Presented By: Partner Insights
Industry Spotlight: Q&A With Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield’s Christi Karandikar
Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield is the premier global developer and operator of flagship destinations. With the support of our 3,100 professionals and an unparalleled track-record and know-how, URW is ideally positioned to generate superior value and develop world-class projects. Commercial Observer’s Partner Insights team sat down with Chrisi Karandikar, EVP, Human Resources at URW to discuss diversity and inclusion in the commercial real estate industry.
Commercial Observer Partner Insights: How is Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield working to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion internally?
Christi Karandikar: At Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW), we are committed to breaking down barriers and building bridges between people of every race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, background, and belief – both at our company and across the local communities we serve. We believe that in order to truly live up to our company’s purpose to Reinvent Being Together, our diversity and inclusion principles must be deeply embedded into our organizational culture and at the heart of our business operations.
We have laid out a series of clear objectives focused on Diversity & Inclusion, Community & Philanthropic Giving, and Business Operations & Procurement, and created task forces to tackle each of these issues. We have established quantifiable targets by which we increase the number of women and underrepresented minority groups at our company and are rolling out meaningful diversity education and unconscious bias training to help expand employee perspectives. In addition, we launched a leadership development and mentoring program to promote career progression and mobility for minorities, in addition to embedding quantifiable diversity components into every employee’s annual performance objectives. As part of a new Business Resource Group program at URW, our first BRG called Big Picture formed in 2020, with a focus on creating an equitable, culturally sensitive, and anti-racism workplace where differences are celebrated and where employees of all races, ethnicities and backgrounds have a deep sense of belonging. In recent months, we also expanded and accelerated our community outreach programs, establishing partnerships with approximately 40 nonprofits focused on economic empowerment in the African American and other minority communities.
How important is it to have a diverse recruitment pool? What are some ways you can increase the diversity of that pool?
Karandikar: The retail real estate industry tends to hire candidates from similar backgrounds, universities, professional paths, and life experiences. The resulting homogeneity of our workforces has been counterproductive in so many ways, especially considering the rich ethnic, cultural, and socio-economic diversity of the communities our shopping centers serve.
At URW, we are seeking to create lasting, impactful change in a number of ways, including setting aggressive hiring targets for underrepresented minorities and women at senior levels of leadership, expanding recruitment efforts to focus on candidates from Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs), and establishing close working partnerships with professional organizations dedicated to economic empowerment within minority communities.
One of our most exciting new partnerships is with Project Destined, a national nonprofit focused on teaching real estate development and finance skills to youth in predominantly African American and Latino neighborhoods. As part of this effort, URW provides hands-on mentorship and project-based real estate training to high school, college and military veteran students. We are now expanding this partnership for 2021 and beyond, offering these students the opportunity to work alongside URW’s design and development teams to conceptualize and execute strategy for key upcoming projects in our pipeline. Qualified program participants will also be offered future internship positions, spots in our International Graduate Program, as well as eventual access to full-time career opportunities at URW.
What priorities can the commercial real estate industry focus on now to ensure a more diverse and equitable industry?
Karandikar: A 2020 Great Place to Work® study revealed the benefits of a diverse and inclusive workplace, including higher revenue growth, a greater readiness to innovate, higher employee retention rates, and an increased ability to recruit a diverse talent pool. The correlation between diversity and business success should spur those of us in the retail real estate industry to prioritize equity and inclusiveness. While expanding employment pathways for underrepresented minorities is essential, other top priorities should involve enhancing the opportunities we provide our retail partners, vendors, and suppliers – in particular, supporting minority-owned entrepreneurs and companies as they look to open stores and expand their businesses.
At URW, we have a goal this year to create new economic opportunities for minority and women-owned retailers and restaurants through partnerships with local economic development organizations, while also assessing the potential opportunity for a national program to attract and incubate these businesses. In addition to expanding our URW for Jobs program to help train and connect young people in our local communities with retail job opportunities in our shopping centers, our Minority-Owned Business Task Force is developing a program focused on championing and substantively engaging with minority-and women-owned businesses. We are also expanding our company’s Supplier Diversity Program for projects at our corporate offices, shopping centers, and development sites, which will open up new opportunities to shift ownership and reserve capital for minority-owned businesses.