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Ferial Sheybani leads charge for women in CRE data tech

Ferial Sheybani is vice-president and head of technology and data for Colliers. (Courtesy Colliers)
Ferial Sheybani is vice-president and head of technology and data for Colliers. (Courtesy Colliers)

Ferial Sheybani had spent more than 25 years working in progressively senior technology-related roles before joining Colliers as its vice-president and head of technology and data in December 2019.

After studying math and computer science in university, Sheybani’s career has involved managing large teams of technology and project management professionals while providing business and information technology planning and implementation support.

She has worked in both the public and private sectors and touched on many industries — including health care, telecommunications, finance, energy, insurance, legal, professional services, construction and engineering.

Her role at Colliers has focused on building the team that creates and operates data-related technology platforms, and acting as a partner to other leaders to help them think outside the box by using technology as part of their strategies.

“Commercial real estate, to me, is very primed for change and very primed for innovation,” Sheybani told RENX during an interview for International Women's Day to discuss her experience, her chosen career and helping other women attain similar success. “This was a great opportunity for me to come in and apply what I had learned.” 

Colliers is a global organization and Sheybani works with international colleagues across a range of products and infrastructure needs. 

Sheybani’s Canadian team is comprised of about 50 people (approximately 40 per cent of them women, and including a wide range of ethnic backgrounds), and a large internship program can boost that number significantly.

The company sometimes also partners with outside firms when building new solutions.

Data leader of the year

Sheybani’s efforts resulted in three nominations for the Canadian Women in IT Summit & Awards Series in October, where she was named data leader of the year and honoured for implementing a master data management platform and data governance that digitizes data ingestion from external sources and provides quality management.

Sheybani also earned nominations in the transformation leader of the year and best information technology team categories. 

“We're basically creating a 360-degree view of customer and property information for our advisors based on market data and our own internal insights,” Sheybani explained. 

“What caught (the award judges') attention was what we're creating in bringing in the right expertise to build the team from the bottom up since we were a very small team when I started.”

Sheybani is excited about what her team’s work will add to Colliers and the commercial real estate industry at large by “changing the narrative on how we collaborate to create better insights for our customers and better working arrangements with our competitors.”

Under-representation of women in technology

She noted women remain under-represented in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields in general, as well as in the tech and data innovation component of commercial real estate — especially when it comes to leadership roles.

“Because of the reputation of commercial real estate, probably less women are directly coming in and looking at jobs in this area,” she said, “and I see so many women with potential who are sitting at the manager level and they're afraid of coming a level up for different reasons.”

Sheybani believes women can provide different and valuable perspectives and approaches to dealing with technology, innovation and automation, but said they’re often not encouraged to pursue education or jobs that would enable them to contribute in those areas. 

Though progress has been made, Sheybani wants to see more change.

Part of that process involves providing mentorship, sponsorship, coaching and role models to young women – and it needs to happen on an ongoing basis, not just through special recognition events such as International Women's Day.

“A lot of women learn how to build a better network, but at the same time they always want someone to pull them up or need someone to pull them up,” said Sheybani. 

“Even in recruitment, if we see that women are not 100 per cent fitting the bill, they don't apply for jobs. Our strategy in recruitment for women includes headhunting and identifying women with potential and bringing them to the table.”

More women needed in top executive roles

Sheybani has benefited from coaching and mentoring from both women and men, some of whom encouraged her to pursue higher leadership positions, during her career.

She’s tried to do the same thing with women she’s hired.

“I focus a lot on helping them find their voice and making them feel comfortable to bring up ideas and work in an environment that feels equitable to both men and women."

While more emphasis is being placed on putting women in high executive roles in Canadian real estate and other industries, Sheybani thinks more can still be done. So do some of her colleagues.

“I have the pleasure of working with a CEO (Brian Rosen) who is very supportive of women in leadership, and he appreciates and understands the value that diversity brings to our senior leadership team in Canada,” Sheybani said. 

“I feel there's a lot of opportunity here for women, and whoever comes to that table is treated very well and is welcomed.”

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