Making the Way into the Development Industry
March 22, 2022
I am incredibly honoured that I was asked to contribute to the Women’s Leadership Initiative Toronto blog this month, and I would like to thank everyone in advance for taking the time to read my thoughts and reflections on my experience with WLI thus far.
I am a student involved with WLI, and until recently, I offered support to the committee by taking minutes during meetings. Unfortunately, I had to leave this role because I decided to move to London, England for the Master of Science in International Real Estate and Planning at the University College London.
During Winter 2020, as I was completing my undergraduate degree at McGill University in Montreal, I began to ponder the massive question of “What comes next?”. I was in the throes of contemplating what I wanted my career to look like and how I planned to take the steps to achieve it. The standard stress and emotional turmoil of embarking on life after university was amplified by COVID-19. Navigating the big decisions of what comes next and how I wanted my life to look was made more difficult as the unpredictability of the pandemic made my post-graduation plans less clear.
I was not the only one struggling with the uncertainty as to when and how we would emerge from the COVID world. There was a collective sympathy that we were all navigating the difficult situation to the best of our abilities. I decided that I could focus on what I perceived to be a “silver lining” and use some of the extra time created by the lockdowns to think about what I wanted in a career. I outlined a goal to critically think about what I was genuinely passionate, curious, and enthusiastic about. I was resolved to pursue a career that I felt aligned with those interests.
In my undergraduate degree, I studied urban geography and economics, and as a result, the real estate industry seemed to be a well-positioned nexus between the two subjects I had enjoyed. A career in real estate had long been an option on my radar, but I did not have a firm idea of the specific area I wanted to work in. I began to reach out to professionals in the industry for insight into their careers and experiences. I arranged calls with professionals that were employed in a diverse range of roles across the industry. While the discussions were immensely helpful in giving me a sense of direction in my career, I was disheartened when it was emphasized to me in most of the conversations that the real estate industry is often a so-called “white boys club” and that the industry still has a lot of work to do to include and elevate minority and female voices. Furthermore, I recognized that I may have a difficult time securing a job in the industry given my lack of relevant work experience and the pandemic, so I began looking into graduate programs in Canada, the US, and the UK that focused on real estate. During my research, I noticed that for almost all the programs, the class profiles were 10-20% female. This realization was alarming to me as I felt that these programs were to some degree an indication of what the future of the industry may look like, and it reinforced a feeling of doubt concerning where my place may be in the industry.
I was advised by a mentor to get involved with ULI to help build my network and find opportunities. In Spring 2021, I attended a webinar hosted by ULI for student membership, during which they discussed opportunities for involvement in various committees across ULI Toronto. The committee that immediately stood out to me was WLI. I filled out the application form and did not want to get my hopes up by thinking I would be accepted. However, I remember distinctly thinking that if I was accepted that getting involved with the committee could help me gain confidence and guidance in finding my place within the industry.
In July 2021, I was contacted and asked if I would be able to take minutes for WLI’s strategy session the next day. To be entirely honest, I am glad I was asked on such short notice because when I saw the names and the companies where all the attendees worked, I was intimated and felt apprehensive over whether I would be able to offer value in any capacity – the short notice meant I did not have time to let these feelings fester and grow.
What I experienced during the first meeting set the tone for all subsequent meetings. To put it simply, I liked how I felt during and after the meetings; I was determined, energized, and inspired. I felt privileged to have the opportunity to observe the discussions that were being had amongst a collection of accomplished women from a variety of backgrounds, all of whom were at different stages in their careers. I was impressed at the awareness of all the members of their positionality within the industry, and their ability to influence the direction of the Toronto real estate and land-use industries.
As I attended further meetings and became more involved with the committee the experience, I had continued to be increasingly positive. Every person that was involved with WLI felt approachable to me. On several occasions, I had it reiterated to me the willingness to help and support me in various ways if/when I need it. When I first moved to London, I arranged a call with Meghan Wong, one of the Co-Chairs of WLI, and I cannot express how valuable the conversation was for me given the position I was in. I can often set unrealistic expectations of myself and moving to London was no exception – I put an immense amount of pressure on myself to adjust immediately. Meghan had completed a master’s a few years ago in Glasgow, and the conversation we had made me realize that it was normal to be overwhelmed by such a huge change. I realized I should take some pressure off of myself and it is not necessary to have it all figured out.
When I gave an update that I was accepted into my master’s during one of the meetings, I was elated by the congratulations and excitement that was communicated to me in response to my news. After doubting my validity in the real estate space, having a network of women – all of whom I see as role models – make me feel like my accomplishment were impressive gave me the confidence to feel proud of myself and my abilities.
Since leaving to study in London, I have missed WLI immensely. I have made it a priority to get involved with various organizations in London that strive to increase diversity, inclusion, and equity in the industry. However, WLI for me is something special and despite the time zones, I want to make it a priority to remain involved with the committee as much as possible for as long as possible. Having been involved with WLI remotely as I was in Montreal and now am in London, I am looking forward to attending in-person WLI events when I return home to Toronto for a visit or for work and meeting all the women who have inspired me.
I cannot emphasize enough how strongly I would recommend young women and students that aspire to work in the Toronto real estate and land-use industries to get involved with WLI. Having a network of women who are supportive, and happy to offer guidance and support throughout your career is invaluable. The experience you can have with WLI can be so rewarding, but ultimately it is what you make of it. In my experience, it has been an immensely valuable and enriching experience, but I have pushed to pursue opportunities within the committee to become more involved – like writing this blog post. For students, as much as there is understandable stress and pressure to secure a good job post-graduation, take the time to recognize the value in mentorship and building a network beyond the explicit intention of getting a job. The conversations I have had with people from WLI have given me insight into the long-term career considerations. These discussions have encouraged me to think critically about not just how I will get a job, but also what I want to get out of a job. Getting to build a network and learn from accomplished women while working on initiatives that focus on making the future of the real estate industry more diverse, equitable, and inclusive has been an absolute pleasure and I am excited to find the next opportunity with WLI that I can get involved with over the Spring and Summer of this year.