Inside The Tampon Book. Photograph: Cedric Soltani/Studio Dropped
Saying Farewell to RRHBA After Six Years

After attending the University of Regina’s Inspiring Leadership Forum in March, I was hit with a reminder of just how much the real estate industry remains an “old boys club.” Sure, there have been great strides made, particularly in my hometown of Regina. But the progress is not enough.

The event included speakers such as Dr. Vianne Timmons, Pam Klein, Caitlyn Jenner, Dawn Smith, and Samra Zafar and was focused on the topic of living in your truth. And to live in my truth, I have to acknowledge how odd it was to be at this inspiring event during International Women’s Day (and during Women in Construction Week) but to see no acknowledgement of either across the industry in Regina.

Not a mention from the Saskatchewan Construction Association.

Not a mention from the Regina and Region Home Builders Association (RRHBA) where I had been a member for six years.

To put this in perspective, the RRHBA employs several women and talks the talk about women’s empowerment in the industry. And Avana, the female-led company that I helm, has pulled more new construction permits in Regina than any other company for two years in a row. As a female leader in real estate development, I couldn’t believe that these types of acknowledgements on days intended to promote the visibility of women were met with silence instead. It even contributed to me parting ways with RRHBA.

Inspired by the theme of “Live Your Truth” that anchored the Inspiring Leadership Forum, I reflected on my journey as a female leader in the real estate development industry so that I could speak up for the women in the industry and share some of my experience below.

A Rocky Journey as a Female Founder in Construction

What’s my experience been like as a female leader in the construction industry?

Not great.

To be honest, when I first started out, it was actually quite awful. I found it hard for “the men” of the industry to take me seriously and they would sometimes be outright demeaning. I once had a plumber tell me that my dreams were “cute” because there was a big difference between dreaming doing, and that I would have to learn this lesson the hard way.

Unfortunately for this plumber, my company became one of the busiest builders in Regina (even during an economic slowdown) and he lost out on a lot of business as a result.

Equality in Commercial Banking is Hard to Find – Dig Deeper

I really don’t get why 95% of commercial bankers have to be middle-aged white men. This was one of the most surreal and frustrating parts of starting to grow my business because I had a tough time finding common ground and understanding with credit unions in Regina. In any relationship-based business, context is crucial. Yet whenever I tried to deal with these credit unions, they overlooked critical things like, perhaps, realizing I had a career in finance.

Instead, they often acted belittling and wasted plenty of time explaining basic business terms that – guess what – I was quite familiar with. But when life hands you sub-par partners, it pushes you to look elsewhere. And that’s exactly what I did. I ended up finding fantastic commercial banking partners (male and female alike) not only in Regina but outside of my city, too. The initial friction was a blessing in disguise because I was able to choose to work with people that aligned with our company values in the end.

Lots of Luck with Land Developers

I have been super lucky when it comes to finding this critical relationship and cultivating it. Dream, an Avana partner, believes in supporting women in business and has consistently proven it over the past six years of collaborating with my company. Another gem for me has been Terra Developments, a company that has the only female developer-owner in Regina in Cathy Lawrence – a strong, smart, and brave voice in the industry. Finding this squad has been instrumental in flipping the script in Regina and driving shared success.

Progressive Partners in Saskatchewan

While Saskatchewan is still regarded as a fairly traditional province in Canada, I feel like there are organizations working extremely hard to change this outdated notion. One notable organization is Economic Development Regina and their mission to incubate a forward-thinking, entrepreneurial spirit that’s already visible across various industries in our city. Imagine the opportunity to apply this approach to more traditional industries like agriculture, investment banking and venture capital, and, yes, real estate development.

I had high hopes for RRHBA when I first joined because I thought that getting more women on the board could make a difference (even though I was the lone female on the board for quite some time). It took six years of banging the drum, but they’ve expanded horizons and recently brought on a female chairperson and a few more female board members just as I withdrew Avana from the Association.

To be honest, I don’t know what the solution is to redefining the real estate development and land development industry to meet the next generation. I refuse to hand this world over to my daughters – a world where I’ve had to work 150% more than my male counterparts to achieve a similar result. It’s just not acceptable.

As a young, female President/CEO of a booming real estate enterprise, I have always been passionate about aligning Avana with like-minded partners and mandates. Diversity, equality, and inclusion need to have action behind them.

Further Reading…

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