ULI British Columbia Blog

Women in Leadership in City Building and Real Estate Development

Glass ceilings began to shatter across the US on November 7, 2018 with the election of a record number of women to Congress. A significant diversity of women of all political stripes put their names on the ballot and were chosen to represent their country.

This is a milestone for many reasons but in the simplest terms, when people around the table reflect the people they serve, we see better decisions for everyone.

We saw this locally as well with the municipal election in BC last October 2018. In many sectors and spheres of life a much-needed, long overdue breakthrough on women’s equality is rising in ways we have not previously seen.

A Shift is in Progress For Women in City Building

This shift is happening in our own sector, city building and real estate development. We are finally starting to acknowledge women’s lived experience in the bricks and mortar, streets, bus stops, parks and services of the cities that we build and the significant impact those spaces have on our quality of life.

Research shows that women, as a result of many gender-related factors, have different priorities and concerns in city building, and that cities are used by and benefit women and men differently. In municipal politics, or any political level, it is critical that gender diversity is represented so that the issues that prioritize are reflected in the decision-making around cities.

The Women’s Leadership Initiative is a global initiative of the Urban Land Institute to improve efforts towards the advancement of women in their real estate development industry. As a Founding Member of the Women’s Leadership Initiative with the Urban Land Institute in BC, it is our mandate to bring this critical and inclusive perspective forward in across all areas of city-building and the real estate industry.

The mission of the WLI falls within key primary objectives:

  • Promote the advancement of women, throughout their careers, as leaders in the real estate industry.
  • Increase the number of womenwho serve in leadership positions in the real estate industry and in ULI.
  • Increase the visibility of women leadersin the real estate industry and in ULI.
  • Increase the number of womenwho are active ULI Full members, and support the development of young women members as leaders in ULI and in their professions.

This focus on promoting the advancement of women comes a critical time. While it’s exciting that women are getting elected at unprecedented rate, we’re still just getting started.

The United Nations states that a critical mass of at least 30% women is needed before governments produce public policy representing women’s concerns and before governments begin to change the way they do business.

Based on current statistics Canada is falling short. Canada needs over 1400 more women in elected municipal office to reach the minimum 30% target where issues impacting women begin to be addressed. A recent headline in the online forum, Policy Options makes this point:  “Elections in some of Canada’s most diverse cities still produced extremely homogenous councils. This threatens the legitimacy of their decisions.”

Locally, we are starting to see an increase in elected women politicians. Our inaugural WLI event, held in Summer 2018, was an intimate conversation with City of North Vancouver (CNV) Mayoral Candidate Linda Buchanan that I was honoured to facilitate. We discussed her experience as a two-term Councillor now running for Mayor. We gained some critical insights from that conversation of about women trailblazers in city-building and life as a woman in local politics.

It is challenging. Still. However, we were subsequently thrilled to learn that Linda was able to win the election; not only that, the number of women elected to CNV council increased from 42% to 57%. Similarly, in Vancouver, we saw the number of women elected to council increase from 41%   to 66%.

Where Women Are Still Vastly Underrepresented Change is Needed

The movement to increase the presence and influence of women in city-building is both necessary and timely. The urban environment is becoming increasingly complex, and developers have to realize that to continue to gain social licence needed for successful development projects women are a key to unlocking success. Development processes must do better to include a diversity of voices and outlooks to be successful, none more important than those of women – all women across the spectrum of socio-economic status, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

It is also true that by taking steps to bring more women and their lived experience to the decision-making table will help infuse development projects, communities and cities with better overall success and outcomes for everyone.

Action on these issues is a step in the right direction for all of us and the cities that we inhabit.

There is still much work to do particularly within real estate development companies — where there is a glaring lack of gender diversity across management, leadership and key decision-makers.

In a 2018 report by McKinsey & Co and LeanIn.org called Women in the Workplace, the proportion of women in corporate leadership has barely budged in the past decade despite year after year those same companies reporting that they are highly committed to gender diversity.

Clearly the system is broken. It’s failing women. It’s failing companies. And it’s failing shareholders: In a global survey of 279 companies in 2010 McKinsey found that those companies with the greatest proportion of women in their executive committees earned a return on equity of 47% higher than those without female members.

Women are making critical contributions in all areas of city-building and real estate development but their roles in critical industry leadership, on corporate boards, on panels, and in key senior leadership and decision-making roles are still grossly underrepresented.

How We Can Make A Commitment to Progress

  1. To make progress quickly, we need to focus on hiring and promotions working to balance equality for all women across all areas of leadership and promotion opportunities.

In the McKinsey study men are hired at a rate of 54% of entry level jobs, and then the gap widens from there all the way up to the C-suite where women are represented only 19% of the time according to the study. The study shows that this funnelling out of women occurs despite equal qualifications and no significant disproportionate time away for childrearing.

Companies need to observe their hiring and promotion practices with correcting this inequality in mind. This is especially true in real estate development and other city building professions where women seem to be overrepresented in certain roles like administration, HR, marketing, accounting, and underrepresented in development roles, executive leadership, boards etc.

To illuminate this point, ask yourself:

When you think of women in real estate development, what roles are they typically in and what level of leadership are they in within the companies?

Are there women on the Boards of the companies in your city or at the head of those companies?

The answers to these questions are revealing and show us exactly where the focus of our efforts towards equality needs to happen across the industry.

  1. Put women on panels and in boardrooms. We need to require appropriate if not equal representation of women, women’s perspectives and experiences. This applies to any conference, industry association event, speaker’s panel, committees and boards, aiming for an appropriate if not equal representation of women. The phenomenon of all male panels so much the norm across all industries that the term “manel’ is now referenced in the Oxford Dictionary. In addition, several campaigns and pledges internationally have been launched and are taking hold where high-profile men and women across industries are refusing to take part on panels without an appropriate representation of women on those very panels. This is something that ULI and WLI have a strong commitment to changing within the industry.
  2. To increase the number of women in political leadership, the City of Vancouver has set up the Women’s Advisory Committee with a mandate to advise Council and staff on enhancing access and inclusion for women and girls to fully participate in City services and civic life. If your city didn’t fare as well in terms of approaching gender parity on council, advocate for the adoption of a Women’s Advisory Committee to see issues impacting women taken into consideration more fully.

These are just a few thoughts on where we can start to shift the balance for women leaders in city building. Feel free to share your thoughts.

WLI has some big plans for initiatives that showcase our women in leadership for 2019 including our next event on February 6th. WLI will showcase a local leader with our program “Champions in the Spotlight” focused on Kaye Krishna, General Manager of Development, Buildings and Licensing at the City of Vancouver – a woman who is breaking a glass ceiling of her own as she moves on to a position as BC’s Deputy Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Carla Guerrera

Written by:
Carla Guerrera M.Pl., RPP, LEED AP
Founder & CEO
Purpose Driven Development, Planning and Strategy

About Carla…
As a globally recognized real estate development professional, Carla melds together the fields of real estate development, planning, design and sustainability. Through a highly collaborative and creative approach, Carla has a proven track record of delivering $870 million in complex, mixed-use real estate development projects across Canada’s top markets, including the renowned West Don lands development on the Toronto waterfront. She has been awarded the Urban Land Institutes Top 40 Under 40 global land use professionals award, as well as Business in Vancouver’s Top 40 Under 40 Award. Carla is a skilled strategic leader of teams, with an exceptional track record for turning challenges into opportunities,and bringing vision to reality for complex real estate development projects for the benefit of communities and investors. Carla is currently actively serving on several boards including Atira Development Society, Gitgaat Nation Economic Development, BC Pavilion Corporation, and is a Founding Member of the ULI Women’s Leadership Initiative in British Columbia.

McKinsey Report & Lean In  2018 report

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