Given the renewed focus on empowering women over the last few years, we are reminded that the Canadian women’s suffrage movement occurred just over 100 years ago. That decades-long fight, advocating for fundamental rights and freedoms, resulted in the passing of long overdue legislation, providing women with civil liberties and socioeconomic improvements, including participation in the workforce.
Fast-forward to today and women currently represent more than half of first-time and repeat homebuyers. By 2026 women are expected to control close to half of all accumulated wealth. While this is a testament to the remarkable success achieved by women in a relatively short period of time, it also underscores the importance of real estate literacy and ensuring reflected representation across the real estate journey.
Real estate professionals who identify as women have made remarkable advancements towards equal representation in the industry. As of 2020, nearly seven in 10 Canadian brokers identified as women, challenging preconceived notions of the industry as being male-dominated. While this is an impressive win, often overlooked and underrepresented are the women in the other segments of the industry, such as legal and insurance, who play a critical role in the real estate transaction.
In March, to commemorate International Women’s Day, important conversations about the role of women in the workplace were omnipresent – but these conversations must not be relegated to a single day or month. FCT is committed to continuing the conversation to understand how the various industries in the real estate sector are working to advance diversity, inclusion and belonging and paving the way for representation across the real estate transaction.
Leading in law
In recent years, Canadian law firms have borne witness to improvements in diversity as the industry recognized the value of varied perspectives and the importance of reflecting Canadian demographics. This need for diverse representation goes beyond the walls of the workplace and into the client base, with many clients opting for a lawyer or firm they feel truly understands them. Bottom line: clients want to see themselves represented.
The legal profession is working to meet this demand. In 2020, 43 per cent of lawyers identified as women with a further 29 per cent identifying as a visible minority, and these numbers are expected to grow. An increase in senior leadership diversity was also noted by law societies across Canada, which have implemented measures to advance equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the legal profession. The Law Society of Ontario put together a detailed guide to assist lawyers and paralegals as they work to incorporate EDI initiatives into their workplaces, which is one of many examples of the industry taking important steps forward. Other law societies across the country are also working on creating similar guidelines and other initiatives to support women in the profession, such as the Law Society of Alberta.
Innovating in insurance
Women play a significant role in the insurance industry overall, currently accounting for 62 per cent of the workforce. In addition, it is projected that 90 per cent of women at some point in their lifetime will be the sole financial decision maker and an estimated $900 billion in financial and real assets will be controlled by women within the next decade. These astounding numbers indicate the pressing importance of diverse representation, which has served as motivation for many of the industry’s notable commitments to diversity and inclusion.
The insurance industry has emerged as a trailblazer when it comes to EDI initiatives, with the sector prioritizing a culture that promotes a sense of inclusion for women and further encourages them to take leadership positions. Across North America, the insurance industry has been repeatedly recognized for its efforts in support of EDI campaigns. In 2016, CEOs in the insurance industry signaled their dedication to embracing EDI, coming together as signatories on a commitment statement, which remains in effect to this day.
Insurance organizations also continue to dominate various EDI lists such as Bloomberg’s Gender-Equality Index, Black Enterprise’s 50 Best Companies for Diversity and Great Places to Work 50 Best Workplaces lists, to name a few. All of these efforts and more can be found on the Insurance Information Institute’s website, which has a dedicated section that details the comprehensive efforts in the space.
Frontrunners in financial services
Banks are recognized as leaders in building representative workforces, with women now accounting for the majority of financial service industry employees. While these efforts are commendable, cultivating higher numbers of women in leadership positions has been identified as one of the greatest shortcomings – and greatest opportunity – for the financial services industry in the years to come.
According to the Canadian Bankers Association, women occupied just below 38 per cent of senior management positions and 49 per cent of all middle management positions at Canada’s six largest banks in 2019, surpassing the federal government’s benchmarks for both levels of executive leadership. As of 2020, women represent an average of 39 per cent of board of director compositions, nine per cent above the target of 30 per cent by 2022 set by Club Canada.
Recognizing that the proportion of their workforce-to-executives is off-balance when it comes to gender, financial institutions and other businesses within the financial services sector have made substantial efforts to improve representation in executive positions. Governments, organizations and industry associations have set benchmarks to incite companies to increase the number of women holding positions at the senior management level and/or on boards of directors. Cultivating diversity at the leadership level must continue to remain a top priority for businesses within the industry.
The importance of diversity in leadership
With women now representing nearly half of the Canadian workforce, tangible change brought about through EDI initiatives requires organizations to set their sights on encouraging more diverse leadership. This can be accomplished by working to promote women and visible minorities to executive positions and establishing a culture that nurtures their career development.
The highest-performing businesses tend to have more women in leadership roles. The research indicates that in higher-performing companies, 37 per cent of executive positions are held by women, compared to only 19 per cent in lower-ranked companies.
Further, organizations that prioritize equity and representation in the workplace reap quantifiable benefits. Companies with the highest levels of diversity (including gender, ethnic and racial diversity) are anywhere from 13 per cent to 15 per cent more likely to have financial returns above their industry’s national average.
Statistics reinforce the important role of women as a growing force in the workplace and in a majority of residential real estate transactions. The next generation of homebuyers want and deserve to see women represented in all of these critical industries.
The real estate industry and its related sectors are making strides in employing and supporting women – but 100 years later, there is still work to be done. It is not just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do.