What’s new in DEI?

NJBIZ STAFF//June 13, 2022

What’s new in DEI?

NJBIZ STAFF//June 13, 2022

New Jersey companies from a variety of industries have recognized the need to promote diversity, equity and inclusion. And in recent weeks, those efforts have been evident in different ways.

For example, in May Veris Residential Inc. released its 2021 ESG Report detailing its progress toward becoming a more responsible, sustainable and inclusive owner, operator and developer. Along with the report, the Jersey City-based firm also announced the appointment of Karen Cusmano as senior vice president and head of sustainability and ESG.

In the role — which is new to the company — Cusmano will oversee a dedicated ESG team with a focus on expanding Embrace by Veris Residential. According to the company, the program establishes its approach to Environmental, Social and Governance initiatives in an effort to advance its ESG actions and reporting. That will hold Veris accountable and guide the company as it works to execute goals to reduce its carbon footprint, increase employee diversity and inclusion, and support the well-being of residents.

Karen Cusmano, Veris senior vice president and head of sustainability and ESG
Veris Residential Inc. named Karen Cusmano as senior vice president and head of sustainability and ESG. – VERIS

Cusmano has been with the company for 21 years, previously holding leadership roles in asset management, operations and accounting. According to LinkedIn, she most recently served as senior vice president of asset management.

“Our 2021 ESG report reflects the work our team has undertaken to advance our mission to become a purpose-driven business to the benefit of all of our stakeholders, while protecting and improving our value creation,” Cusamano said in a statement. “We remain unwavering in our commitment to build upon our ESG accomplishments to date.”

The 89-page report highlights some of those accomplishments, along with laying out a framework for ESG governance at the company. In it, Veris calls attention to achievements and issues across three main subsets: the environment; ethics, compliance and governance; and people, culture and community.

On the latter set of issues, the company is advancing DEI efforts by attracting, retaining and engaging employees; prioritizing resident health, safety and wellness; and integrating itself in the communities it operates in through philanthropic partnerships.

According to the report, all of Veris’ wholly owned multifamily properties received WELL Health and Safety certifications from the International Well Building Institute.

Looking within, Veris said at the end of last year 40% of its workforce was comprised of women and 50% was diverse. (And in case you’re keeping track, 87% of that workforce is based in the Garden State). Meanwhile, DEI training was implemented at the employee and board level.

In the report, Veris identifies its main stakeholder groups — stockholders, employees, tenants and residents, suppliers, industry associations, communities, NGOs, advocacy and activist groups, governmental organizations and regulatory bodies, media and competitors — along with engagement methods, topics and frequency.

The company highlighted joining the National Minority Supplier Development Council to support businesses that are at least 51% minority owned and called attention to its Supplier Code of Conduct, published in 2020 and incorporated directly into all of Veris’ major contracts since then.

“We have worked hard over the past 18 months to redefine our properties to prioritize residents’ sustainability values, foster an even more equitable and diverse workplace, and mitigate our carbon footprint,” Veris CEO Mahbod Nia said in a statement.

Amazon and Project REAP

Project REAP (Real Estate Associate Program) is on a mission to diversify the commercial real estate industry and advance equity and inclusion. And to continue that work, the national organization has brought on a big-name sponsor.

On May 12, Project REAP said it welcomed Amazon as an Executive Diamond sponsor, the highest level of support it offers. The company joins current ED sponsors JLL and the Urban Land Institute.

According to Executive Director Manikka Bowman, the pairing with Amazon is one based on shared values and objectives. “The investment aligns Project REAP’s history of positioning dynamic men and women of color – Black, Latinx, Indigenous and Asian professionals – to enter the field of commercial real estate at every level of the talent pipeline,” she said in a statement. “I’m elated Amazon will build on Project REAP’s 24-year success to enhance its DEI goals.”

Part of the way Project REAP works to achieve its goals is through education. The organization runs an eight-week, online course in partnership with the Urban Land Institute featuring on-demand modules, live webinars and panel discussions.

The course is online now and serves more than 200 fellows annually, but before the onset of the pandemic, it operated in-person in select cities nationwide. In addition to the sponsorship, Project REAP said that Amazon will help to enhance the organization’s presence in Seattle and Nashville — cities where the e-commerce giant has an established presence. And it will serve as a presenting speaker for one of the Academy’s sessions.

“Amazon understands the need to hire, promote, and foster talent from diverse backgrounds as part of the company’s mission to be Earth’s best employer,” said London Kemp Boykin, director of global portfolio strategy & transactions at Amazon. “We look forward to working with Project REAP as we continue to invest in this initiative across our commercial real estate teams, helping to cultivate the future leaders of our industry and this organization.”

Boykin is also a Project REAP graduate and a board member for the organization. According to Project REAP, nine Amazon employees are currently enrolled in the 2022 REAP/ULI Academy. Two others have also completed the course, Asset Manager Nat Centeno, also a former Project REAP board member; and Associate Corporate Counsel Marissa John.

Project REAP Chair G. Lamont Blackstone expressed gratitude to Amazon Vice President of Worldwide Ops Real Estate Daniel Mallory for “his visionary leadership for investing in and supporting this promising partnership to advance diversity, equity and inclusion — and at a national level. It’s important that future talent pools of BIPOC professionals become familiar with the industry leaders shaping the future of commercial real estate,” he said in a statement.

M&M’s and Lil Nas X

Mars Wrigley brand M&M’S and music artist Lil Nas X are teaming up to connect fans globally.

The collaboration, announced May 31, aligns with Hackettstown-based Mars Wrigley’s January news that it is branding M&Ms with an evolved purpose: a global commitment to creating a world where everyone feels they belong and society is inclusive. The goal is to increase the sense of belonging for 10 million people by 2025 by celebrating diversity.

Lil Nas X
Mars Wrigley brand M&M’S and music artist Lil Nas X are teaming up to connect fans globally. – MARS INC.

“In the world Mars wants tomorrow, society is inclusive. And through the M&M’S brand we’re committed to inspiring moments of connection and fun by encouraging a deeper sense of belonging,” said Allison Miazga-Bedrick, Mars Wrigley senior brand director. “Music is one of the most powerful tools to bring people together. Like our iconic M&M’S brand, music sparks nostalgia, memories, and fun and we are thrilled to be able to partner with one of the most trailblazing artists in the world, Lil Nas X, to help us further cement M&M’S role within entertainment.”

Lil Nas X was a breakout star in late 2018 with Old Town Road, a song he released as country music before Billboard took it off the charts, saying at the time, “Upon further review, it was determined that ‘Old Town Road’ by Lil Nas X does not currently merit inclusion on Billboard‘s country charts. When determining genres, a few factors are examined, but first and foremost is a musical composition. While ‘Old Town Road’ incorporates references to country and cowboy imagery, it does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music to chart in its current version.”

After backlash from fans who felt Billboard’s decision was racially motivated — and after country music star Billy Ray Cyrus backed Lil Nas X and collaborated with him on a new version of Old Town Road — the artist’s song grew in popularity. It went on to be nominated for, and win, several awards over multiple genres including rap, hip-hop, country and pop rock.

Mars Wrigley noted that Lil Nas X’s “unapologetically authentic tracks have inspired fans around the globe to be accepting of a more diverse world.”

“Together, Lil Nas X and M&M’S will leverage the power of music to lay the groundwork for a new platform that brings people together to celebrate music, build connections, and enjoy more moments of fun through a series of initiatives set to kick off later this year,” the company said.

Lil Nas X called M&M’S “iconic” and said he’s “excited to work with them on some really cool projects this year that are as colorful as they are.”

The state of diversity

Attitudes on diversity in the workplace vary depending on the race, gender and political affiliation of who’s being asked, according to results of a survey released in March by Taft Communications and the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University–New Brunswick.

The State of Diversity public opinion survey found that most respondents viewed racial and gender diversity as important in the workplace, with 53% saying each is very important; 30% saying each is somewhat important; and about 1 in 10 and 1 in 20, respectively, saying these types of diversity are not very important or not at all important.

The poll found demographic-based divisions, with Democrats (63%) more likely than independents (54%) and Republicans (36%), and women (58%) more likely than men (48%), to say racial and ethnic diversity is “very important” in the workplace. Three-quarters of Black respondents say it is “very important” (75%), compared with 48% of white respondents and 55% of Hispanic respondents.

The poll found similar results regarding gender diversity, with Democrats (66%) more likely than independents (48%) and Republicans (33%), and women (58%) more likely than men (44%), to say gender diversity is “very important” to have in the workplace. Three-quarters of Black respondents (75%) say it is “very important,” compared to 48% of white respondents and 49% of Hispanic respondents.

The survey of 1,400 respondents was commissioned by Lawrence Township-based Taft Communications.

“After five years of observing these trends in our home state of New Jersey, we were excited to expand our State of Diversity survey nationally to see how workers across the country view these critical issues,” said Taft CEO Ted Deutsch in a statement. “While there are many encouraging macro findings related to DEI in the workplace, the divide in perceptions by race, gender, politics, and sexual orientation are a distressing confirmation of the increased polarization we see in so many aspects of American society.”

Ashley Koning, assistant research professor and director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University, added, “It is more important today than ever to measure and quantify workers’ views on diversity in the workplace and begin to assess whether real progress is being made or we are just saying the right things. In this benchmark survey, we see markedly different personal experiences and perceptions of the workplace, remote work, and the pandemic’s impact, as well as opinions on what employers should do to support workplace diversity.”

When it comes to workplace discrimination, around 7 in 10 respondents said they feel everyone they work with is treated the same when it comes to various aspects of the workplace, regardless of race, gender, or sexual preference: 75% said the same about the amount and quality of work assignments; 73% about being invited to employee social activities; 71% each about career advancement and promotion, being disciplined, and being invited to client meetings; and 69% each about being valued and listened to and salaries and raises.