ULI Toronto News

What we learned from She With He: Agents of Change – On the Path to Gender Parity

By: Alissa Randall

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When it comes to diversity in real estate, the presence of women in the C-suites and boardrooms of the Canadian real estate industry appears to be relatively rare compared to other industries. However, organizations are taking action and making workplace diversity and inclusion a priority.

This was the focus of the discussion that took place at the “She with He” event held on International Women’s Day on March 8 at Deloitte in downtown Toronto. A panel of industry leaders spoke at the forum, providing strategies and insight for sustainable change in bringing gender parity to the real estate and development industry. Each leader also discussed the action they were taking at their own organizations to make them more diverse and inclusive environments.

The event was organized by ULI’s Womens’ Leadership Initiative. WLI is part of a global ULI network that works to promote the advancement of women in real estate and development. WLI hosts workshops, forums and mentorship programs to promote and provide opportunities for the advancement of women in real estate and land development.

Participating in the panel were: Leslie Woo, Chief Planning and Development Officer at Metrolinx; Toni Rossi, President of the Real Estate Division at Infrastructure Ontario; Blake Hutcheson, President of Oxford Properties; and Michael Brooks, CEO of the Real Property Association of Canada.

Sheila Botting, the Senior Partner and Canadian Real Estate Leader for Deloitte, acted as the moderator for the evening’s panel discussion.

“The good news is, we’ve got 22 per cent of women in the C-Suite positions as studied by Media Edge,” she said, referring to Media Edge’s research on the real estate industry. “There is an opportunity. There is a way to improve these trends within our industry.”

However, there is still a long way to go.

Recent findings from Deloitte’s fifth annual Global Human Capital Trends Report and Survey (2017) showed that diversity and inclusion in the workplace are now CEO-level issues, but they continue to challenge many companies. A majority of executives increasingly rate diversity and inclusion as important issues.

A recent analysis conducted by Media Edge of 62 companies reporting portfolios of at least 10 million square feet to Canadian Property Management’s 2017 Who’s Who in Canadian Real Estate survey reveals that women occupy about 22.5 per cent of 627 listed positions. Further, 14 companies have no women highlighted in senior management roles while only 22 per cent of C-suite positions were filled by women. The proportion of women on boards is 17 per cent (gap from 24 per cent of TSX listed companies).The Canadian government is promoting a target 30 per cent of board membership to be female by 2019 and there is a huge gap to fill.

Throughout the presentation, Botting cited research from Deloitte’s 2017 Report on Diversity and Inclusion in Canada that touted the overall benefits of companies with higher levels of gender diversity. Benefits include increased innovation in the workplace, a positive effect on company culture, improved employee engagement, lower staff turnover and improved economic performance.

During the panel discussion, Oxford Properties’ Blake Hutcheson admitted that the industry hasn’t been achieving gender diversity in the way that it should be.

“I would say it’s been a journey and I’ll admit that we’re not getting this right — not as a society, not in this industry and not at Oxford,” said Hutcheson. “But, I have been a huge champion of both inclusion and diversity and I just watched the company evolve over nine years. I know as a fact that we make better decisions when we have a diverse group in the room.”

Michael Brooks of the Real Property Association of Canada (REAL PAC), after observing the 2016 Real Estate Forum, realized that his business wasn’t doing enough to promote gender equality. Brooks decided to take action and form an advisory council to use research to take ideas and programs from around the world to promote better gender equality in Canada.

One of the other initiatives that REAL PAC has created is a large real estate compensation survey in Canada for 96-member companies that provided a gender and diversity breakdown of their staff.

“We’re going to get better data in the years that follow and we’ll be able to track how things are changing,” said Brooks. “Data is both a challenge and it’s an opportunity.”

When it comes to increasing diversity in the workplace, Leslie Woo of Metrolinx encourages people to “call it like they see it” – to point out the lack of diversity or inclusion in any part of their business.

“Let’s mix it up a little bit. It’s little things. Everyday, people in our organization – men and women — are doing things to elevate the importance of having a workforce and talent that is representative of the region we serve,” she said.

As for real estate businesses that may not have enough women serving in leadership roles, Woo said she believes that recruiters aren’t doing an efficient job of bringing in women as employees. “Go back, they’re out there,” she said.

Infrastructure Ontario’s (IO) Toni Rossi said the executive team and board at IO has an almost fifty-fifty female-male team and has made a lot of progress in only four years ago. It’s a good start, according to Rossi. However, more needs to be done at the mid-management level for gender parity to ensure that the top stays diversified.

“We’re really proud of the work we have started to do,” Rossi said. “We are nowhere near done, so we often say we’re proud but never satisfied.”

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