SEAM International Women’s Day Feature. Part 2
In conjunction with our partners the Canadian Women’s Foundation, SEAM is celebrating female leaders we look up to all week long! March 8, 2019, is International Women’s Day: a time to celebrate progress made, but also a time to push for a more gender-equal world. The theme chosen this year is ‘Balance for Better Leadership’.
Part 2. Meet Alice Soon – Managing Partner, TESORO REAL ESTATE, Speaker, Consultant & Honoree for Women in Real Estate Toronto
Q: Alice, what barriers have you faced in your own journey?
I’m grateful for all of the obstacles and opportunities in my path. I’m especially grateful to those who came before us and blazed a trail. We would not be here today without the brave women in previous generations who dared to take defy convention and help create a better world, even in the face of extreme opposition.
In my own personal journey, I have faced multiple barriers. However, as many discrimination and biases are systemic – I doubt these people even realized they were creating barriers at all.
Mostly, I encountered employers and business leaders who underestimated my abilities and would often put me inside a box of specific skills. They failed to see my potential and did not offer me paths to further development. Also, we do not have enough diverse female leaders in high positions that can offer mentorship or advice. (It’s also rather fascinating that a recent CNBC article featuring the founder of SPANX, Sara Blakely cited the same challenge: “The biggest hurdles for me as a woman in business were also my greatest strengths — and that was being underestimated.”
In one instance, I had a former boss who repeatedly told me I was “mean”, when he made no such comments to other male members on our team. There is an ingrained bias that women are expected to be compliant and “play nice”. Even if we dare to showcase attributes such as ambition, drive or directness, these are negatively correlated to women. Meanwhile, these same characteristics are often positively correlated towards men. It holds us back as leaders and makes it difficult to progress up the ranks in organizations.
I had to learn (and am still learning) how to trust myself more, to have more confidence in my abilities and to fight for fair compensation. It’s also very fulfilling to be able to offer guidance to younger women who are starting their own journeys and help them gain confidence to negotiate and know their self-worth.
Q: What do you think it will take to achieve gender equality in Canada, and how do women’s organizations & events targeting women in real estate have a role in achieving that?
Wow, that is a loaded question!
While it is unquestionably an encouraging time to be a woman right now, there are still monumental steps we must achieve collectively for gender equality to be a reality.
Canada may be slightly ahead globally, but there are still many systemic and societal biases that hold women back. These include board representation, the lack of female CEOs leading large institutions, pay inequity, increased familial workload, as well as the emotional labour women, are still expected to uphold. All of these issues, both large and small, play a factor in how women are perceived as leaders, as well the emotional toll it takes to balance both career and family.
In order to achieve gender equality, every institution from the government, business, religion, health and non-profit organizations need to commit to diversity in its leadership and management structures. Until women can be in a position to make decisions and drive change from within (along with the support of men, of course), true gender equality will not be possible.
On the positive side, we do see the tide changing – one of these is the rise of WOMEN-CENTERED events and organizations. Women have realized that collectively if we band together, we can effect great change. Rather than viewing each other as competition, we are starting to realize our greatest strength is in mobilizing our collective skills and working together.
I’ve had the privilege to both speak and attend various events over the past several years that focus on women in real estate – it has been inspiring and collaborative. Women are becoming better networkers and better supporters of each other to create a positive impact we wish to see in the world.
Q: What role, if any, do you see technology playing in helping achieve these goals?
Technology is the great equalizer and democratizer in the world.
Granted, there may be some pitfalls (such as issues around data, privacy and validating facts), but on the whole, if it’s used responsibly, can bring about great change.
Technology has the ability to spread information quickly to mobilize action. It also inspires others and can lower the cost of many basic needs including healthcare, transportation and education.
If created and used ethically, technology can play a huge role in creating a more balanced and fair society.
Q: Looking ahead, what’s next for the real estate industry in Canada & how will women play a role in reshaping the industry?
Real estate is fascinating and always seems to be on the cusp of great change. Whether it’s about rules surrounding mortgage financing, the lack of adequate housing supply in major cities, or the rise and fall of home prices, real estate is always good fodder for the dinner table.
However, no matter what the “headline of the week” may purport, the fact is human beings will always need a place to live. The way in which they search, buy and sell real estate may change (whether it’s more available data online or streamlining the process using blockchain technology), but the essential need for real estate will remain unchanged.
Women have a huge role to play in the industry, as they are often decision-makers for their families in where they choose to live and invest. The challenge is to encourage women to take an active role in learning and educating themselves about the industry. More specifically, to get excited about understanding data (both economic macros and financial micros of a particular project) and feel confident to take action.
I also believe that when more women are involved in the real estate in general, we can begin to shift the entire industry to be less about the flash, prestige and numbers – and more about creating communities and sustainability in the places where we live and play. We want to create a bright future where the next generation can thrive and co-exist with meaning and purpose.
The Lotus is a personal safety wearable that, when paired with the SEAM app, lets you record and share your GPS location with streaming audio, access your voice assistant and communicate hands-free. For each Lotus personal safety device sold, $1 will be donated to the Canadian Women’s Foundation.