Industry IWD panel offers solutions to advance women in CRE

IMAGE: The sold-out Future of the Workplace: Partnerships & Innovation to Celebrate International Women's Day 2019 panel event March 5 at the EY Tower in Toronto. (Kelly Roche RENX)

The sold-out Future of the Workplace: Partnerships & Innovation to Celebrate International Women’s Day 2019 panel event March 5 at the EY Tower in Toronto. (Kelly Roche RENX)

It was topical, trendy, and totally sold out. Six speakers waxed lyrical about everything from #MeToo to paternity leave — as it relates to commercial real estate and development — during the Future of the Workplace: Partnerships & Innovation to Celebrate IWD2019 panel in Toronto’s EY Tower.

“I have a voice at the table and I want to keep that door open,” said Sunita Mahant, senior director of legal affairs at Ivanhoé Cambridge.

The discussion was hosted March 5 by Matrix360 ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8. Industry leaders weighed in on the current landscape, offering strategies and actionable solutions to build more competitive, prosperous and sustainable organizations.

Special RENX #IWD2019 coverage

Tomorrow: A women’s CRE organization helping create change

Barriers to women in leadership roles was a hot topic.

One of the most significant is that responsibility for childcare and taking parental leave continues to fall overwhelmingly to women though that is beginning to change. An expectation parental leave be available, and taken, by both men and women is a solution which struck a cord with members of the panel.

On-site child care a game-changer

Stephanie Dei, UN Women’s national coordinator for Canada, noted “only 12 per cent of fathers in Canada” currently take parental leave. She added the implementation of on-site child care would be a game-changer for working mothers.

Bringing your children with you during the morning commute, being able to check on them during a lunch break, and heading home together at the end of the day, she said, offers incredible ease for parents.

On the subject of leave, women make 85 per cent of all parental claims and take longer leaves from the workplace according to federal government statistics as of September 2018.

Mahant said some companies are beginning to embrace and plan for a trend that sees more men taking parental leave “and that actually helps women.” She called policies which focus on women taking such leave “old and draconian.”

New parental leave rules take effect March 17

The federal government is offering parents five more weeks of Employment Insurance (EI) parental benefits with a catch — both parents must take time off.

With the sharing benefit, parents who select the standard duration could receive up to 40 weeks of parental benefits, instead of 35.

But neither parent can have more than 35 weeks in total, requiring both to take time off to access the additional weeks. (An extra eight weeks is available for those who choose the extended parental benefit option, increasing it to 69 weeks from 61 weeks).

Originally slated to roll out in June, the new parental sharing benefit kicks in on March 17.

Providing women with equal economic opportunities “will drive innovation and support middle class families, ” said minister of families, children and social development Jean-Yves Duclos in a Sept. 26, 2018 news release. 

“The new parental sharing benefit will give parents extra flexibility and encourage Canadians to share the work of raising their children more equally.”

Quebec men taking parental leave

It’s a situation already well-advanced in Quebec, where roughly 80 per cent of eligible fathers take parental leave, said Jake Stika, co-founder and executive director of Next Gen MenHe calls the “use it or lose it” policy shift — essentially embracing the Quebec structure — a great way for men to build empathy for their partners.

“It’s a really brilliant thing,” said Stika.

More than 24,000 additional parents could take advantage of the March rollout, according to the Canadian government, describing the benefit as a huge step toward gender equality at home and work.

Meanwhile, Veronica Maggisano, senior director of development at Oxford Properties, touched on innovation and the need for diverse perspectives when looking at gender parity.

“Our markets and customers are starting to demand it,” said Maggisano, pointing out “to make it actionable, data is really key.”

Tracking and making available statistics which document corporate policy on gender-related issues, such as number of female employees, is one approach. “What would they say (if your company documented that information and made it available to clients and customers)?” Maggisano asked.

CBRE and Colliers opening the door

Companies must go beyond a “meaningless mother ship statement about diversity,” said Paul Morassutti, vice-chairman of valuation and advisory services at CBRE Canada.

CBRE partnered with Ryerson University, creating an initiative for young women he described as “rock stars.” A slight change to how you strategize can go a long way, he said.

“It’s an unconscious bias,” said Scott Addison, president of brokerage services at Colliers InternationalHe talked about his own tendency, as a hockey player, to hire athletes because they’re perceived to be collaborative and competitive.

“I had to discover that myself,” said Addison. He then explained a female business coach he met 15 years ago has helped him discover such personal insights.

Women in Governance and corporate parity

Mahant highlighted a tangible initiative called Women in Governance, a Montreal-based organization founded by Caroline Codsi in 2010. The not-for-profit organization offers corporate parity certification for companies with 400-plus employees.

Ivanhoé Cambridge was certified in 2018, Mahant said, along with 30 other major players including Air Canada, EY,  and RBC.

“If you can show that the data will affect the bottom line, you’ve got it,” said Mahant. 

“Money talks.”


Kelly is a freelance multimedia journalist in the Toronto area. Her daily news background includes TV, newspaper and digital (in that order). Kelly has also spent time in the classroom…

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Kelly is a freelance multimedia journalist in the Toronto area. Her daily news background includes TV, newspaper and digital (in that order). Kelly has also spent time in the classroom…

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