About a month ago I was asked to attend the UDI Women Celebrating Women event in Vancouver, and to write this story about what I saw there. As a man, I was a little afraid to accept, to be honest, because I was worried about what I could write without sounding sexist and dumb.
After the event was over, I was even more afraid - and convinced most men should be too - but for entirely different reasons than I expected.
The UDI Women Celebrating Women event is an annual tradition now, where well over a hundred women from the real estate development industry gather to network and swap notes and talk about what it’s like to be a woman in the development business.
As the only man in a room full of powerful women I felt the way you feel when you walk into a forest that you aren’t familiar with. You enter respectfully, senses heightened, having heard about the power of the forest, and unaware of what might be waiting for you inside.
And of course, as we all have, I have heard stories about the challenges faced by woman in a male-dominated industry.
Stories about how it’s hard to get ahead, about the gender bias in most organizations, and about the disadvantages to not being part of the old-boys club.
But, not being a woman, I didn’t know if I could really do this topic justice. Sitting down to write this, I worried that I might be unaware of some deep-rooted gender bias of my own, and that I may unwittingly offend if I say the wrong thing in the wrong way.
That fear and trepidation on my part is an interesting preconception itself. Would I feel this way as a non-accountant, writing about a room full of auditors discussing their work? Or as a non-dentist, writing about a dental convention? Probably not.
But part of what it means to grow up male in the business world is to be taught to be vigilant about gender.
In fact there’s an understanding most reasonably-minded men share that part of our responsibility is to help women overcome the disadvantages they face around the boardroom table. Men are under the impression that women need to be protected and watched out for and helped to recover from centuries of systemic discrimination, subtle and otherwise.
And, to be sure, there were horror stories shared by the panel of powerful female business leaders, about the subtle and not-so-subtle discrimination women still face in business.
More importantly, however, there was a plethora of useful insights from all the over-achievers on stage. This hard-won, real-world advice should engraved on metaphorical brass plaques and affixed to the walls, to be heeded by everyone regardless of gender.
Make your long-term goals outrageous
and your short term goals wimpy.
Watch for your champions, as they are
more important than role models and mentors.
Find work that offers you more motivation
than simply making a buck.
To be a success as a leader, you must abolish
self-doubt and nurture self-confidence.
It’s more important to make progress
than to seek perfection.
Furthermore, as the event unfolded the ultimate lesson for me as a man in this crowd of successful and driven women became crystal clear. And my fear shifted away from how I might offend, to full-on fear of missing out.
Women can dominate the boardroom in a way that men can’t, and make their differences into their strengths.
You see, women have a distinct advantage over men in the development industry because they are highly relational and have an innate emotional intelligence. These qualities make it easier to lead and interact in a way that generates positive outcomes.
It’s a kind of super-hero secret power that most women are blessed with, and most men aren’t even aware is being used against them.
So my sense of fear about attending this event, and writing about it afterward were well-founded, but not for the reasons I initially thought. I was afraid of the wrong thing.
Instead of being worried that I might misstep or offend, I left full of wonder and awe and slightly afraid of the distinct advantages women have over men in the boardroom.
My advice to all the men reading this is simple. Attend this event next year and you will learn some incredible things you otherwise wouldn’t.
And pay close attention to the women you work with every day. They see things and know things you don’t. Not leveraging this insight means you are leaving valuable intelligence on the table. And of a wasted resource like that, you should always be afraid.
I should take a moment and introduce the cast of characters, with apologies for not including their full biographies here. I couldn’t do that: they each have such impressive CV’s, ripe with accomplishments, awards and achievements that a writer must inevitably focus on picking just a few pieces of low-hanging fruit.
Renée Wasylyk, CEO of Troika Group, leads a Western Canadian organization including commercial and residential development projects and construction companies. Troika has projects in three provinces including commercial buildings, residential developments, and master-planned communities on over a thousand acres.
Anne Bancroft-Jones is the Vice President, First Nations Relations and Special Projects for Polygon Homes Ltd. She has served on numerous boards and is currently the Governance Committee Chair on the board of Port Metro Vancouver and at Surrey City Development Corporation. She's held several senior positions with the City of Vancouver including Manager of Real Estate and Assistant Major Projects Negotiator.
Janice Abbott has been the CEO of Atira Women's Resource Society since 1992. She has lead the Society through its incredible growth from a single transition house located in South Surrey with a staff of seven to a large multi-service agency with two, for-profit subsidiaries, a development arm and more than 500 staff.
Cathy Grant is the Senior Vice President, Marketing & Sales, for Intracorp Projects Ltd. and in charge of a dedicated team of marketing and sales professionals who bring a project through its entire sales life cycle. Additionally, she is responsible for all of Intracorp’s corporate communications, and stewards its brand to accurately reflect Intracorp’s corporate character.