As a data-driven individual, I know the value of metrics. They demonstrate performance. They tell a story. They make an impact. They prompt action. They propel change.
According to CREW Network’s 2015 Benchmark Study Report: Women in Commercial Real Estate, women constitute approximately 37 per cent of the commercial real estate workforce in Canada; nine per cent hold C-suite positions.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Today we welcome our newest contributed column, CRE Matters. The column, being provided by Colliers International (Canada), will explore a variety of commercial real estate issues and topics. Watch for future instalments approximately once per month.
Subsequent publications from CREW indicate 65 per cent of employees have experienced or witnessed gender bias against females in their commercial real estate workplace in the last five years (2011-2016), while 55 per cent of employees have experienced or witnessed gender bias against females outside of the physical workplace.
I recently celebrated my 10 years in the industry and with Colliers International. Upon reaching this milestone, I reflected on my journey, acknowledging my challenges and accomplishments, and the relationships I’ve forged along the way.
The industry and our company have evolved in the last decade – and there is still much opportunity to foster a truly diverse and inclusive workforce. Since CREW network’s benchmark report was released five years ago, circumstances remain largely unchanged in commercial real estate with regard to gender equity.
The early days
I joined Colliers as National Director of IT. A woman foraying into an industry with an “old school” composition and very few female leaders, I was ready to question status quo as I was used to more diverse workforces in my previous roles.
Adding more challenge, my first objective was to implement a company-wide system, which involved convincing our professionals to not only trade in their Rolodexes for a web-based tool, but also share the contents of said Rolodexes.
I met resistance. I experienced bias: I wasn’t heard. I’d present an idea without it landing. I learned to embrace the challenge and found allies.
I persevered, determined to deliver a robust product, advance IT within the business – and break through the barriers. And I hoped that circumstances would change: It would only be a matter of time before a shift occurred that would see gender equity and women not having to fight so hard for their rightful place.
Success, and breakthroughs
I also experienced bright spots: accolades for a breakthrough project, words of encouragement from colleagues who recognized my contributions, a fellow female professional making her mark in the business, to name a few.
My resolve for the next few years resulted in the creation and deployment of a robust CRM and globally aligned intranet, both of which continue to play a big part in our professionals’ day-to-day work and business pursuits.
I was ready for more. Fuelled by my desire to work more closely with people to drive change, I took on the position of vice president of operations for Western Canada. Two years later, I became senior vice president of operations for Canada.
During my tenure as head of brokerage operations, I have helped nearly double Colliers’ brokerage business – and been able to advocate for diversity and inclusion.
Knowing first-hand the impact of not having “a seat at the table”, I ensure individuals from various teams and with a range of expertise participate in conversations, initiatives and decision-making. When differing minds and opinions converge, it makes for richer dialogue and more creative solutions, not to mention a better experience for employees and clients.
I mentor female professionals within Colliers, using my knowledge and experiences to help them navigate the industry and company, and set and steer their own paths to professional success.
As I had hoped, circumstances did begin to change.
Recognizing the obstacles women encounter within the industry and organization, including conscious and unconscious bias and lack of mentoring and sponsorship, Colliers launched its diversity and inclusion program in 2016. Colliers has since taken important steps to help identify and create opportunities for female employees, and provide the mentorship and tools we need to be successful experts and leaders.
In the last year, following discussions with people from all levels within our organization that made evident the need for our employees to be empowered to speak up, stand up and push back, I created Colliers’ Inclusive Workplace Workshop. A forum for our employees – male and female – to share their stories, seek and provide support, and learn practical ways to address challenges, the workshop tackles topics such as stepping up to be a leader, shutting down bullying and harassment in the workplace, and transitioning from being bystanders to upstanders.
I have held 12 Inclusive Workplace Workshops in five cities. The sessions have received overwhelmingly positive feedback and inspired desired behaviour. I have noticed a tangible difference in participants’ language and actions, and witnessed them holding one another accountable to their words and deeds.
There are proven business benefits to fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce.
There’s a return on diversity
The same CREW report cited research conducted by management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, demonstrating that “companies in the top 25 per cent for gender diversity are 15 per cent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians, while those in the top 25 per cent for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 per cent more likely to have higher returns.”
Given these findings and the fact that striving for equality in the workplace is overdue and the right thing to do, how could one not work toward this goal?
At Colliers, we have work to do, and the positive steps we will continue to take will drive benefits for our professionals, company and clients. In early 2020, Colliers refined the vision for its diversity and inclusion program, moving the focus to inclusion, with the intent to “clear the path to further promote diversity”.
I am excited and honoured to continue championing inclusion and diversity within Colliers in Canada. And I look forward to sharing our progress, and seeing numbers telling a more promising story for women in commercial real estate.