ropes and tell us, ‘Yes, it’s risky, but it can work.’”
The unique team environment McIver has built plays a role, too. Smith says it’s “like a second family” where everyone is different and has unique skillsets, yet is still collaborative and respectful of their colleagues.
“What makes a good company is having that kind of diversity,” McIver says. “When I learned that, everything became easier.”