During Nareit's 2022 DEI Recognition Awards Informational Webinar, Dr. Alade McKen, assistant dean of recruitment, diversity, and inclusion, Columbia University, Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation, and Dr. James Pogue, President & CEO, JP Enterprises, LLC, shared valuable insight to potential applicants on what it means to be a DEI leader in both the workplace and community. Dr. McKen and Dr. Pogue are returning this year to serve as judges for the awards.
Nareit’s Nathaalie Carey, SVP of industry affairs, kicked off the session by reminding attendees that all applicants’ work in DEI is tremendously important regardless of the outcome of their application. “We are out here to encourage you to participate, to make sure that not only are you submitting the work you are doing, but more importantly that you continue doing this important work whether you win this award or not,” said Carey. She also stressed that the real estate community is an overall better place with all applicants’ contributions to DEI.
The awards submission process opened on May 25th, and the application deadline will be Monday, July 11th at 5:00 pm E.T. Companies and individuals are invited to apply for the awards and are encouraged to emphasize the level of impact of their efforts regardless of how far along they are in the process. Nareit corporate member REITs are eligible to apply for the DEI Corporate Recognition Awards, and all Nareit members are eligible to apply for the DEI Individual Recognition Award.
Allison Shaw, Senior Manager, ESG Issues, moderated the event and focused her questioning on what makes an application competitive and what is included in a strong DEI program. Award-related questions can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read on to find advice from Dr. McKen and Dr. Pogue (answers have been edited for clarity).
Q: What are some factors that might make a DEI Corporate Recognition Award application stand out?
Dr. Mcken: I think some of the key factors for successful DEI programs, and applications in this case, are really defining what you mean by diversity and inclusion. There are various approaches to the trends, the cycles, and the overall business around diversity and inclusion, but it's a critical element in people strategy.
It’s important to think about the social obligation that surrounds your company—who is pioneering it, what are your definitions, and how do they align with your values, your culture, and even your subcultures in the organization? Having a concept is great, but how do you create a well-defined path to achieve those goals? I think that's essential.
The last component that I could mention is measuring it. How do you assess what doesn't get measured? What doesn’t get measured doesn't get done. That's my opinion.
Dr. Pogue: This must be a leadership-led initiative. It can't start from the middle and work its way out. It can't go from the bottom and work its way up. That’s called a 1.0 approach. In today's marketplace, and yesterday's marketplace for that matter, these things work when the leaders say we are going to do it and they choose to make it happen in a very assertive, planful, and structured way.
We must treat DEI with this same kind of critical value and importance as every other serious thing we're talking about with organizations. If we think it's a big problem, we bring the big minds to the table and demand from them the best possible solutions that are driven by strategic objectives.
Q: Do you have any advice for DEI Individual Recognition Award applicants? How can an individual measure and communicate their impact?
Dr. McKen: Often at times, individuals that I've worked with on these efforts associate themselves with what they've done or what they're doing, but doing is only one part of the process. The application process is about really seeing who they are as a person. It’s about seeing who they are and understanding their purpose, story, narrative, and investment. Their identity shines brightly, which is then coupled with what they’re doing and the work that they are putting forth. We can see how they got to the point that they're at and where they are continuously going. One component that was represented in the applications last year that I thought was very effective was that I felt I was reading a story. I was reading the successes and errors. I felt like I was there. I understood why they applied and what their dreams and ambitions were. It was very clear.
Dr. Pogue: There were times in the applications and maybe even today where you, as the individual, may be outpacing the organization. I have this saying; everybody wants to be Rosa Parks until it's time to do Rosa Parks things. Everybody wants to be Gandhi until it's time to do Gandhi things. Organizations must see the person out there pushing against the ocean, otherwise, how do we know that they need help? So, I think that even if you happen to be outpacing the organization, great, that's important. Sometimes that person doesn't have to be the senior leader, but they impacted the senior leader. Their story impacted the senior leader, and their outcomes--not just their output--impacted senior leaders.”
Q: How can you incorporate DEI into the core strategic values of an organization?
Dr. McKen: I think it's very important to critically examine the mission and the vision of any organization. Are the mission and vision aligned with all the programming, entities, spaces, and places within your organization? If it's not, it's not necessarily about finding ways to answer the question, it's about finding better questions to ask. I think then you'll find some deeper-rooted ways to approach it. Then as you look at the mission and vision and see how they are aligned; you can advise each other collectively to develop an action plan with the intention to complete certain goals that you want to accomplish as a team.
Dr. Pogue: I really believe that leaders have the bully pulpit, and they must behave like it. In the absence of that, DEI just becomes the other thing that an organization does. When leaders choose to make it critical, it becomes a part of their talking points. It's woven into how they operate and behave. On the way to that, it will be clunky and bumpy. It won't be perfect, but you'll be on the way. When leaders get engaged, and they choose to communicate, market, and drive this, it goes from just moving the needle to kicking down doors.