Sunita Mahant on how to advance diversity, equity and inclusion through working with industry partners

Sunita V. Mahant

Sunita V. Mahant

Head of Social Impact and Inclusion, Sustainable Investments
Ivanhoé Cambridge
Investors in private markets are in a position to influence partners across the industry to advocate diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. In advance of Private Markets Forum 2023, Sunita V. Mahant, head of social impact and inclusion with Ivanhoé Cambridge, the real estate subsidiary of CDPQ, comments on how the organization achieves DEI objectives through working with partners, as well as how organizations create more inclusive culture.
Institutional CONNECT: You are head of social impact and inclusion, sustainable investments at Ivanhoé Cambridge. What are the core focuses of your role?

Sunita: As part of the sustainable investment team, I am responsible for our strategies within the social component of ESG, both from an employer and an investor standpoint. Among these is our DE&I (diversity, equity and inclusion) strategy, which Ivanhoé Cambridge launched in 2021, along with an affordable housing strategy, and policies that are designed to deliver healthy and inclusive buildings and spaces. Our approach is not static – we are constantly asking ourselves how the buildings within our portfolio are impacting communities, using our learnings to evolve our approach to the benefit of end users.

Another key focus of my role is defining how we measure social impact, establishing key performance indicators, as well as integrating these risk/return factors into our investments. This means that we have to work closely with our investment teams to define success and understand what is realistic.

Finally, I very much see my role as being a catalyst and champion for positive change, not only in Ivanhoé Cambridge but across our business partners and the wider industry too, where I can already see the positive impact we are having.

Institutional CONNECT: As a real estate investor and subsidiary of CDPQ, how does Ivanhoé Cambridge work with your partners to enhance inclusion and social impact experience?
Sunita: At Ivanhoé Cambridge, as a real estate investor we are in a unique position to influence partners across the industry through our investment strategy, and we do this by ensuring our values align with the companies we partner and invest with. One example of this is that Ivanhoé Cambridge last year became a Diversity in Action signatory, an initiative by the Institutional Limited Partners Association that aims to motivate market participants to engage in DE&I by laying out specific actions that companies can adopt over time. By signing on to this initiative, we agree to hold ourselves accountable to best practice when it comes to DE&I, specifically in terms of data collection and management, and systematic improvements to company practices. As a signatory, we now must request partners to provide demographic data in new transactions. In 2022 we were successful in incorporating these standards and requirements into some of our new investments and plan to continue to push forward on these more widely and systematically. Following this, we reached out to many of our partners to encourage them to also sign on to Diversity in Action, which opened a series of positive and progressive conversations. We have since established an objective that 60% of our partners will be signed on to Diversity in Action or a similar initiative by 2026. We understand the position we hold in our industry and want to use this to hold our partners to the same DE&I standards we pledge to uphold. In addition to this, we have our risk process, in which we participate in due diligence questionnaires to gain information to understand how far we have come in terms of DE&I, and what expectations and standards we must maintain. We understand our baseline guidelines now and will continue working on these to achieve our overarching goal of influencing and bringing change in the wider industry.

Institutional CONNECT: What are some measurable targets that your organization is looking to achieve in 2023?

Sunita: Core to our approach is ensuring that every activation we make is intentional with tangible, measurable outcomes, and we hold ourselves accountable to that objective. One example of a measurable target from 2022 was our focus on improving female representation within leadership positions and within investment and asset management role, and we are continuing to prioritise this as a measurable objective for 2023, and hope to incorporate additional targets across all dimensions of DE&I.

An example of this intentionality is our achievement of the EdgePlus certification, which measures our current status and progress of DE&I against clear standards of performance, in relation to workplace gender and intersectional equity. We are incredibly proud that we could achieve that external credibility to our DE&I progress, but we want to go further. We are now working towards achieving an EdgeLead certification by 2026, which is the highest certification level, and will show that Ivanhoé Cambridge is leading in DE&I standards, with robust commitments. We will constantly be measuring ourselves against these criteria, and steadily progressing along towards this target.

Institutional CONNECT: Can you give a real example on how you integrate equity and inclusion in your projects?

Sunita: A good example of our progress in action would be the Asia Pacific team’s investment into Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) in Australia, in partnership with Macquarie Asset Management. The key aim of this project was to facilitate the provision of equitable accommodation for people living with disabilities and is an illustration of our equity and inclusion strategies.

We have also launched the WELL Equity initiative, meaning spaces must be designed with inclusion, diversity, equity, and wellness in mind, and we are pursuing this index for our HQ in Montreal. By following this initiative, we considered user experience, responsible hiring and working practices, benefits and services, inclusive design, support programs and spaces (e.g., physical health and nutrition) and community engagement, and we feel this has really allowed us to achieve a social impact in making this office more accessible and inclusive. When we realised we could successfully design and operate an office with those priorities in mind, this has informed how we can scale this initiative across the rest of our portfolio, promoting health, wellness, equity and inclusion across all of our assets.

Institutional CONNECT: The number of women leaders in the investment industry is growing, however the proportion of women taking senior roles is still under-represented compared to men. What is your advice for organizations that want to create a more inclusive culture?
Sunita: The first thing to emphasise is that a holistic approach is necessary to enact the systemic change that is needed to increase gender representation in senior roles. Within this, it is important to review current practices and processes, and consider how to interrupt the status quo in a way that will invite different voices to the table. This issue should be seen as a business imperative and should require a dedicated resource that can enable a culture in which your people are encouraged to disrupt current practices. This is so important to the evolution of modern business – after all, if you don’t evolve, you will be left behind. If you want to evolve effectively, you need the right people, in the right environment who are empowered to address blind spots, and most importantly, innovate. Be intentional, accountable and prioritize.

Sunita V. Mahant, Head of Social Impact and Inclusion, Sustainable Investments, Ivanhoé Cambridge, will speak at Private Markets Forum 2023, to be held on April 24 – 26 at OMNI Hotel Mont-Royal, Montréal.

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Sunita V. Mahant

Head of Social Impact and Inclusion, Sustainable Investments

Ivanhoé Cambridge

In her role as Head of Social Impact and Inclusion, Sustainable Investments, Sunita acts as a catalyst for the development and execution of the corporate social impact and inclusion strategy- the “S” of ESG. This includes the social impact of the company’s real estate investments, the communities in which it invests as well as the diversity, equity and inclusion strategy by positioning Ivanhoé Cambridge as a real estate industry leader in these three areas. In addition to this role, Sunita has held various leadership roles in Legal Affairs, Investment Management for nearly 15 years, where she provided strategic value-oriented solutions for projects in Canada and the United States related to the Retail, Office and Industrial assets. In 2015, she was recognized by Lexpert Rising Stars, as one of Canada’s leading lawyers under 40. Sunita has also been instrumental as lead counsel for CIBC SQUARE – new transformational office development downtown Toronto of more than 3M sf.

Recognized for her leadership qualities and keen mind, Sunita is actively involved with several organizations dedicated to the commercial real estate industry as well as workplace diversity, equity and inclusion. She is a Director on the board of NAIOP Toronto and a member of CREW Toronto. She has also served as Co-President of the Promotion Committee of Women in Governance. She was the initiator and ambassador of the first Women’s Forum at Ivanhoé Cambridge.

Sunita holds a Bachelor of Political Science, a Bachelor of Laws and is a member of the Ontario Bar. She received her Mini-MBA from the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC). Sunita speaks four languages: Hindi, Punjabi, French and English.

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