By Eunice Wong, EY Transaction Real Estate
Gender parity is the new norm that many industries are striving towards. The real estate and development industry is no exception. The focus on people is integral and is the core to any successful business. ULI Toronto’s Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) launched in 2012 and built the foundation for a conversation to spotlight the importance of gender parity. As a result, in 2015 a new campaign was born: SheWithHe, co-founded by Toni Rossi, President, Real Estate and Lending of Infrastructure Ontario, and Chandran Fernando, Principal of Matrix Search Group. WLI Toronto was the recipient of the inaugural WLI Global Women’s Leadership Initiative Grant for 2016.
Chandran, as a co-lead and co-founder of SheWithHe, is an active male committee member of WLI Toronto and contributes a different voice to the well-established and successful group. He credits WLI Toronto for being inclusive (for instance, you do not have to be a woman to be involved with WLI) and for promoting a framework that constantly incorporates an action-oriented agenda for diversity.
Matrix Search Group, the company Chandran founded in 2000, has become a leading Canadian talent and leadership recruitment firm specializing in real estate and property management. His ability to strategically document the journeys of people, connect with leaders, and systematically create a pipeline of talent for Canada’s real estate and development businesses has allowed Matrix Search to be platform for many.
In 2016, Chandran was honoured as one of RBC’s Top 25 Canadian Immigrants Award Recipients in Canada. As an immigrant of South Asian heritage, Chandran recalls the challenges that his parents endured in a much less diverse environment that was Toronto in the 1970s. His parents’ commitment and perseverance to learn, relearn, adapt and embrace Canada as home allowed Chandran to understand and develop the foundation of Matrix. He developed an unending commitment to learn and be curious that he still embraces today.
Chandran has been a member of ULI Toronto for over five years and a committee member of WLI for over three years. He speaks glowingly about the organization’s leadership and its critical role in the industry.
“Under the leadership of Richard Joy and the board, ULI Toronto is a key platform for the real estate and development industry,” he says. “Richard and his team recognize the importance of people and how each moving piece matters. His leadership has allowed us to become uncomfortable to get comfortable with topics that allow us to evolve to be multidimensional. This is leadership.”
As recently quoted in the Canadian Immigrant, Chandran prides himself on being an active voice for those that do not have the opportunity to be heard in the real estate industry. His advice for newcomers to the industry is that it’s not always about when to speak, but how to speak.
Chandran believes that success in the corporate world is not just about working hard and taking risks, it is also about access to opportunities, education, and a sense of belonging.
And, when considering diversity and inclusivity from an executive perspective, his advice for corporate leaders and boards is to ask themselves the following three questions:
- Am I building like me or like us?
- Does our corporate culture adapt or is it adaptable?
- Does our environment reflect the people we serve and as a country?
He highlights that ULI Toronto is an excellent representation of people within the real estate industry as it relentlessly considers topics that influence community development and challenges status quo thinking. Over the five years that he has been a member of ULI Toronto, he has witnessed increasing participation across cultures, genders and ages. Praising WLI Toronto for its conscious recognition of women in the real estate industry, Chandran hopes to continue to champion women and strive for executive-level representation.
“Inclusion is not about the marginalization of anyone or the simplification of the criteria for business. Inclusion is about innovation of ideas that will make us greater and more competitive. The real estate industry is a key primary sector for human progression as a whole,” he concludes.