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B.C. commercial real estate layoffs may disproportionately impact women

Industry experts say that marketing and communications teams are the first to go, but also have the most women on them.
Layoffs in B.C.'s commercial real estate sector may disproportionately affect women, according to experts.

Downsizing in B.C.’s commercial real estate industry could have an unintended bias, with experts signalling women may be hit hardest by layoffs.

When a company in commercial real estate is looking to scale down, women-dominated teams such as public relations (PR), communications and marketing are often the first to go, according to those who spoke to BIV.  

“One of the dominant drivers is definitely gender stereotypes,” said Natalya Alonso, an assistant professor at Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business.

“When we look at something like marketing or communications, one of the key aspects of that is being able to relate to people well, to communicate. These are all more stereotypically feminine attributes or skills. And so it makes sense that women would naturally be able to see themselves more in those types of jobs.”

Layoffs, though a financial necessity for some companies, are disproportionately impacting women and hindering progress toward gender equality in the industry, said Britainny Hari, founder and principal of Dual Agency Inc. Her firm offers commercial real estate marketing and consulting.

Unlike other teams that can be judged on hard numbers, “for the reason of ambiguity alone, and in a statistics-oriented industry, marketing and communications often face budget cuts and personnel cuts before any other department,” Hari said in an email.

“Marketing and communications have long been considered an essential part of the bottom line that supports the sales program. And while that is still true, it is challenging to accurately determine the impact a campaign, published article or outdoor signage board has on your company.”

Female-dominated occupations tend to be lower status, lower paid and are viewed as “peripheral to the core business functions,” said Alonso, who specializes in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace.

“No one is maliciously going out there and saying, ‘Let's get rid of all the women on this team or in this organization,’ but that is the consequence of what happens when we do have these highly segregated occupations,” she said.

Women represent 36.7 per cent of the commercial real estate industry in Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. as of 2020, according to a study by industry association Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW).

There has also been a growing presence of women in asset management and property management positions, according to Hari.

“If we don't aim to protect the fields within the industry that are predominantly women, the industry will not only suffer from a lack of emotional and creative skill sets in their bottom lines, but the lack in perspectives at the table will negatively impact DEI for the future,” she said.

In addition, marketing teams are playing an increasingly crucial role in Vancouver’s changing real estate market.

“The market looks a lot different than it did three years ago. We're not in a time characterized by record-low vacancies or have industrial units flying off the shelves due to low rates,” said Hari.

“Now, in a buyer’s market, where there are plenty of options, it is more imperative than ever for commercial developers to differentiate their product and have it stand out from the rest of their competitive set. And to do that requires communications, PR and marketing competencies.”

Kush Panatch, president of development company Panatch Group, said most of his marketing team is female.

“If the market slows down, the first ones to go are unfortunately the sales and marketing teams. That's one area that you can cut down considerably first. … I've seen the impact of these types of decisions that people make, and it does impact women disproportionately compared to men … they get hit first,” he said.

“It does unfortunately reduce the diversity, which in my mind is really important to have. But I think that's a temporary impact, hopefully, it's only during these downturns.”

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