By: Eunice Wong, EY Transaction Real Estate
The Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) is ULI Toronto’s internal committee that is committed to advancing women in the real estate and development industry. As recently showcased in the WLI Toronto Review, the committee has dedicated significant effort to three major initiatives: WLI Championship Team Celebration, She with He, and Women on Boards.
A sold out members-only lunch was held at the offices of Cassels Brock LLP on November 15, 2017 with more than 60 women in attendance from various practice areas and levels of experience in the real estate and development industry. While the first two “Women on Boards” events held this year explored corporate/private sector and public sector boards, the third panel within the “Women on Boards” series focused on exploring non-profit board membership. With its goal of increasing gender diversity and the presence of women on boards, this event reminded women that non-profit boards can also be an option when considering involvement on a board.
While lunch was served, attendees were encouraged to submit questions to the panelists. WLI champions and members of the supporting sponsors — Stantec, Dillon Consulting, and Quadrangle — were present at each table, stimulating an open dialogue. The panel was moderated by Kristy Shortall, Vice President of Development & Planning at Metropia, while the following panelists participated in the discussion:
- Heather McGregor, CEO of YWCA Toronto
- Sharon Avery, President & CEO of Toronto Foundation
- Salima Rawji, Vice President of Development at Build Toronto
The broad message of the discussion was that serving on a non-profit board provides a compelling and meaningful way to give back to a community or cause while also building upon invaluable professional and personal development. In sharing this important, and sometimes limited, resource of time, there are vast opportunities available within non-profit board membership. “There is space for you and it is desperately needed,” Avery called out to all women.
Rawji highlighted some of the primary benefits of non-profit board membership. “It will broaden and open your mind. It will sharpen your thinking. You will get outside of yourself. Get outside of that comfort zone,” she said. When personal passion aligns with professional expertise, a richer and more informed experience is granted. The panelists also offered some insight based on their own personal experiences. McGregor highlighted that at YWCA, 25% of the board members must be a “young woman,” aged 30 or younger. This emphasizes YWCA’s appreciation of the diversity of skillsets and perspectives in the organization.
Addressing how women can get more involved in non-profit board membership, the panel presented some key considerations:
- Authenticity: It was strongly advised to engage with a non-profit board that has a cause that you believe in. While education and professional expertise are considered assets, it is oftentimes the passion and dedication of time that is highly regarded. With respect to identifying opportunities, Avery suggested searching for an organization that closely supports or aligns with personal causes and self-discovery for a more meaningful experience.
- Complexity: In preparation for non-profit board membership, members and potential members should recognize the importance of the real complexity of the work that they will be doing. It is therefore essential to have a willingness to learn. Non-profit organizations come in all shapes and sizes, offering varying experiences and levels of rigidity of processes. Issues such as conflicts of interest and political activity are recommended considerations when identifying and applying for non-profit board membership opportunities.
- Diversity Lens: “How will you help the organization achieve base-level objectives? What can you bring to the table to be an influencer?” These were two questions highlighted by Rawji to help others with their self-discovery and encourage creativity in identifying how they can drive influence.
- Have an opinion: McGregor highlighted that it would be beneficial to have a cover letter submitted alongside the board application. “You should know everything about them – have an opinion,” she said.
In ensuring one has a lasting impact when a board position has been obtained, Rawji offered some advice: “You’re there because of you. Be yourself, be authentic. Don’t miss meetings and be present. Do the reading, be prepared.”
Notable Resource Recommendations:
- DiverseCity OnBoard
- B3 Canada
- Capacity Canada
- Shari Graydon’s, “OMG! What if I really am the best person? The Top 7 Reasons Women Should Speak Up” (Book recommendation from Heather McGregor)
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