Canada’s builders need to reflect Canada

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Since the Black Opportunity Fund was created last summer by a group of Black executives, several commercial real estate companies have reached out, says Dennis Mitchell, a co-founder of the fund. The initiative is aimed at providing Black Canadian-led businesses and organizations with long-term stable capital.

When the commercial real estate companies inquired about bringing in interns from the Black community, almost all stated they typically recruit from the best schools for their existing internships, says Mr. Mitchell, chief executive officer of Toronto-based Starlight Capital Inc., which manages real assets.

“It creates this perpetuation of feeder systems from certain prestigious schools that tend not to be overly racially diverse,” he notes.

This kind of pattern has led to a lack of diversity in the commercial real estate (CRE) industry, Mr. Mitchell says, something many insiders have identified as a problem.

In 2016 “it became clear to us that we had a problem,” says Michael Brooks, chief executive officer of Realpac, a national real property association with about 125 members, including large public and private real estate companies and pension funds.

According to Statistics Canada, based on the 2016 Census, people of colour made up almost a quarter (22 per cent) of Canada’s labour force and could be more than a third of the labour force (36 per cent) by 2036.

But data on the composition of the CRE industry is not as easily available. A few surveys in Canada have been trying to get a clearer picture.

Chandran Fernando is founder and managing partner at Toronto-based Matrix360 Inc., a diverse-owned talent management and workplace strategy firm focused on the commercial real estate and development industry.

In 2018 he founded the Commercial Real Estate Equity and Diversity Council (CREED Council) as a non-profit organization of commercial real estate and development professionals aiming for equity and diversity in leadership.

“People are the bridge between profit and possibility,” he says.

Realizing that action is difficult without benchmarks, Matrix360 conducted the Canadian Real Estate and Workplace Diversity Survey in 2016, which found that among respondents, 52 per cent are women, but only 34 per cent are in partner, owner and C-Level leadership positions.

The majority of respondents were Caucasian and/or of European descent at 71 per cent. The next largest ethnicity was of East Asian or Pacific Islander descent at 9 per cent and South Asian at 7 per cent. As for owners, partners and C-level positions, 14 per cent were visible minorities. Aboriginal Peoples and people with disabilities were represented in the industry at 1 per cent each, and those who identified as LGBTQ at 5 per cent.

Another organization, the Kansas-based Commercial Real Estate Women Network (CREW), has been tracking gender diversity in North America and Britain through a benchmark study every five years.

Its most recent survey, conducted in 2020 – with about 10 per cent of responses from Canada – noted that the fixed salary gap between genders was 10.2 per cent and the commission and bonus gap was 55.9 per cent.