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Market Insight Forum: Women in Leadership

Navigating to the top: women leaders in the mortgage and real estate industries share their stories

In a field traditionally dominated by men, a shift is underway within the offices of Canada’s mortgage and real estate industries. Women are now stepping into the limelight, assuming leadership roles and reshaping industry norms.

On Wednesday, Teranet hosted its Market Insight Forum: Women in Leadership 2023, which featured female leaders from both industries. Among the topics discussed, the participants shared some of the challenges they’ve faced in the workplace and suggestions for how to make the workplace more inclusive for women.

Ending up in ‘the boys club’

Before getting into real estate, Linda Wheeler, now broker of record at PSR Brokerage, was an aspiring artist, studying at The Royal Conservatory and working on cruise ships.

Both her father and grandfather worked in the real estate industry, and when she started out, Wheeler found it difficult to imagine how she could be herself in a male-dominated field.

Linda Wheeler

“I wanted to do something different than what I had seen,” she said. “And I wanted to find myself within real estate, as opposed to letting it define me.”

She said that fitting in meant trying to balance being liked with being respected all with the goal of achieving professional success.

“I was a young girl looking at ‘the boys club,’” she said. “And I felt that in order for me to achieve success in my early years, I had to be part of ‘the boys club’ or I had to have the boys like me.”

Since starting in the industry 15 years ago, Wheeler said her career has been a constant journey of self-discovery where she tries to be herself at work instead of yielding stereotypes of what women were expected to be in the workplace.

“During the course of my early years in real estate I was like, ‘This doesn’t feel authentic to who I am. How do I change that?’” she said. “Either that’s going to define me or I’m going to define my success based on how I enter this.”

Navigating maternity leave

While getting established in the industry was difficult for many women, most ran into even more challenges while navigating maternity leave and becoming a mother.

“I recall in my career, telling my boss about my pregnancy with great trepidation,” said Mary Chatson, senior director of enterprise strategy and effectiveness at Teranet. “And my boss was a woman, so that should have made it easier, but I was so nervous that this was going to derail, that I would be excluded from things.”

To make the workplace more accommodating for women, Chatson said that companies need to focus on giving women the resources they need to be successful.

The panel emphasized a key difference between equality and equity. Equality is when everyone gets the same thing while equity is concerned with giving people different things to get them to the same place.

To better assist women in navigating maternity leave, equity could mean offering more flexibility to help them juggle the demands of work with being a mom or providing more support to help them return to the workplace.

“Equity is very simple; it’s about giving individuals what they need to be successful,” said Chatson.

The panel discussed the fact that many women worry about how taking maternity leave will affect their careers. Further, after returning, women often feel overwhelmed trying to catch up on what they missed while also meeting the demands on parenting.

“Taking those mat leave—I’ve taken two, it set me back in my career by two years and maybe even longer,” said Veronica Love, senior vice president of corporate development at TMG The Mortgage Group and past chair of the Mortgage Professionals Canada board of directors. “Because the year after you come back and you’ve still got a one-year-old that you’re looking after and juggling daycare—and there’s not enough daycare provision for a one-year-old in this country—so it’s just not equal.”

The panel also discussed the importance of normalizing paternity leave so men are able to take on some of the responsibility of taking care of a newborn while not being demeaned at work.

“We’re seeing a rise of paternity leave, but there’s still a stigma around it,” Love said. “There’s still shame when men take the same amount of time as women, so we need to get better at that.”

‘Ask for what you want because otherwise you’re never going to get it’

All the women on the panel talked about times during their careers when they weren’t taken seriously because of their sex.

“It’s about calling it out,” Chatson said. “Laying it on the table and making it not okay.”

Love said that while she thinks it’s important for women to speak up, she often worries about how men will respond to her being assertive.

“I’ve been pegged as ‘the nag,’” she said. “Our own insecurities will go ‘well, I can’t nag them because I’ll be perceived as the snitch or the nag’ so we as managers will hold back as well.”

However, despite this insecurity, Love said it’s important for women to set firm boundaries and call it out when men in the workplace aren’t respecting them.

Wheeler takes a similar approach. In these scenarios, she not only calls it out but also tries to start a conversation about why she’s not being taken as seriously as a man.

“Tell me why it cannot be taken seriously, I’m curious,” she said. “Curious is such a great word because it sends people into that place where they’re also curious about why they reacted the way they reacted or why they’re having such resistance.”

Despite the improvements made over the past few decades concerning women in the workplace, women still need to fight to assert themselves and get the compensation they deserve, the panel said.

“We’ve come a long way,” Love said. “Women were making 75 cents to the dollar back in 2015, we’re now at 89 cents.”

But while the industry has been making progress in closing the pay gap, Love said there’s still a long way to go.

“One of the biggest things that you can do if you’re in leadership in your corporations is pay us fairly and pay us equally,” she said.

Love also encourages women to ask for more money if they see men in similar roles being paid more or if they believe they’re not receiving fair compensation for the work they do.

“Women won’t ask for it. We’re more insecure,” Love said. “We don’t think we deserve it out of the gate. We want to prove ourselves but the fact is when we do prove ourselves, the money doesn’t always naturally follow.”

“Ask for what you want because otherwise you’re never going to get it,” she said.

Getting women into leadership roles

Love said that when she was approached by TMG The Mortgage Group five years ago, there was only one woman on the leadership team. Then, when she was in the process of onboarding, she raised this concern with the company and was told there were women in leadership, but they were all working behind the scenes rather than outward-facing positions.

So she dug deeper, asking “Why aren’t there more women outward facing on the company?”

A man on the hiring team responded, “’It’s not that we haven’t tried to hire women. Women haven’t stepped up to it. Women haven’t applied. I don’t know what we’re doing wrong,’” Love said.

After this, the conversation at TMG shifted to understanding why women weren’t applying to leadership roles and trying to come up with ways to change that.

Love noted that men often go into interviews overconfident while women tend to undersell their qualifications. To help bridge this gap, she encourages both men and other women to be allies and encourage women to put themselves out there and apply.

“Leadership is wonderful and it’s terrifying,” Wheeler said. “It’s about having the courage to stand out and to be heard.”

But while there’s still a lot of work to be done to give women equal opportunities and the same credibility as men, all panellists agreed they’ve noticed women being taken more seriously and hope this trend will continue in the next generation.

“I’m starting to see women become empowered and not be fearful of speaking out, to trust the intuition that resides within them,” Wheeler said. “I’m not seeing ‘the old boys club’ that it used to be.”