With 82 shopping centres located in 12 countries, Paris-headquartered commercial real estate developer and operator Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW) understands the importance of ensuring its employee base reflects the diversity of its customers and the communities in which it operates. In seeking to improve diversity and inclusion (D&I), URW addresses inequality, discrimination and bias in the workplace and improves its attractiveness as a potential employer.
Following the formation of the URW Group from the merger of Unibail-Rodamco with Westfield in 2018, the company refreshed its sustainability strategy, named “Better Places 2030”, including a renewed focus on improving D&I.
To understand the current state of D&I across the group, the company’s leadership team ran workshops with its HR directors. These sessions revealed that, while D&I was reflected in all HR policies, there were regional inconsistencies in awareness around the issues and the delivery of change.
In early 2020, URW launched its global D&I strategy, “Be You at URW”. Developed with the company’s regional HR directors, the strategy sought to build on existing good HR practices to fully embed D&I in the company culture and improve performance across the group.
Embedding D&I throughout the group
Be You at URW is premised on the idea of embracing uniqueness, enabling employees to fully be themselves and be proud of who they are. The company strives to establish an environment in which all employees feel safe and supported.
URW has taken several steps to ensure its D&I strategy becomes a living, breathing company ethos and is implemented in all facets of the company. For example, the plan was initially developed with input from multiple stakeholders, including:
- Group leadership
This helped to ensure key decision-makers from across the group bought into the strategy and understood how it would affect their respective areas of the business.
The company recognised the need to secure commitment to the plan from the top of the organisation down and, so, all Group Executive Committee members signed a Be You at URW charter in 2021, demonstrating their commitment and accountability to increasing diversity, inclusion and equality across the group.
The charter sets out the broad aims of URW’s D&I strategy, in addition to specific commitments in the four areas that make up the plan:
- Leadership and commitment: accountability from leadership and management teams with clear D&I targets included in annual performance reviews.
- Inclusion policies and performance: clear actions and measurable targets to drive forward a better balance in senior positions and tackle underrepresentation globally.
- Employee development and learning: D&I best practice for learning paths and talent development, including company-wide unconscious bias training.
- Culture and employee engagement: support for employee networks and discussion channels to encourage participation in driving D&I progress.
By way of example, the charter commits URW to achieve a 60/40 male/female gender balance in senior management roles by 2025.
URW’s D&I strategy
URW’s D&I strategy is led by the Group People Officer and driven by key Group HR functions including Learning, Inclusion, Employee Engagement and Talent Development. It encompasses the four areas included in the aforementioned charter. As outlined below, URW runs specific initiatives within each area of the strategy while also having assigned related goals.
LEADERSHIP AND COMMITMENT
This part of the strategy seeks to drive accountability from leadership and management teams with clear D&I targets included in annual performance reviews. In addition to the signing of the charter, as outlined above, initiatives in this area include:
- D&I objectives in the short- and long-term incentive plans for all Management Board and Executive Committee members. These objectives are cascaded through regular meetings with Country Management Teams to review D&I performance. Extensive and proactive consultation on the Group’s remuneration policy has been a long-standing practice, with the company’s Governance, Nomination and Remuneration Committee (GNRC) conducting in-depth reviews with key stakeholders.
- A group-level partnership with LGBTQIA+ inclusion charity Stonewall.
- Becoming a signatory to the #StOpE initiatives, designed to raise awareness of sexism in the workplace.
- Commitments in the UK with industry campaign body Real Estate Balance and Business in the Community’s Race at Work Charter to support gender and racial equality in the workplace.
- Becoming a signatory to the Dutch diversity charter in the Netherlands.
Primary KPI: the inclusion of quantifiable D&I targets in the short-term and long-term variable remuneration of the company’s Leadership team.
INCLUSION POLICIES AND PERFORMANCE
The Group stands for a fair overall outcome that rewards individual and collective performance and does not discriminate on race, gender, nationality or any other personal criteria. Be You at URW seeks to establish clear actions and measurable targets to drive forward a better balance in senior positions and tackle underrepresentation globally. URW has enacted such policies to improve inclusion as:
- Gender-balanced succession planning in all countries, including discussion on high potentials to improve the gender balance in top management positions.
- Enhanced group policy on flexible working, including up to two days home-working each week and family-friendly policies.
- A review of all HR people practices and Group HR policies to address any instances of language bias
- Publishing the results of gender pay gap and workplace equality analysis in France, the UK and the US, with those results updated annually.
Primary KPI: an increase in diversity in senior management roles, including 40% or more women by 2025.
EMPLOYEE DEVELOPMENT AND LEARNING
URW has put in place several initiatives to raise awareness of the issues surrounding D&I and drive best practice among its employees and managers. These include:
- Dedicated Women’s leadership programmes and specific training for senior managers to promote gender-balanced leadership.
- Group-wide “supporting inclusion at URW” and unconscious bias training for employees in all regions.
- An international graduate programme partnership with historically black colleges and universities in the US and a partnership with Sponsorship Educational Opportunities London to attract diverse graduate candidates to URW in the UK and France.
Primary KPI: 100% of employees trained in unconscious bias by the end of 2022.
CULTURE AND EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT
To further activate the strategy, URW established “Be You at URW” employee networks in all its regions – held by local champions on a voluntary basis. In addition to championing the Be You at URW commitment and delivering local inclusive initiatives, the collection of networks acts as a sounding board for feedback on the D&I strategy from across the group. Each employee network is sponsored by the regional HR Director and receives guidance from the Group’s Learning, Inclusion, and Employee Engagement Team including regular cross-regional calls, communication templates, and tips to increase engagement. To date the employee networks have delivered initiatives including International Women’s Day and LGBTQIA+ Pride events, race equality education and disability awareness webinars.
In addition to its employee networks, URW runs initiatives designed to foster an inclusive culture and provide employees with channels to discuss progress on related matters.
In 2021, the Group launched a global employee pulse survey including focused questions on D&I to better understand employee mindset and satisfaction levels, improve wellbeing practices and a healthy working culture
Over 1,700 employees participated in the survey, representing 72% of the global workforce, with approximately two-thirds of respondents strongly stating they believe URW is committed to diversity and inclusion. The survey will be distributed each year to help shape effective plans to create an inclusive working culture.
Primary KPI: positive responses to D&I questions in employee pulse surveys.
Since launching Be You at URW, the company has made several tangible achievements relating to gender equality. The focus on gender reflects the fact that legislation in many continental European countries prohibits companies from collecting other forms of information on employees, such as their racial identity. URW’s achievements in gender equality include:
- A fairly balanced gender mix in the group’s headcount with 52% women and 48% men.
- Increased share of women in senior roles group-wide, from 25% in 2016 to 34% in 2021.
- Regional recognition: Top Employer certification in Germany and Central Europe; seventh in Top-100 for Gender Equality (Equileap, the Netherlands); and three UK Working Families awards: Top-30 Employer for Families, Best for Mothers and Best for Fathers
URW has also reached several D&I training and development milestones, including:
- More than 1,300 employees have completed unconscious bias training
- 141 successors for executive positions identified in a comprehensive succession planning programme
- 100% of shopping centre staff completed disability social inclusion training
In 2021, the company held the first session in its “Be You at URW Conversation Series”. Focused on the LGBTQIA+ community at URW and how to be better allies, the conversation is part of an ongoing series touching on important topics of inclusion in the workplace.
To continue educating and informing colleagues on a global level, URW is launching a new inclusion learning curriculum along with workshops for Managers to cascade positive practices. Building on what employees have learned from unconscious bias training, this compelling learning programme offers practical advice on topics such as Courageous Conversations and Intent versus Impact.
URW will continue to grow the Be You at URW employee networks by supporting regional action plans and organisation to advance the local activation of the global Diversity & Inclusion commitment. From roundtable discussions on cultural bias, ethnicity, gender equality and non-visible disabilities, to encouraging teams to speak up as LGBTQIA+ allies, there are numerous opportunities to learn and share each person’s individual experience at URW.
By listening intently to employees through anonymous surveys and focus groups, URW strives to enable open and honest conversations where differences between people are celebrated, embraced and valued, helping make for a stronger workplace and for everyone to truly feel welcome and be themselves.