CREW M calls for gender equity on real estate company boards

IMAGE: From left Linda Rouleau of Fonds de placement immobilier Cominar; Sonia Gagnon of Agence SGM; Maryse Couture of Toiture Couture & Associés Inc. (Image courtesy Crew M)

From left CREW M past-president Linda Rouleau of Cominar REIT; president Sonia Gagnon of Agence SGM; and president-elect Maryse Couture of Toiture Couture & Associates Inc. (Courtesy Crew M)

It is time for real estate firms to achieve gender equity on their boards, says Sonia Gagnon, the president of CREW M, the Montreal chapter of CREW Network (Commercial Real Estate Women).

That’s why the association that promotes and recognizes the success of women in commercial real estate will seek to obtain a commitment from real estate companies that they achieve gender equality on their boards by 2022.

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The goal is to ensure it becomes a regular practice among real estate firms  to have equal numbers of women and men on boards of directors, says Gagnon. She estimates women currently make up about 25 per cent of the boards of Canadian real estate firms.

As part of its gender equity objective, the organization will hold an event later this year in which each member will be asked to invite a male colleague and a “constructive” discussion on the importance of gender equity will take place, Gagnon says.

The goal “is not against men, far from it,” she says, but to show how diversity brings value to organizations.

CREW network spans North America

CREW has a network of 75 chapters — including Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Vancouver and Montreal — and more than 11,000 members in North America. It has also expanded overseas with a new London branch.

In Montreal, CREW M has 300 members and hopes to have 350 by the end of 2019. “There is room for growth,” Gagnon says. However, in comparison to chapters like New York City, where there are 600 members, “in proportion, I think we’re a very active chapter.”

Although “there is still a lot of work to do,” women are increasingly filling influential posts at Montreal real estate firms, says Gagnon. She cites Nathalie Palladitcheff ,who last year was named president of Ivanhoé Cambridge after stints as the company’s chief financial officer and executive vice-president since April 2015.

She also names Danielle Lavoie, senior vice-president and portfolio manager, Eastern Canada at Cadillac Fairview and entrepreneurs like CREW M president-elect Maryse Couture, who has replaced her father as president and general manager of Longueuil-based roofing firm Toiture Couture & Associates.

“Women are taking their place,” and things are changing in the heavily masculine commercial real estate sector, Gagnon says. She recalls seeing only men at the first real estate forum she attended.

Video promotes CREW Network

In the past, women were not encouraged to go into business, but that is changing, said Alison Beddard, former CREW Network president and managing principal at Cushman & Wakefield in Utah, in a video about the 30-year-old CREW Network. Many women do not pursue careers in commercial real estate because they don’t know about it, she said.

“This is not a field that gets advertised.”

However, Gail Ayers, former CEO of CREW Network, added in the video it’s a field worth knowing about since “commercial real estate is a profession that pays people what they deserve.”

Gagnon is the founding president and general manager of Agence SGM, a 16-year-old, Montreal-based communication-marketing agency that has primarily commercial real estate firms as clients, including Ivanhoé Cambridge, Bentall Kennedy, Complexe Desjardins and Aéroports de Montréal.

She has been a CREW M member since 2007 and calls the organization “a jewel for networking.” According to CREW Network numbers, 72 per cent of members benefit from member-to-member referrals.

Other gender equity priorities

Other CREW M priorities for the next three years are better preparing the next generation of female real estate professionals and promoting knowledge-sharing between professional women active in the approximately 30 fields that comprise the commercial real estate industry.  

Regular membership to CREW M, which celebrated its 15th anniversary last year, costs $395. Aside from member dues, CREW M receives financial backing from partners that include Cominar, Ivanhoé Cambridge and Cadillac Fairview.

In Montreal, CREW M organizes forums and talks as well as leadership, personal and professional development training programs certified as compulsory continuous training by certain professional orders.

Upcoming events include guest speaker Michele O’Connor, principal at engineering firm Langan and director of the firm’s civil engineering practice in New York City. She will discuss the creation and evolution of that city’s High Line project.

Previous speakers include former Quebec premier Pauline Marois, the province’s first female premier.

Other events include an annual gala that highlights excellent work by women in real estate, networking sessions, a mentorship program, talks on topical subjects and training programs in key professions.

“It’s all about meeting, sharing and learning to help advance the place of women in commercial real estate,” Gagnon says.

Danny is a multiple award-winning journalist based in Montreal, who has written for about 75 magazines and newspapers in Canada and the U.S. His credits include The Globe and Mail,…

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Danny is a multiple award-winning journalist based in Montreal, who has written for about 75 magazines and newspapers in Canada and the U.S. His credits include The Globe and Mail,…

Read more

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