Tuesday, March 8, 2022 is International Women's Day. To commemorate the occasion, STOREYS is profiling notable women leaders in the real estate estate industry, and the difference they're making in the residential, commercial, and mortgage spaces.

READ: The Time is Now for Women Mentorship in the Mortgage Industry

READ: These Women are Taking Residential Real Estate by Storm

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Diana Hoang, Managing Director, Spear Realty

Diana Hoang was raising her two infant daughters 13 years ago when she found an administrative job at a commercial real estate brokerage in Toronto. Little did she know then that, in September 2021, she would open her own brokerage.

“I was working in office, industrial land and corporate services my first year as an administrator to a pool of agents,” Hoang said. “Shortly thereafter I transitioned and became a fully-licensed advisor in the industrial space and that kicked off my career. I experienced some early success, which made me very comfortable in the space, and I was happy being able to provide solutions and make a difference for my clients and that’s kept me going in the industrial space.”

Last year, Hoang founded Spear Realty, where she doubles as Managing Director. In addition to mentoring her own team, Hoang mentors young women and imparts lessons learned about navigating the commercial real estate landscape. A university student is joining the Spear team on an internship to learn commercial real estate brass tacks and, Hoang says, by the time she finishes school, she will be ahead of the game.

“Spear has grown very rapidly,” Hoang said. “It started with myself and an administrator, and now we have five agents, including myself, all specializing in commercial real estate and all working hard to make a stamp, a footprint, in commercial real estate. With the mentorship I provide and experience I have, hopefully I can continue offering growth in their careers.”

It isn’t just at work that Hoang is making a difference. Raising two teenaged daughters, she says it’s important to show them that balancing career and family isn’t merely possible but that reaching the summit of one’s profession is attainable with hard work and dedication.

“The day doesn’t stop at five -- you’re dealing with your kids’ school work, managing their teenaged lives and their growth, so there are definitely challenges when you try to grow your career, but you have to juggle,” Hoang said. “We do have to make sacrifices in our personal time, but at the same time that I’m trying to advance my career, I’m trying to show my daughters that it can be done and that I am happy doing this. I am being a role model for my daughters, showing them I want to be successful, showing them how they can be too, and that they can do it even better.”

Madeleine Nicholls, Managing Director, Colliers

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Nicholls is the Managing Director of Colliers, but she wears many more hats. Born in London, UK, Nicholls joined Colliers’ Toronto office in March 2020 and moved to the firm’s Vancouver office in July where she manages 33 brokers. That isn’t all -- Nicholls is also the Co-Chair of both the Women’s Network, which has over 600 members, and the Environmental Social Governance Committee.

Like Hoang, Nicholls is a female leader in a sector of the real estate industry that skews heavily male, but Nicholls noted that change is afoot.

“It has been male-dominated since the beginning of time, but it is changing,” she said, “faster now than ever before, and there are a couple of reasons: Thirty percent of Colliers’ senior leadership team, both in Canada and globally, is female; our board is 30% female, and that is very progressive when you look at other commercial real estate companies, and that is just the beginning.”

Nicholls says the commercial sector is becoming more egalitarian, seemingly by the day, and she credits COVID-19 as an accelerant of sorts, not only in workplace formation but also in ameliorating work-life balance. In proving that work tasks can effectively be executed from home, the hybrid work environment has inadvertently fostered more equality on the child-rearing front, too.

“The more equality there is on the home front, the more equality there is on the work front,” Nicholls said. “We can see it because employees have been able to voice their preferences during COVID and employers have had to listen to those preferences, and there’s been a pace of change we haven’t seen before.”

Colliers has also rolled out a progressive parental leave program so that women no longer have to choose between their careers and families, but the program also extends to men as well.

“We typically see a lot of women leave the industry when they get to the point of wanting to start families, and we want to counteract that by creating alternatives,” Nicholls said.

Women Leaders Bring a Different Dimension to the Table

Women bring intangibles to leadership roles that have been missing for years. Nicholls says both women and men have recounted how much of a difference it makes.

“I’ve had many young women and young men come up to me and say how great it is to have a female managing director,” she said. “The men say that it’s great to have a different perspective and point of view, and that it’s something they otherwise wouldn’t have been exposed to, while the women will say, ‘You’re such an inspiration and it’s great to have your voice.’”

The commercial real estate sector can be both lucrative and rewarding, Nicholls says, and because broker commissions have the potential to be lofty, it affords a lot of flexibility. Moreover, the landscape is, indeed, changing and Nicholls has advice to impart to young women who don’t just want to join the industry but who aspire to greater heights.

“Never act out of fear; overcome what frightens you and hold your course,” Nicholls advised. “So many of us women have good ideas of what to say in the meeting but we might feel like our voices are drowned out or the microphone doesn’t really come to us, and I say in those instances hold your course and make that extra effort to get that point across. It might feel uncomfortable because you might have to interject or speak louder than usual, but that’s okay too. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable and it will become natural.”

She added that trusting one’s instinct should be non-negotiable, “Because your first instinct is usually right. You’re in that meeting for a reason, so make a point to speak out, don’t be a silent mouse in a meeting. Be there and add value any opportunity you can, and say ‘yes’ to every opportunity until you’re too busy to take on more. Always be that person who gets things done and helps others out.”

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