Eight REIT Executives Discuss The Importance of Diversity

REIT magazine spoke with eight member companies that were included in the 2020 Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index.

REIT magazine: July/August 2020

Earlier this year, Bloomberg released its 2020 Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index (GEI), comprised of 325 companies across 42 countries and regions. Eight Nareit members are included in the list, representing the health care, mortgage, office, retail, and timber REIT sectors.

Launched in 2018, the GEI tracks the financial performance of public companies committed to supporting gender equality through policy development, representation, and transparency. GEI measures gender equality across five pillars: female leadership and talent pipeline; equal pay and gender pay parity; inclusive culture; sexual harassment policies; and pro-women brand. The firms included in this year’s index scored at or above a global threshold established by Bloomberg to reflect a high level of disclosure and overall performance across the framework’s five pillars.

Q: What steps has your company taken to improve gender equality?

Lisa Alonso: The Healthpeak Properties’ board of directors amended its nominating and corporate governance committee charter to underscore its commitment to identifying diverse director candidates, increasing its gender diversity to 50%, and racial and ethnic diversity to 25%. The board also amended its compensation and human capital committee to reflect its direct oversight of human capital management, including receiving regular updates on diversity, succession planning, talent development, and recruiting.

Our senior leadership team has thoughtfully focused on attracting top talent by partnering with diverse recruiting firms and striving to consider at least one diverse candidate to the greatest extent possible for open positions. We further develop high potential diverse team members through sponsorship and leadership opportunities and provide targeted training for rising female leaders.

Kelly Meissner: We know that Ventas is a stronger and more effective organization when we intentionally develop and recruit a diverse workforce and invest in an inclusive workplace where gender equality is championed. With a female CEO for the past two decades, a board of directors that is one-third female and has maintained at least two female board members since 2001, and specific goals to ensure we maintain our gender-balanced employee population, Ventas has seen the positive impact of diverse perspectives and experiences on our long-term success.

Industry change does not come quickly or easily, but the more that data is shared and the more we make training and thoughtful conversations on these topics commonplace, the faster the industry will evolve.

Pam Byrne: Welltower became the first North American REIT to sign the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles. We continue to enhance diversity in our workforce. Women made up 49% of Welltower’s total workforce in 2019 and over 50% of new hires in 2019 were women. The leadership team is 50% women and people of color. Meanwhile, 75% of Welltower’s independent directors are women and minorities, and 50% are women. This puts Welltower among the top of all S&P 500 companies for board diversity.

Jennings Kelly: While Omega Healthcare Investors has always focused on gender equality at every level of the organization, in the past two years we’ve been able to increase our gender diversity at both our board and executive management level. We have accomplished this by ensuring our pool of candidates continues to be inclusive. We have also improved our corporate parental leave policy, extending the period of paid parental leave to eight weeks.

Craig Knutson: Gender equality is a key part of MFA’s commitment to create and foster a culture that is diverse and inclusive so that we can continue to attract the best possible talent. In 2016, the company started W@M (Women at MFA), which since inception has hosted or sponsored nearly 25 events focused on helping women advance in the workplace and network among their peers.

In 2019, MFA partnered with Empowership and launched an additional initiative to support and develop its high potential women. In 2018 and 2019, MFA was recognized as a “Winning Company” by 2020 Women on Boards, and with the January 1, 2020 addition of Lisa Polsky to the board of directors, MFA’s board is comprised of eight directors, seven of whom are independent, and three of whom are women.

Denise Merle: I’ve been with Weyerhaeuser for more than 38 years now, and I’ve seen and felt tremendous progress in this area. One of our most important accountability measures is that we conduct pay equity reviews, and more than 300 of our top company leaders have completed unconscious bias training, which is a part of our regular development curriculum.

Our new Inclusion Council is 50% female, and we always ensure appropriate gender representation in our people development programs. It’s critical that we promote and reinforce diverse perspectives at every level of our company, and that we remove any barriers that might limit our employees from fully contributing to our business and culture.

Lori Parsons: SITE Centers has made concerted efforts to recruit female board members to ensure a well-rounded perspective among the board. We conduct careful and consistent analysis of hiring and pay practices to promote equality within the company. We also have a long-standing employee resource group known internally as Women of Influence, which focuses on development of female leaders and provides female employees with networking opportunities and educational forums.

Heidi Roth: Last year Kilroy Realty provided unconscious bias training to our entire workforce and we include it now as part of our new hire onboarding training. We have also implemented a parental leave coaching program and expanded our parental leave benefits over the past couple of years and encourage both expectant mothers and fathers to take advantage of both. When both parents are engaged at home and support each other we have seen firsthand how that impacts the likelihood that a working mother returns to her role and can successfully manage her career and motherhood.

Q: Where do you feel the biggest gains need to be made to improve gender equality in the real estate industry?

Kelly: Within the real estate industry, there is still much to be done. The areas of particular focus are probably within the operational and development side of real estate as well as in the senior executive functions.

Knutson: In addition to fostering a culture and work environment that promote equality, MFA also believes that providing awareness training and support can improve gender equality in the workplace.

Parsons: Traction happens when organizational leaders recognize the importance of gender equality to the business strategy. As a retail real estate company, we find it critically important that our board, our leadership team, and our organization fully understands and values the varying perspectives and needs of our tenants’ customer base. We have been fortunate to have leaders who recognize the importance of gender equality to the business strategy.

Roth: Diversity at the top and in the boardroom will go a long way for women to have role models to stay engaged, and for companies to be more open-minded to flexible work arrangements for their entire workforce.

Q: What does it mean for your company to be included in the Bloomberg Index?

Alonso: This honor reflects our work over the last three years to enhance Healthpeak’s human capital strategy through increased diversity, with a workforce that is 49% female and 42% racially or ethnically diverse. Our philosophy is simple: the team with the best, most engaged talent will be the most successful, and diversity of experience, gender and background help foster an environment supportive of robust and collaborative teamwork.

Meissner: As a long-standing leader in gender diversity efforts, it is an honor for Ventas to be recognized by GEI. We are especially proud to earn our strongest scores for overall disclosures (100%) and for data excellence around equal pay, gender pay parity, and sexual harassment policies as we believe transparency in disclosing company statistics and practices is an important step in supporting gender equality and driving meaningful change. This external validation also provides opportunities to broaden the discussion about the importance of gender equality with all our stakeholders.

Byrne: Diversity is at the center of our competitive business advantage and paves the way to achieving our goals of setting a standard of excellence in the health care space. Our unwavering commitment to attracting, retaining, and developing the very best talent in the marketplace addresses our stakeholders’ requirements of high performing employees and teams with diverse perspectives that provide innovative solutions.

Merle: It means a great deal to us. Inclusion is a core value at Weyerhaeuser, and we’re focused on building a culture and work environment where everybody has equal opportunities to contribute and grow in their careers. Last year we launched an employee-driven Inclusion Council, representing a diverse group of 20 employees from around the company, to provide insights and recommendations to our senior management team on ways we can improve the inclusive culture at Weyerhaeuser. We also kicked off a monthly inclusion blog in 2020 to foster open conversation around these topics, and I’m excited about the positive energy and engagement we’ve felt across the company.

Q: How can the momentum regarding gender diversity be carried over to racial equality?

Kelly: From a holistic standpoint, the momentum of one helps build the foundation for another. Each movement drives us to a deeper analysis of diversity. By examining a company’s policies and practices and by asking those critical questions of ourselves, we can broaden our progression forward and continue supporting an equality that encompasses all.

Parsons: SITE Centers has continually worked to ensure equality among all protected groups. In many ways it’s incorporated into our organization’s values. The efforts to ensure gender equality can easily translate to racial equality. What I find is important, regardless of the issue is to listen, and learn. Identifying solutions can only happen when we truly understand the concerns.

Knutson: MFA prides itself on the rich diversity of its people and we are confident that we can carry over the momentum regarding gender diversity to promote racial equality. Through training and workshops we strive to sensitize people to their potential unconscious biases, and our hiring, promotion, and training practices are in line with a no-tolerance discrimination policy.