After spending several years at commercial real estate brokerage CBRE as the Director of Marketing and Communications for CBRE Vancouver and CBRE Victoria, Britainny Hari is venturing out on her own.

Her new firm is called Dual Agency and it will be providing a suite of marketing, consulting, and public relations services for those in the real estate industry, combining her past experiences at CBRE together with her previous experience at PR firm Talk Shop, where she managed accounts for the firm's real estate clients.

In October, Hari won the Rising Star award at the 2023 CREW Vancouver Leadership Awards and she's hoping to take some of the spirit of CREW — the non-profit association comprised of women in the commercial real estate industry — into Dual Agency, which will have a strong focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

Dual Agency officially launched this week, which also happens to be the week of International Women's Day.

In light of both events, in an interview with STOREYS, Hari discusses her new chapter, how she sees the state of the commercial real estate industry for women today, and the efforts of companies on the DEI front.

Why was it the right time for you to venture out and start Dual Agency and why was that something you wanted to do?

I suppose there's never a "right time" to take a leap of faith and believe in yourself. Most would say it's certainly not in a down market, however, like most of us say in this industry, there is opportunity in each market! The bootstrapping that's taken place for most firms in response to our economy's current state has resulted in the need for flexible, contract-based marketing support to alleviate in-house needs.

As a third-party agency, we're able to offer a niche set of PR, creative branding, and communication services to the industry at a time it needs it most. To answer your second question, I've always conducted business differently and I wanted to create a company that was based on similar values. I found real estate to be quite transactional in nature when I first started out and I really only cared about forming deep relationships with clients and sharing in visions that make a lasting impact.

I'm always very interested to know the stories behind names. What's the story behind the "Dual Agency" name?

It's really a cheeky nod to BC's restrictions around representing both the seller and the buyer of a deal. While brokerage firms we work with are bound by law, we're not. In an unrestricted fashion, accompanied by an air-tight NDA of course, we can perform marketing services for clients on any side of the deal. The "agency" term also acts as a double entendre to your traditional marketing or PR agency.

You're fairly outspoken about diversity, equity, and inclusion issues as it relates to women in the commercial real estate industry. How would you describe the CRE world for women today?

As one of the few women of colour in the industry, I feel compelled to leverage my platform to speak on topics of importance. Representation is huge no matter what the industry. If you don't see someone who looks like you in a group, what would make someone feel inclined to join, or even welcome you for that matter? The same goes for talent attraction within the commercial real estate industry.

I'll say the sector looks different now than it did five or even 10 years ago and a lot of that change is attributed to female driven organizations like CREW who actively conduct events, workshops, conferences, mentorship, and university outreach initiatives to move the needle. Like any male-dominated industry, there is always work that can be done to further DEI and improve conditions in the workplace to help women thrive.

I look at commercial listings very frequently, and I rarely come across listing teams with women, while there seems to be a lot more women agents when it comes to residential real estate. Why do you think that is?

While there is much speculation that goes on, homeownership is still considered a mass consumer based commodity. As females, we statistically have a higher EQ and have the ability to, therefore, relate, empathize, communicate, and connect with people more effectively. Making emotional decisions like buying a home requires trusting your representative, and that will depend on whether you feel they understand and prioritize your familial plans, financial needs, and long term goals best.

While I'm not an expert in this matter, I do reckon there is a correlation between the traditional ideologies of "business and men" and "women and community" that negatively contribute to this imbalance. As commercial real estate deals with businesses and investors, there is certainly an element of competition and "boys club" culture that women have traditionally had to maneuver differently than in residential. I'm proud to know so many female agents who have chosen the career paths of an industrial, office, retail or investment broker because each of them break down barriers for others to enter the space and deconstruct this exact narrative.

Marketing and Communications are the only areas of the industry that's predominantly female. I imagine there are women in those roles who would like to move over to the development side or the brokerage side. Have you seen women make that jump or do women kind of get "stuck" in those fields?

I don't think women get stuck necessarily. There are professional development opportunities available in most firms for employees looking to explore and grow within their respective roles or outside for that matter. Exposure and mentorship in this area are pivotal, so if women in stagnant roles are not seeing others move laterally or vertically, it does not provide them much hope for themselves. I see many instances of women in marketing roles taking their licensing exam to become a broker or switching into the landlord side. This isn't new. I think it's more important for firms to ensure women feel there is role progression within their respective fields. If they don't see opportunity beyond their current title or responsibility, they will likely be forced to consider making lateral moves instead of leaning into their core competencies and excelling vertically at your organization.

Having interfaced with various developers when you were in PR and then being on the inside of a major brokerage, how seriously do you think companies are really taking these issues? How much of it is just because it's "trendy" these days? How much of it is genuine?

I commend any motivation that brings you to the table. Whether you are doing it from the bottom of your heart or to simply satisfy a mandate, I welcome the opportunity to open the discussion and educate firms on the importance.

While I'll admit it has become more of a focus in recent years, it's not new for a lot of companies who have always prided themselves on values, philanthropy, community impact and culture. I think what is different, especially post-COVID, is the way groups advertise or showcase these values in an attempt to differentiate themselves from others to gain a form of competitive advantage.

So, to answer your question, there are outright genuine players. There are also groups looking for ways to keep or attract talent, increase employee engagement, and resonate with their audiences more authentically through storytelling, and I would still consider these groups genuinely curious. But there are always going to be those who feel compelled to check a box in order for their business to remain relevant. I've seen the wide spectrum that exists in regards to this topic, but I think companies that take more time integrating these practices into their operations and creating new policies surrounding these issues are taking a more genuine approach.

When you were first entering the industry, were there any women in the industry you looked up to, either up close or from a distance? Who are some of the women in the industry currently that you admire or look up to?

When I entered the industry I wasn't met with many women, let alone women of colour, who held senior positions in their respective fields. Fast forward to today, there are tons of females I admire and look up to ranging from all disciplines of the sector. If I'm to remain timely, I'd say Patti Glass at Grosvenor, or Jasmean Toor at Edgar Developments. What I admire most is the way they've paved paths for females like me to thrive in my respective field and as a visual minority female in this business.

Do you have any advice for women who are looking to get a foot into the CRE industry or are in the early stages of their career? What were some things that helped you?

Back in my day, there was little exposure to real estate as a possible career when completing a commerce or marketing degree. Today, there are clubs, groups, academic courses, diplomas, and degrees in real estate that can influence and expose new entrants considering this sector. There are also incredible organizations like CREW and NAIOP that run university chapters to educate and inform the next generation on potential career paths in commercial real estate.

My advice to women in this sector or in early stages of their journey is to stay true to the person you are. There is space for you to conduct business the way you want to and you don't have to conform to anything you aren't to fit a particular mold. If you don't find that space, create it, like I did. And remember, people do business with people, not businesses.

Responses have lightly edited for length and clarity.