Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada’s real estate industry has forged ahead. This wouldn’t have been possible without the creativity and dedication of realty experts, a group that is composed of many women leaders.
In new construction, The Condo Store Group of Companies (TCS) — one of Canada’s leading new construction industry experts — is home to a team of talented and hard-working professionals, including women leaders across many departments, from development strategy to office management.
Three of TCS’s leaders shared their thoughts with Livabl on the industry, their career paths, and women leadership in real estate.
“The real estate industry has been a bit of a boys club in my experience. I think having women-led developments will basically open up more doors for women to take an interest in working in this industry. I feel today’s youth focuses on many social awareness issues, and I just feel that women are much more sympathetic to these types of matters and may be able to incorporate the social concerns of today’s youth to functionally work in new developments.” — Silvana Castoro, Office Administrator.
When it comes to leadership, some areas of Canadian real estate have experienced gender imbalance.
In 2017, 1,138 of the registered 4,860 members at the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada were reported to be women, roughly 23 per cent.
According to a 2020 gender and diversity report by the US-based Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) Network, women represent 35.9 per cent of the Canadian commercial real estate industry.
However, upon analyzing six levels of company seniority across the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, just nine per cent of women hold C-suite positions in commercial real estate compared to 22 per cent of men — 32 per cent of women surveyed aspired to C-suite roles.
From the 2016 Canadian Census, more than 95,700 women occupied managerial positions in the financial and business services nationwide. Approximately 13,500 women worked as insurance, real estate and financial brokerage managers, about 42.8 per cent of the total 31,565 management workforce positions occupied between men and women in these three areas.
Although parts of the industry have been historically male-dominated, women leaders have been making history within the Canadian new construction sector in recent years. In 2019, the country’s first all-women development team was formed for Reina Condos, a mid-rise condo project built on the grounds of the former House of Lancaster in Etobicoke.
Earlier this year, a new affordable housing project in Vancouver with a women-led team was also unveiled. A partnership between Soroptimist International of Vancouver and Purpose Driven Development, the future 13-storey building will provide affordable and long-term housing for senior women, workforce women and women-led families.
“It will probably be slower than other industries, but following along the same curve as a society in this regard — especially considering that real estate was once a boy’s club — it’s amazing to see women leaders in real estate,” said Parmiss Ghooparanloo, the broker of record at TCS.
“Not just agents, but real entrepreneurs driving the industry, creating real value and going for it with big, drastic moves and being game changers.”
“TCS has been built as a family business, not blood relatives, and in how people are treated. The fact that many people are long-term team members shows that. If you respect somebody you work with like a member of the family, then you feel a special bond that continues for decades where you go to each other’s weddings, christenings and even their kid’s weddings.” — Parmiss Ghooparanloo, Broker of Record.
No company can succeed without great people working together. From administration to sales, the women leaders at TCS bring diverse and unique backgrounds, interests and knowledge.
Serena Quaglia, vice-president of strategy at the firm, earned a BFA in dance and performed around the world before writing an ethnographic thesis for her master’s degree, which she considers to be her career gateway to the land development industry.
Quaglia attributes her experiences living and working around the world, along with the desire for collaboration and respecting diverse points of view, as the key to creating a successful team.
“It benefits our local pre-construction industry because being a young city in a young country, we can incorporate the best of what has worked in great cities for generations and fuse them with the best of what Toronto has to offer,” she explained.
With a family history of condo development, Ghooparanloo says that she “witnessed the value of buying paper,” from a young age. The broker of record worked as a pre-construction agent specialist for five years and in high-end resale for family, friends and referrals before joining TCS.
She acknowledges that hard-work and providing the right opportunities for the company’s long-standing client base have been contributing factors to the success of the firm.
“We’ve been in business over 15 years and have had the distinct luxury of creating and forging so many lasting relationships within the industry, that I truly feel blessed and lucky for on many levels,” said Ghooparanloo. “What we do at TCS drives the entire pre-construction segment in Toronto and we don’t take that fact lightly.”
“Toronto is poised to boom. Period. It is the second-largest financial district in North America. It is a global centre of excellence for business, cultural industries, education, healthcare, research and tech startups, and it offers an enviable quality of life compared to many other cities.” — Serena Quaglia, Vice President of Strategy.
COVID-19 turned the real estate industry on its head, from temporarily closing presentation centres to shifting project launches into the all-digital realm.
Women were disproportionately affected by employment loss during the pandemic, particularly in real estate.
According to labour market research by the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario, female workers in real estate, rental and leasing industries experienced larger numbers of job losses compared to their male counterparts in 2020 — 14,300 job losses for women versus 1,700 for men.
The women leaders at TCS were among millions of Canadians who experienced changes to their daily work routines during the height of the pandemic.
Silvana Castoro, office administrator at TCS, balanced working from home while homeschooling her three children. During this transformative period, she explains that employees needed to exercise their time management skills while employers had to give staff room to adjust to their new work environment and routine.
“Reflecting back on the past year and a half, I feel that staff and employers really underwent the most transformation,” said Castoro. “Employers had to give their staff that time and space to adapt to working from home and what new challenges that brought to everyone in their individual circumstances.”
Despite the challenges the pandemic forced on the industry, new construction real estate boomed in Toronto during COVID-19. In the Greater Toronto Area, 24,060 new homes were sold throughout the first six months of 2021, a quantity that is 25 per cent above the region’s 10-year average. In April, new condo apartments shattered a 20-year sales record as 3,619 units traded hands in the GTA.
Quaglia believes that Toronto will prosper thanks to the city’s enticing business prospects, education opportunities and quality of life.
“I believe post-pandemic, the evolution of Toronto’s pre-construction real estate industry will include figuring out ways to improve the development application process so more units can come onstream to support market demand faster,” she said.
“There will also be more training in the trades and essential construction services so more units can be built faster to support projected growth.”
“I would advise all women to let go of fear in this industry. I feel as a woman in any industry, we are always second-guessing ourselves and feeling as if we can’t succeed, especially in this real estate world because of its demands. It really is a 24/7 industry, but as long as we set boundaries and time manage ourselves, we as women can really do it all. I feel like we are just programmed as such. Multi-tasking is in our DNA.” — Silvana Castoro, Office Administrator.
In a Financial Post article published earlier this year, careers in real estate were described as a “viable and exciting career path,” for women given the industry’s benefits of work flexibility and growth potential. According to the 2016 Canadian Census, women filled 41,730 of Canada’s 92,850 real estate agent and salesperson occupations in 2016, about 45 per cent.
Ghooparanloo says that it can be worthwhile to “always try it,” to see where opportunities lead, and to say “yes” to meetings even if you aren’t sure that they will be worthwhile.
“A hard-working real estate agent is a very noble career, but for those who want more, go ahead and do it and do it in the real estate world,” she said. “Create the next big prop-tech venture, or simply change the game by coming up with new ways to acquire clients or streamline a mundane process.”
For Quaglia, learning to love numbers, along with her background in the arts and qualitative research, helped to fuel her career success. These disciplines taught her to understand human behaviour and consumer psychology, which can be applied to sales and marketing.
“But the reason I earned a place at the table with some of the most influential developers, architects, and thought leaders in the country is because I learned how to think and communicate like a CFO,” said Quaglia.