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Study says women well represented in commercial real estate. Insiders disagree

Women account for nearly half of the workforce in Canadian commercial real estate firms.
Women account for 27.4 per cent within boards of directors and 25.5 per cent of executive management, according to February 2024 data from Ferguson Partners.

Data shows Canada's commercial real estate (CRE) sector inching towards diversity. Insiders say the lived experience paints a different story.

Women represent 45.6 per cent of the workforce in Canadian CRE firms, the highest representation out of all countries surveyed, according to Feb. 2024 report by Ferguson Partners.

“I was surprised that this study showed women comprise 45 per cent of the workforce in CRE, it seems like less from where I’m standing. While this data is still very valuable, I think there are likely two main factors to explain this discrepancy between the data and my lived experience,” said Rosi Hunter, a Vancouver-based vice-president at mortgage brokerage Axestone Capital.

Hunter speculated that the data likely sources large corporations, where diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives are top of mind, and may not include boutique firms or independent brokers.

“Second, the part of the industry we work in, origination and brokerage, are still largely underrepresented by women, with many companies having none,” she said.

The survey comes at a time when companies are battling macroeconomic factors like high interest rates and inflation. This causes concern that some firms may be pulling back on efforts to boost DEI, according to the report.

“Just as DEI is not an afternoon’s training, or something to ponder only during Black History Month, DEI is a process and movement to change culture and correct inequities. Fighting DEI fatigue is not only the right thing to do for underrepresented peoples, but can also lead to improved performance,” said the report.

Michelle Child, senior commercial mortgage advisor at Franc & Co said that more data is needed to fully understand the extent of female representation in the industry.

“If we want to enact meaningful change, we need more granular data to act on that breaks down roles between sectors of CRE, seniority within these roles and pay structures. This discrepancy between the data and the lived experience of women in CRE is why we created Women in Commercial Real Estate, ‘WICRE,’” she said, referencing a group that brings together women in the industry.

When it comes to higher-level roles, women account for 27.4 per cent within boards of directors and 25.5 per cent of executive management, according to the survey.

“Women in these positions are no strangers to adversity, which is natural because they are trailblazers. A history of facing a higher level of scrutiny comes with lessons and a better understanding of different perspectives in the room, which ultimately leads to better decision making,” said Jessica Toppazzini, managing director of real estate firm Avison Young’s Vancouver office.

At the mid-level, women at Canadian companies accounted for 48.4 per cent of promotions and 47.6 per cent of new hires. Overall representation of women in mid-level roles comes in at 43.5 per cent.

At the executive management level, women made up 16.7 of hires and 27.3 per cent of promotions.

Hunter said that it’s encouraging to see that CRE firms are now prioritizing DEI initiatives when it comes to hiring.

“However, implementing formal practices such as hiring quotas or offering child care is not enough. Companies must also focus on shifting their workplace culture, and executives need to recognize their integral role in setting the tone,” she said.

Companies need to ask how they can create an environment where everyone feels safe, respected, and valued. By combining concrete actions with a cultural shift, companies cannot only attract and retain more women in the industry and position them for advancement and success.”

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