Case Study: EDENS

Washington, D.C.
275 Employees
Five out of 12 most senior officers are women (two executive officers, three managing directors).
An Inclusive Culture
Development of External Networks
Leadership Training
Flexibility & Family Leave

EDENS is an owner, operator, and developer of retail real estate where women are in five of the 12 most senior roles—two out of three executive leadership roles and three out of nine managing director roles.

The WLI research found that strong networks of relationships inside and outside the workplace are closely tied to cultures where women make significant contributions and advance to senior-level leadership. EDENS provides concrete examples of how a firm can take actions that support employees in cultivating strong internal and external networks.

“First and foremost, our emphasis is on leadership excellence,” says Jodie W. McLean, CEO of EDENS. “We want to hire the best people, regardless of race or gender.”

In 2015, McLean was appointed CEO of this developer, owner, and operator of retail shopping centers in key U.S. markets, having served as chief investment officer since 1997 and president since 2002. “Joe Edens took a chance on me 25 years ago when there were very few professional women in commercial real estate,” she says.

EDENS operates regional offices in Boston; Washington, D.C.; Columbia, South Carolina; Atlanta; Miami; and Houston.

“We have a group of close-knit colleagues across our different offices,” says Matt Crosland, vice president of leasing. “We enjoy working together and we rely on people with varied skills and backgrounds to execute. We are team oriented and trust one another.”

One of the tenets from the WLI research was an inclusionary culture supporting women. People who work at EDENS describe the culture as entrepreneurial, hard-charging, and collaborative, with an emphasis on quality execution at every level, Crosland continues.

Jami Passer, chief investment officer, elaborates, “There is an overlay of always wanting to raise the bar and an intensity that goes with that. To make that happen, we need collaboration between those with very different perspectives.”

One example of how EDENS fosters a close-knit internal network and culture is the annual “DealMakers” gathering of the market-facing leasing and development teams that kicks off each year. The 60 employees attending the January 2015 Nashville meeting were equally split along gender lines. A part of these annual meetings is exploring specific geographic markets and taking new insights back home. McLean also took the 2015 meeting as an opportunity to invite a speaker to share stories of outstanding female leaders from all walks of life who have been documented in the “Makers” film series.

“We make it safe to have conversations with men and women about the upsides and challenges of having both men and women leading the organization. You need awareness that comes from group dialogue and the safety and willingness to engage in a conversation that can feel a bit risky,” McLean says.

The group dialogue gave men and women ideas about how to work effectively together. Jeff Kaufman, senior vice president of development, describes the real estate industry as one that has traditionally been friendly to family businesses where ownership has passed from father to son. At firms like EDENS, the passing of the torch of leadership is expanding to include women.

“We have a different conversation than one where mostly men are at the table,” says John Cocker, vice president of investments. “With more points of view, we often land on more creative solutions. Since EDENS is a developer of retail shopping centers, understanding the perspectives of women who make up to 80 percent of the decisions on where their families eat, shop, and live is critical for our success.”

Under McLean’s leadership, EDENS has led the way in moving into more urban settings with a very specific intent to create environments that are the centers of community life. Mosaic, located in Fairfax, Virginia, is an example of the type of development that represents EDENS’s focus on community engagement. This strong interest in community creates ongoing and lively conversations about where people want to eat, live, and gather.

“Our work is about enriching communities. We want to understand the people who live around our retail centers and create a place for them to routinely come together,” Passer explains.

Part of understanding those communities is developing a network of relationships with members of the community—both key stakeholders in the investment arena and community leaders. In addition, EDENS employees engage at the civic level in organizations such as the police department, fire department, and library; and every year EDENS holds an annual “Service Day” when all employees take the day to volunteer in their communities.

As part of its focus on identifying new retail concepts, EDENS also develops its connections to an innovative external network through the annual “Retail Challenge,” a student competition among U.S. colleges and universities to develop the most compelling new retail concept. When the competition is narrowed to 15 finalists, the student teams receive mentorship from a team of EDENS professionals in various disciplines within the company. “The Retail Challenge gives us the opportunity to intimately understand what it takes to bring a successful retail concept to life while working closely with people inside and outside the firm who are not part of our day-to-day interactions,” says Katie Bucklew, vice president of investments.

“Our work is about enriching communities. We want to understand the people who live around our retail centers and create a place for them.”

An important aspect of culture is how companies hire and bring new people on board. EDENS leaders describe hiring for culture fit—they look for men and women who thrive in a highly competitive and collaborative workplace where the bar for performance is continually rising.

“New employees feel who we are and the culture from day one. We are passionate about making sure their experience is welcoming and they are encouraged to share their perspectives,” says Jennifer Reuling, director of property operations. “We need people who will take a seat at the table and share their perspective.”

In terms of developing talent, EDENS offers a robust entry-level training program that focuses on developing expertise in finance/capital markets, investment management, development, and portfolio management. Analysts spend time doing everything from researching market trends, identifying new retail concepts, developing innovative merchandising plans, and engaging communities and retailers while evaluating projects and deals to understand how value is created.

The training program—balanced between men and women—offers participants a rich mix of mentorship, case studies, industry presentations, and hands-on financial and analytical work. Bucklew explains that these rotational programs also help participants discover the roles that play to their strengths and will be the best fit for a rewarding career. These two programs have opened up numerous opportunities for colleagues to advance throughout the company.

In addition to an environment that supports strong internal and external networks, EDENS places a high value on the most important formal approach in the WLI research: workplace flexibility. “Because we know that Jodie has dinner with her family, it gives us permission to do the same,” says one employee. Both work and family are highly valued among men and women at the firm.

Finally, having women at the top provides role models so more junior women see opportunities and future career paths. Women in WLI focus groups indicated that the number-one factor they look for in a company that will support them in advancing their careers is seeing women in senior roles. “When women can see role models, it gives them a sense of what they can achieve and how to go about it,” Passer says. Mallie Timiraos, investment associate, agrees that McLean’s position at the top of the organization was key to her decision to join the firm when she graduated with her MBA from Columbia Business School.

What’s next for EDENS? McLean continues to push for excellence. She says, “The very best organizations are gender balanced. There has to be continued discussion.” For EDENS, that means continuing to make gains at all levels of staffing and leadership.

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