November 23, 2021

Global diversity month: Q&A with Sunita Mahant, Head of Global Initiatives, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

As a global leader in the real estate ecosystem, our investments are shaping the urban fabric in dynamic cities around the world.  With people spending on average 90% of their time in buildings, we have a unique opportunity—and responsibility—to ensure that our investments in properties address today’s needs, all the while future-proofing them for tomorrow’s realities. We think about how people will use these spaces and how these spaces can better foster connections and collaboration to drive a sense of belonging and community. 

On the tail end of Global Diversity and Inclusion Month this past October, we sat down with Sunita Mahant, Head of Global Initiatives, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Ivanhoé Cambridge, to hear her thoughts on why we are at this junction now. 

IVANHOÉ CAMBRIDGE: Why was the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion role created?

Sunita Mahant: Ivanhoé Cambridge recognized the need and the importance of playing an influential and leadership role in the evolution of our industry and the global community. The creation of a sustainable strategy for diversity, equity and inclusion is a priority for Ivanhoé Cambridge.  The role of Head of Global Initiatives, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion was created in an effort to assert our commitment to fostering diversity, equity and inclusion as an employer and investor. Through this position, bolstered by our leadership and our entire talent community, and supported by our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Team, we hope to continuously expand our understanding of the changing needs of our employees and the people who use the spaces in our properties worldwide. 

IVANHOÉ CAMBRIDGE: Why is Diversity, Equity and Inclusion personally important for you?

Sunita Mahant: When you can be yourself and know that you have a voice at the table and know that opportunities are open to you—this is when you are at your best. And it’s how  Ivanhoé Cambridge  will get the best of its people. When you have a sense of belonging, people tend to be most  engaged. This is why Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is so important for me. I want to be a catalyst for change to help my organization leverage the hidden gems within our teams, and attract talent and investment opportunities for further innovative growth and success. I also want to give back to the generations to come and contribute to create safe spaces where people can be their unique selves to thrive today and tomorrow.

IVANHOÉ CAMBRIDGE: Why do you think diversity, equity and inclusion can drive better performance?

Sunita Mahant: We know that investing in diversity is a good business and ethical decision. We are in a global economy where everything is evolving faster, and companies must be able to access  maximum knowledge, experience and perspectives. 

We also know that there is strong competition in the talent market today.  Companies that make diversity and inclusion a priority are more likely to succeed at recruiting and retaining talent. The latest generations to enter the workforce are the most diverse in history, and research clearly shows that they’re partial to companies that value diversity and inclusion. 

It has also been shown that employee engagement and willingness to stay at a company are linked to a sense of inclusion. Simply put, strengthening Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs and policies allows all employees to show up every day without being afraid to be themselves. Studies indicate that a strong sense of belonging is linked to better job performance and a reduced risk of turnover. 

Research also shows that teams with different points of view and styles of thought will prevent groupthink, capture blind spots and allow for more informed decisions—which will drive innovation.

We are building the communities of the future, and it is important to have diverse identities and perspectives within our teams. We need diverse people with a strong customer orientation so we can better address the ever-changing needs of the communities where we invest.

What’s important to remember is that while efforts to increase diversity will be important, inclusion will be critical to have the right impact—which also includes creating equitable opportunities through actions and objective policies and practices. These three elements together are what will ultimately drive performance. 

Ivanhoé Cambdrige: Ivanhoé Cambridge recently developed and implemented its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategy. Could you tell us more about the journey from inception to execution? 

Sunita Mahant: The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategy was created with a “people first” mindset. The company created a dedicated role to lead to the creation of this strategy, which included rallying a multidisciplinary and multi-jurisdictional team with people at all levels of the organization, including executive sponsorship, leaders and experts. 

The next step was to decide on a framework that would address Ivanhoé Cambridge as an employer and an investor. On the employer side, we needed to look at the company internally, including its diversity representation and culture. On the external side, we needed to review Ivanhoé Cambridge’s commercial and social impact as an investor. 

We carried out a rigorous diagnostic through a benchmarking exercise, meeting with and listening to our employees via one-on-one conversations and focus groups, reviewing our policies and practices, and finally conducting a company-wide survey through a health and wellness and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion lens. 

The results of our diagnostic allowed us to identify both the areas of opportunities and the gaps that would form parts of our strategy. The guiding principles that drove this strategy were to be intentional, to prioritize, to be accountable and to make Diversity, Equity and Inclusion a business imperative. From the employer standpoint, our vision is to create an inclusive future, fostering a sense of belonging for our teams at Ivanhoé Cambridge, today and tomorrow. From the investor standpoint, we want to be intentional about leveraging Ivanhoé Cambridge’s influence with its peers and partners to create a sense of inclusion and belonging within the communities in which we invest. Based on this perspective, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion team and executive leaders created the following vision with inclusion at the heart of it: “We choose to invest for an inclusive future, where we all belong.”  

While we are still in the early stages of our strategy, these steps helped us hone in on the importance of being intentional. To foster inclusion, Ivanhoé Cambridge must be intentional with its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategy, and its employees must be intentional with their daily actions. It also highlighted the need for accountability to drive the success of the strategy.

IVANHOÉ CAMBRIDGE: What are the key drivers of the strategy?

Sunita Mahant: We believe that diversity, equity and inclusion are the keys to making companies more innovative, more productive and more conducive to attracting and retaining the best talent. We built our strategy around five goals, including two strategic goals and three enabling goals. 

Our two strategic goals include cultivate and influence:

  • Cultivate: On the employer side, this means fostering a more inclusive organizational culture by amplifying the voices of diverse perspectives and identities at the table; raising awareness; and sensitizing our teams about how to interrupt bias through curiosity, empathy, courage and openness. This will create a sense of belonging and satisfaction, drive engagement, allow for better decision-making and greater access to talent.
  • Influence: As an investor, Ivanhoé Cambridge is in a unique position to influence the real estate and financial sector through its investments, strategies, partners, managers and suppliers. This is about leveraging Ivanhoé Cambridge’s influence to drive change   and position Ivanhoé Cambridge as a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion leader, building a more inclusive future with accessible and innovative spaces where everyone belongs.  

Our three enabling goals include measure, align and enlighten:

  • Measure: To measure progress, success and make informed decisions, data is key. As we know, what gets measured gets done. A key part of our strategy is to put in place diversity and inclusion objectives to be met over the next three years; 
  • Align: To systemize Diversity, Equity and Inclusion within the fabric of our organization, we are fostering inclusive action and decision-making daily by ensuring that objective policies and procedures are applied coherently throughout Ivanhoé Cambridge; and
  • Enlighten: Educate, educate, educate. This pillar involves culture change and means constantly communicating and educating so that we can mobilize our employees and leaders to embrace Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and make it part of our DNA.

IVANHOÉ CAMBRIDGE: How has the strategy been received so far?

Sunita Mahant: There is a strong momentum at Ivanhoé Cambridge. We’re at the beginning of our journey but we can proudly say that it’s resonating with our employees – you can already feel the shift in our culture. We have strong commitment from our senior and executive leadership: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is a priority and Ivanhoé Cambridge wants to move the dial. Our engagement and leadership will, I’m sure, contribute to the evolution of our industry and beyond. We will walk the talk together. 

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