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Diversity and inclusion, a CRE report card: Part II

Having more women in leadership executive and board roles doesn’t just make sense from an equity...

IMAGE: Qi Tang is senior vice president and CFO at RioCan REIT, one of Canada's largest real estate investment trusts. (Courtesy RioCan)

Qi Tang is senior vice president and CFO at RioCan REIT, one of Canada’s largest real estate investment trusts. (Courtesy RioCan)

Having more women in leadership executive and board roles doesn’t just make sense from an equity perspective for commercial real estate and related companies. It also makes sound financial sense.

Nordea Bank AB analyzed nearly 11,000 publicly traded companies — all with trading volumes of at least US$2 million daily — from 2008 to 2016. Results revealed companies with a female CEO or board chair averaged a 25 per cent annualized return.

That’s more than double the 11 per cent average return of the MSCI World Index, a global equity benchmark that represents large and mid-cap equity performance across 23 developed markets.

ICYMI: Here’s Diversity and inclusion, how’s the CRE sector doing? Part I

A June 2017 MGI report stated Canada could add $150 billion in incremental gross domestic product (GDP) in 2026 by advancing gender equality. That’s an increase of six per cent from business-as-usual GDP growth forecasts for the same period.

MSCI research shows companies with both a more diverse board, and stronger talent management practices, enjoyed higher growth in employee productivity compared to companies with only one of those two factors.

Collectively, these findings bolster the idea board gender diversity is a reflection of the attention being paid by companies to human capital recruitment, management and development.

The MSCI Canada IMI Women’s Leadership Select Index was developed to support investors seeking exposure to companies promoting and maintaining gender diversity among their workforce. It aims to represent the performance of companies that exhibit a commitment to gender diversity among their boards and executive leadership positions.

“Some large investors use the index,” said Qi Tang, the chief financial officer at RioCan REIT. “RioCan is part of the index because one-third of our board members are women and a number of our executives and senior management team members are also women.”

Toni Rossi and Infrastructure Ontario

Toni Rossi has been in the commercial real estate industry more than 25 years. Before becoming Infrastructure Ontario real estate president, she was: senior VP of development and project services and VP of strategic asset management for Ontario Realty Corp.; director of development for Oxford Properties; and held a variety of positions at Cadillac Fairview.

Rossi was the first chair of Habitat for Humanity’s Women Build program. She’s held positions on the Toronto CREW board and was co-chair of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Women’s Leadership Initiative committee.

The initiative was created in 2016 to look at how women in the industry are championed and to work with male counterparts to understand and eliminate barriers. The initiative helped increase ULI’s female membership from 15 to 35 per cent.

Infrastructure Ontario launched an initiative to promote its female employees which has widened to include visible minorities.

“Our C-suite is fairly diverse in ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation,” said Rossi. “Our decision-making hasn’t suffered because of that.”

The goal is to achieve gender and ethnic balance.

“Having measured targets based on clear objectives and outcomes is the best way to go,” said Rossi. “Targets need to be better than they were the year before until you have equality.”


The 2017 CREW Network’s Diversity: The Business Advantage white paper included case studies of commercial real estate companies and what they’re doing in this area.

CBRE formed its Women’s Network in 2000 to promote success of females at the company through growth, mentorship and connection. The Women’s Network invites 500 employees to a two-and-a-half-day forum of professional development and networking to foster the goal.

The CRE services and investment firm also offers:

* a nine-month mentoring program called EMPOWER;

* a two-year leadership development program for women called IMPACT!;

* an initiative in which the company’s 30 top executives are personally responsible for mentoring and facilitating the professional growth of one key female leader in the company;

* and payment top-ups over what’s offered by the Employment Insurance program for salaried employees, and lump-sum payments for commissioned employees, who take parental leaves.

CBRE further promotes diversity through other employee networking groups, including: African-American Network Group; Asia Pacific Network; CBRE Military; Hispanic and Latin Business Resource Group; LGBT & Allies; and Rising Professionals Organization.

A CREW Network white paper acknowledged JLL has women in top leadership positions and that females account for 35 per cent of the global workforce, 39 per cent of executive leadership and 36 per cent of board members.

Since the inception of the real estate services and investment management company’s efforts to bring gender balance to the organization, it’s seen 87 per cent growth in female associates.

JLL’s Women’s Business Network has 23 chapters. It hosts a summit inviting male associates to serve as allies in group activities so they can better understand their roles in creating gender balance.

In 2012, SVN International Corp. set a goal of achieving diversity and gender equity by 2020. Since gender equity became part of the commercial real estate advisor’s overall business plan, 20 per cent of franchises are now owned by women, up from two per cent in 2004, according to the case study.

Dream Unlimited, Savills and Avison Young

Dream Unlimited’s board established a committee to identify, mentor and champion talent within the organization, oversee its commitment to leadership in diversity and inclusion at all levels, and work with the governance and nominating committee to identify director candidates and provide mentorship to new board members.

International commercial real estate advisor Savills has a Building Inclusivity and Diversity Group which regularly hosts speakers and panel-discussion events for employees and clients to encourage awareness and constructive dialogue about diversity and inclusion.

To support the advancement of women and minorities, the firm is committed to training programs related to human resources issues, such as managing unconscious bias in the talent review process and intercultural competence in hiring.

Savills is a corporate member of Catalyst, a non-profit organization that works to expand opportunities for women in business. It’s also a lead sponsor of CREW Network.

Commercial real estate services provider Avison Young enlisted an executive firm to identify top female leadership talent in all industries to recruit to its board. According to the CREW Network case study, the company’s employee base is 40 per cent female.

Cushman & Wakefield’s UNITY initiative

Equality and inclusion is also important when it comes to sexual orientation, which is why Cushman & Wakefield created an employee resource group called UNITY last May for its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) employees and their allies.

The group was developed to provide an open-minded support system for conducting business and addressing the personal requirements of the company’s LGBTQ community through employee development, networking and mentoring. It engages in community support, corporate responsibility and outreach.

There are 11 UNITY chapters, with almost 200 people involved, across the Americas. This includes 27 members in the Greater Toronto Area chapter launched in December.

“We know that our success depends on our ability to attract, develop and retain talent from diverse backgrounds,” said Martha MacKenzie, Cushman & Wakefield marketing and business development lead for Canada and executive sponsor of UNITY.

“High-performing teams value the power of difference in ideas and experience.

“LGBTQ employees often face unique challenges at their places of employment. UNITY serves as a way in which we can overcome these challenges and make Cushman & Wakefield one of the best places to work across our industry, and across the communities in which we operate.”

Real estate conferences, events

Returning to where this two-part series began, Informa Canada real estate VP George Przybylowski said 14 of the 27 chairs or co-chairs at its Canadian real estate conferences in 2018 were women. That trend has continued in 2019, with the firm actively seeking women and members of minority communities to fill these roles.

It is not alone.

“Toronto CREW is building a directory of speakers that we are happy to offer for any real estate conference,” said a statement sent to RENX from its leadership group. “People in the industry are ready to hear from a more diverse group of senior leaders.

“Diversity of thought and perspective leads to a more interesting and balanced panel. Diversity is also imperative for balanced and effective leadership, and we are encouraged to see senior leadership teams that continue to evolve, as reflected in real estate conference panels of late.”

REALPAC board members have signed a pledge encouraging them not to appear on an industry panel unless it has at least one woman or visible minority member, aside from the moderator.

President Michael Brooks, along with REALPAC, NAIOP, BOMA Canada, Toronto CREW, ULI Toronto and CoreNet Global co-hosted a recent conference in Toronto featuring guest speakers and discussions about diversity and inclusion, business drivers and impediments, transformation strategies and more.

Tang, Anna Kennedy of KingSett Capital (quoted extensively in Part I) and 26 other female executives in the real estate field were honoured at the Toronto Power Women event on April 9 at the Toronto Marriott City Centre.

“I’m very proud to be among such an esteemed group of women,” said Tang. “I’m certainly very pleased to see the direction where the industry is heading.”

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