Here's how ERGs support Brookfield Properties' diversity and inclusion efforts, says HR Director Vern Johnson.
When Vern Johnson joined Brookfield Properties' last year as director of Human Resources within the retail business, he made it his goal to expand the company’s Employee Resource Group [ERG] program. “Studies show ERGs increase employee productivity, innovation, engagement, and retention,” Johnson said. “ERGs also raise cultural awareness and are instrumental in improving workplace culture and fostering an inclusive workplace. They’re really a reflection of our core values as a company.”
One year later, there are eight employee-led, voluntary ERGs at Brookfield Properties' retail business, including:
Brookfield Alternatively-Abled Professionals
Brookfield Asian American Professionals Network
Brookfield Black Professionals
Brookfield Hispanic/LatinX Professionals
Brookfield Intergenerational Professionals
Brookfield Military and Veteran Professionals
Brookfield Pride Network
Brookfield Women's Network
We recently caught up with Johnson to find out how ERGs benefit employees and companies alike:
How are we doing in our diversity and inclusion [D&I] efforts so far?
Johnson: I believe we’re really leading the charge right now. In 2021, we hosted 12 ERG-led heritage month events. Our D&I content was shared by over 5,000 social posts across our portfolio and drove over 27,000 engagements (likes, comments, shares, link clicks).
I’m proud and happy with what we’ve accomplished so far with our ERG program, and that we’re able to offer our employees a means of professional development, culture exploration, community engagement, and empowerment.
Tell us about some of the exciting things that are happening within Brookfield Properties’ ERGs.
Johnson: There’s a natural cadence throughout the year for each of our groups. We just wrapped Black History Month, which also served as the kickoff for Brookfield Black Professionals’ recent webinar and the company-wide Partner to Empower program, which supports Black- and minority-owned business. For Women’s History Month in March, Brookfield Women’s Network will shine a spotlight on some of its own female leaders to learn about their journeys in a virtual fireside chat.
How many Brookfield Properties employees are currently involved in an ERG?
Johnson: Currently, we have 556 employees from our retail business who are part of an ERG, which represents 37% of our employee base. Obviously, I’d love to see more employees get involved this year, especially in our Brookfield Asian American Professionals Network and our Brookfield Intergenerational Professionals. It’s important to note that you don’t have to belong to any of these dimensions of diversity to join. It’s meant to be a vehicle to support each other and be an ally. More than that, it’s about being closer to your fellow team members and being able to interact. Our goal is to build a workplace where people feel connected, respected, and valued.
I’m proud and happy with what we’ve accomplished so far with our ERG program, which offers employees a means of professional development, culture exploration, and community engagement, and empowerment."
VernJohnson,Brookfield Properties HR Director
Why do ERGs benefit individual employees?
Johnson: Besides offering a safe and supportive space for employees who share a common identity, ERGs are a great way for employees to get involved and become more valued and visible within the company. We have executive sponsors for each of our groups, so it’s really a professional development opportunity as well.
What can we all do to better support a diverse group of talent?
Johnson: I think the ERGs are a great start, but we also need to think about ways to bring in diverse talent and retain and mobilize that talent. This past year, we focused on veterans and neuro-diverse talent. We participated in a job fair with Cameron-Brooks to get top veteran talent into roles within our portfolio. We also partnered with CAI Autism2Work to bring in individuals on the autism spectrum for jobs in IT and business operations.
This year, we’ll continue our partnership with the City of Chicago and City Colleges of Chicago in hosting a fall cohort of Accelerate interns and we’ve also embarked on a new partnership with Urban Alliance by hosting high school interns with our Property Management teams.
How do ERGs help Brookfield Properties build its standing as an employer of choice?
Johnson: Diversity and inclusion are increasingly an expectation of candidates in their job search. Today’s workforce is emotionally intelligent and companies that don’t offer ERGs will lose out on top talent. Celebrating and promoting diversity not only gives us a competitive advantage, it helps us further our goals as a company that provides equal representation at all levels.