New group calls for more diversity in commercial sector

A new non-profit, non-partisan organization is leading the charge to impress diversity, equity and inclusion upon the real estate industry, particularly the commercial sector, in which it says there’s a dearth of women and minorities in leadership roles.

And in developing its own playbook, The Evolution of Workplaces: Building a Culture of Excellence, the Commercial Real Estate Equity and Diversity (CREED) Council endeavours to spark a culture shift in the industry, countrywide, as its members discussed during a webinar last week.

“The industry doesn’t have gender equality, in terms of an equitable gender divide, and even people of colour, unless they’re in the administrative positions,” Leona Savoie, CREED member and senior VP of development at Hullmark, told CREW. “Companies have diversity but it isn’t seen in leadership positions. There’s often a ceiling for each of these groups.”

Savoie, a 23-year real estate sector veteran, says there is widespread acknowledgement in the industry that diversity is lacking, but far too little has been done to rectify demographical discrepancies. Implementing so-called diversity principles as institutional targets would be a good place to start, she added.

“It’s about setting measurable targets to institute change. If they’re just words, you’ll never get there, but if you set targets you can measure it. Leadership has to take ownership of it—make some broad statements, even mission statements, to create diverse, inclusive and equitable work environments—but if company leaders aren’t behind them and don’t actively check to make sure it’s happening, something’s lost.”

Part of CREED’s mission is to help people from diverse communities, whose aspirations might be stunted by what the organization believes are systemic hurdles, climb the ladder. One such way is through a mentorship program, although given CREED’s nascence, it’s still in the works.

“A lot of companies don’t know where to start, and for those that have not started we’d like to be a go-to resource to help them through this journey,” said Savoie.

Another similar initiative in the wider real estate industry is the Magical Unicorn Project, started by Vancouver-based Kyra Wong, a district vice president at Manulife Financial. Wong, who works in Canada’s mortgage sector, launched the project four years ago to inspire women and minorities to smash through glass ceilings, whether corporate, social or emotional, and while her project has been well received, the nature of the mortgage space makes institutional change difficult.

“Part of the problem in the mortgage space is it’s mostly self-employed individuals—agents and brokers—rather than many corporate entities, so there’s no body in the industry to promote a culture of diversity and inclusion. The onus, therefore, falls on individual real estate franchise owners to promote, then nurture, that kind of culture,” said Wong, who chose the unicorn and “loud colours” as themes to stand out and flout the status quo. In getting people’s attention, she’s issuing a direct challenge to accept differences.

However, there has been noticeable progress among Canadian mortgage brokerages and lending institutions, with women being promoted to more leadership roles in recent years.

“I created this project in 2017 and in the years since I’ve seen more women promoted into leadership positions,” said Wong. “Today, we have a much stronger group of male allies in the industry.”

2021-06-21 14:53:48

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