REITworks Panelists Stress Importance of Trust When Integrating HR, D&I, and Sustainability

A panel discussion during Nareit’s REITworks: 2020 Virtual Conference Sept. 21-22 examined ways in which the human resources, diversity and inclusion, and sustainability teams within organizations can best be integrated.

Will Teichman, VP, business operations at Kimco Realty Corp. (NYSE: KIM), moderated the panel, which also included: Samantha Benvenuto, VP-HR, at Vornado Realty Trust (NYSE: VNO); Kelly Meissner, director of sustainability at Ventas, Inc. (NYSE: VTR); and, Natalie Teear, VP-sustainability and social impact, at Hudson Pacific Properties, Inc. (NYSE: HPP).

On the question of how best to foster collaboration, Teear stressed the importance of communication and trust.

“So much of the ESG role is about tying the work that others are doing into one story and telling that externally in a really smart way. That isn’t successful if the ESG team doesn’t have the full story,” she said.

Benvenuto added that “establishing a trusted partnership is key.” She noted that in Vornado’s case, that has been achieved by Daniel Egan, SVP for energy and sustainability, effectively communicating with her on how and why data is being used, and how ultimately it can elevate the organization in many different aspects.

Meissner, meanwhile, highlighted the importance of “putting the time in and making yourself available.” She added that “it doesn’t really matter where you sit, it’s important to have that cross-functional collaboration.”

As for how companies are grappling with some of the emerging issues within ESG, Teear noted that while the real estate industry is advanced in terms of the environmental aspect of ESG, it is struggling with trying to figure out the social aspect.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is an area “where we’re still working internally to figure out what is our approach. External rules around it are not nearly as clear as they are on many E topics…we’ll continue to see a lot of evolution,” Teear said.

Teichman added that the industry, and business in general, are still coalescing around what social metrics matter most.

Benvenuto said Vornado is evolving as a company in the area of DEI: “We’re making progress.”

Meissner added that as Ventas is starting to get more structured, strategic, and rigorous around its DEI approach, she is working collaboratively with other staff members on how to govern those efforts going forward and how to measure objectives. “We’re earlier in that process and it will be interesting to see how that plays out over the next few months,” she said.

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