11/11/2021 | by Jane Dollinger
Nareit's Nathaalie Carey
Nathaalie Carey, Nareit's Senior Vice President, Industry Affairs & Social Responsibility

During a spotlight session at Nareit’s 2021 REITworld, titled “Progress and Opportunities – REITs Making Strides in DEI,” representatives for the winning companies of Nareit’s 2021 Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Awards shared their advice for getting a DEI program started, their biggest obstacles, and their DEI strategic plans.

The session was moderated by Dr. Shai Butler, vice president of advancement and external affairs at Springfield Technical Community College, who was one of the four judges for this year’s DEI awards.

Butler began the session speaking with Mark Parrell, president and CEO, and Catherine Carraway, EVP and CHRO, from this year’s DEI Corporate Gold Award winning company Equity Residential (NYSE: EQR).

When asked about how Equity Residential began its DEI journey, Carraway said that the first step was digging into the company’s employment data.

“When we looked at the data, it was clear that our representation did not reflect the markets we were in,” she said.

With that information available, Equity Residential developed a diversity committee to help locate its diversity gaps and propose solutions for how to fill them. Carraway also expressed the importance of having C-suite support for any DEI initiatives, a sentiment shared by the other award winners.

As CEO, Parrell discussed the importance of having the board (of directors) behind you. He said, “They hold us accountable, they push us, they grant the resources, they’re very interested in this, and very talented and know a lot about what’s going on in other sectors and can share best practices.”

“Intentionality, focus, education– this is a whole new topic, and I thought I knew something about it– I knew almost nothing,” Parrell said. “You have to read books, articles, you have to get yourself up the curve so you can understand what your professionals are telling you– just like you do in every other area in which you work– sustainability, finance function or operational areas. Do the homework yourself, consistently focus on it and have consistent intentionality with it.”

Tim Sanders, senior investment officer and co-executive lead for DEI initiatives, from DEI Corporate Silver Award winning company Ventas (NYSE: VTR), said Ventas began its DEI journey, “Because it was the right thing to do--not only socially but also financially. Diverse companies outperform their less diverse peers.”

Bruce Owen, vice president of employee and community impact for Equinix, Inc. (NASDAQ: EQX), the DEI Corporate Bronze Award winner, discussed the value of looking at DEI initiatives holistically and not as one-offs or a series of small events.

“We went about this the way we would any other business imperative,” Owen said. “We created a multi-year strategy to implement measurable and sustainable change.”

Carolyn Carter Singh, executive vice president and chief talent officer of Brixmor Property Group (NYSE: BRX), was recognized with this year’s Individual DEI award. For the spotlight session at REITworld, she was joined for a discussion by James M. Taylor, Brixmor president and CEO.

“When starting a DEI journey, you are going to have tough conversations and attempt things that may not land well. Everything doesn’t work for everyone, so it is important to try things, learn from them, and try again,” Carter Singh said. And when mistakes are made, Carter Singh stressed, “We must show grace and learn from each other along the way.”

Taylor emphasized the importance of making DEI a critical part of Brixmor’s overall company culture and attracting and keeping talented employees. “We believe great real estate matters, but great people matter more.”

To learn more about Nareit’s DEI Recognition Awards and its Dividends Through Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Initiative, visit: nareit/dividends-through-diversity-equity-inclusion-initiative.