I recently attended the University of Regina’s Inspiring Leadership Forum, in which 800 men and women gathered to celebrate and uplift women. The event included speakers such as Dr. Vianne Timmons, Pam Klein, Caitlyn Jenner, Dawn Smith and Samra Zafar. The theme this year was ‘Living Your Truth’. Attending this event, while enduring Women in Construction Week as well as celebrating International Women’s Day, in Regina, with radio-silence from the industry, including the Regina and Region Home Builders Association and Saskatchewan Construction Association (okay… take a moment to think about this – the RRHBA who employs several women and a female led company has pulled more new construction permits in Regina than any other company for two years in a row – and not one post on social media about Women in Construction Week or International Women’s Day!?!? This is outrageous to me – and we wonder why the entire industry is an old boys club!?) has made me reflect about what it truly means to ‘Live My Truth’ as a female leader of a real estate development company in Regina, Saskatchewan.

The first step to Living My Own Truth, is taking a deep dive into my own situation, in my industry, in my city. Here are some insights into my experiences:

Saskatchewan: It is known to be a fairly traditional place within Canada. I feel like there are organizations who are working extremely hard to change this notion. One notable organization would be Economic Development Regina. They are working hard to incubate a forward thinking, entrepreneurial spirit that is already present amongst the various industries in our city. I feel that there are still very traditional industries in our province that make an impact on the overall feel – Agriculture, Investment Banking/Venture Capital and Real Estate Development would be industries as examples.

My personal journey of being one of the very few female leaders of a construction company in Regina. How was my experience?

The answer to this is not great. The beginning was actually quite awful. When I first started by business, I had a hard time having the ‘men’ of the industry to take me seriously. I actually had a plumber once tell me that my dreams were ‘cute’ and there was a big difference between ‘dreaming’ and ‘doing’ and that I would have to learn this lesson the hard way. Unfortunately for this plumber, my company emerged as the busiest builder in Regina in 2019 and he lost out on a LOT of business during an economic slowdown in Regina.

Commercial Bankers: Why do 95% of commercial bankers have to be middle aged white men? This has been one of the most frustrating parts of growing my business. I don’t know if I was somehow threatening to these men, but wow do they know how to belittle you. Before starting my business, I was a financial advisor and private banker for almost ten years. Knowing this, I would have commercial bankers try to explain to me what loan to value meant, and what amortization meant – seriously!? Do you think I would have been able to make it this far without knowing those things? I find credit unions to be the worst when I think of commercial bankers, with a misogynist flair. Not fun to deal with. There’s a big difference between talking about equality, and acting and implementing processes where equality can actually be achieved. Thankfully, I was able to find the MOST AMAZING female commercial banker out of Alberta. She is badass, trailblazes, achieves and holds her head up high while doing it.

Land Developers: I have been SUPER lucky when it comes to this. Dream is a great company that believes in supporting women, which they have proven over the last 6 years of my experience with them. Terra Developments has the only female land developer owner in the city – Cathy Lawrence. She is strong, smart and not afraid to voice her opinions. Meeting her made me feel less alone in Regina, and she is a breath of fresh air.

Industry: The entire new construction, real estate development and land development industry has SUCH a long way to go in Regina when it comes to equality and inclusivity. I don’t know what the solution is, but we need to find one. The industry is basically the definition of ‘the old boys club’, and it is not enjoyable to be a strong, leading female as part of it. I think the board of directors for the RRHBA could be the solution for the problem, but the election and operational process would have to be overhauled – not something I would bet money on happening anytime soon in Regina.

So… as a 32 year old female President/CEO of a large real estate enterprise that manages over $150M in assets – where do I go from here? I haven’t completely figured this out yet, but I think a start will be to do a better job aligning myself and my company with likeminded partners. With partners/organizations where our values make sense. I need to spend more time with like-minded individuals, and I need to identify as an entrepreneur rather than as a real estate developer. I feel like I belong over there, rather than over ‘here’ where I have existed since we started Avana in 2014. I need to broaden my horizons. I need to spend more time with organizations that are provincial and national, that believe in diversity, equality and inclusion. I should not have to work 150% as hard as my male counterpart to render the same result.

There is lots of work to do, as I REFUSE to hand the world over to my daughters in this state. They are 5 and 6 so I figure I have a good 20 years of progressive moves forward.

Because of everything noted above, this will be the last year that Avana will be a member of the Regina and Region Home Builders Association. I sat on the board for two full years. I tried to use my voice. I tried to do what I could to move the industry forward. It is tough when you are the only one or one of two females sitting around a board room table with 15 males. As a parent, I know I need to choose my battles, and this is not one I will continue to choose. For the good of the industry, I truly hope the current board takes this situation seriously, as those who do not adapt will cease to exist.

I have sat by the sidelines in this industry, in this city, for 6 years and that time has come to an end. It is time I use my voice – and not be afraid to do so. I have a platform, I have the most amazing group of strong people around me and it is time we get to work. Stay tuned….

 

Jennifer Denouden
President & CEO
Avana Enterprises

 

March 9, 2020

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