Challenging Gender Bias by “Reskilling” the Real Estate Industry
Career success in any field demands a combination of professional skills. While most individuals begin their career following education and training on the fundamentals of the industry, there are many intangible skills that are equally important and often overlooked. Success is dependent on a mix of these teachable and measurable talents (hard skills) and interpersonal qualities (soft skills).
In real estate in particular, success is reliant on the strength of both.
Traditional real estate leaders, for example, will be well-versed in the intricacies of project financing, risk management, estimating construction costs with accuracy, determining which building codes apply and contract writing “dos” and “don’ts.” These so-called “hard skills” are the operational basics that are essential to getting the job done and can be learned with training and experience.
However, those skills are of little worth if a real estate professional is not able to close a sale or work with key partners to make deals that are otherwise unattainable. This is why “soft” skills — including communication, proactivity, active listening, patience and understanding — are essential to be a leader in today’s fast-moving real estate industry. And as technology continues to transform the workplace and create newer ways to “get the job done” faster, soft skills will be integral to nurturing valuable business relationships, across all real estate stakeholders.
Challenging the gender divide
In industries that have been traditionally more conservative, such as real estate, those with softer skill sets have found it harder to break through the stereotypes. There is a need to reskill the workforce not only by ensuring professionals present both soft and hard skills, but also ensuring diversity is at the forefront and that certain demographics are not being left behind.
For example, despite more demand from clients for real estate professionals to be more representative of themselves, women continue to be underrepresented. According to a study conducted by U.S.-based Commercial Real Estate Women Network (CREW) in 2020, women in the commercial real estate industry are still far behind, with women occupying just over one third (37 per cent) of the industry and only nine per cent in C-suite positions. This trend is also witnessed in other industries across the real estate lifecycle, with representation being a pervasive issue in the legal, insurance and mortgage professions.
The pandemic has also exacerbated this disparity, leading many women to leave the workforce at a highly disproportionate rate. This is an alarming reality, and one that needs to be corrected. While the world recently came together for International Women’s Day and many organizations have taken the pledge to #ChoosetoChallenge gender bias and inequality, it is important to remember that parity needs to be a priority every day, and the collective real estate industry has a responsibility to achieve a balance, where the workplace mirrors the diversity of the clients and customers it serves.
Change is on the horizon
Demonstrating a combination of both hard and soft skills should not be a gender discussion; exhibiting both demonstrates a fundamental good business advantage in today’s business world, a place where experience meets empathy. Fortunately, change is coming.
Women are making gains in financial services and technology. Forward-looking companies in these fields are taking steps to prioritize diversity, flexibility and the culture shifts that are essential to encourage inclusion. Many organizations have developed programs specifically geared to helping employees feel valued and empowered, to both improve corporate culture and drive the business forward. This is also a priority at FCT, as we believe that supporting all employees’ goals and growth are key to a successful and productive workplace.
As well, the industry is being driven by the next generation of young women entering the industry. By breaking down the stereotypes and pursuing STEM educations, the next generation will impact the future of financial services and technology by making it far more inclusive. This is bringing the industry one step closer to achieving the gender parity and all-around inclusivity that has been long overdue.
The real estate industry is facing two realities. On one hand, it is critical for industry professionals to recognize that a combination of hard and soft skills is critical to success. On the other, we must collectively recognize that this is not a male-female factor, it is a fundamental good business factor, and the barriers that persist today should be a top concern across all players in the real estate transaction.
Companies that embrace diversity and focus on employee development and well-being will reap rewards in the post-pandemic recovery. And for those of us in the real estate industry, the powerful and sustainable relationships we build with our colleagues, customers and partners — resulting from our efforts to enable diversity and the multitude of skills and experiences that come with it — will transform business for the better.
Michael LeBlanc is CEO of FCT, a Canadian real estate technology and title insurance company recently recognized as one of Canada’s Best Workplaces for Women by the Great Place to Work Institute for the second consecutive year.