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As Demand For Tech Rises In CRE, The Gender Gap Remains

While the tech industry continues to alter our daily lives and workspaces with groundbreaking innovations, it remains stuck in the past when it comes to gender diversity.

Helen Papagiannis Women In Tech panel discussion Booking.com Toronto CRE Augmented Reality AR
Helen Papagiannis

Women still represent only 23% of Canadian tech workers, with few of them in administrative or managerial positions, according to the latest Statistics Canada numbers. That figure has not budged since 2010.

“This is the next step for tech — looking at the lack of diversity,” Gensler Senior Associate and Design Director Annie Bergeron said. “But at the root of it, there are just not a lot of women going into tech.”

The percentage of women in the tech industry is not all that out of line with the graduation statistics for women. Only 23% of Canadian graduates from engineering and 30% of graduates from mathematics and computer science programs are women, according to StatsCan.  

Somewhere along the line, women are getting the impression that the tech industry is simply not a viable or preferred career path. 

Bergeron said the low numbers for women in tech may reflect a lack of “ambient belonging" — where women are subtly made to feel the outsider in a tech environment geared toward, and dominated by, a male tech culture. 

“Women don’t feel like they belong in a place solely based on the environment. Without actually wanting to discourage women, [tech companies] are. “

According to Helen Papagiannis, a leading expert in the field of augmented reality and author of "Augmented Human: How Technology is Shaping The New Reality", the way to encourage young women to consider tech as a career path is to show them.

“Show them positive examples of women in tech as they grow up so they can see themselves as women in tech in the future,” Papagiannis said. “Make women in tech a part of the media and cultural narrative they grow up with, whether that’s with characters in books or movies, or interviews with women in tech in news outlets.”

Tech industry gender diversity Booking.com Women In Tech
Numbers for women in the tech industry remain low, as do numbers in CRE.

Papagiannis, who will speak as part of a Thursday panel discussion on women in tech hosted by Booking.com at its downtown Toronto office, said her own career path was shaped by other women in tech.

“I’ve experienced incredible support from amazing women in tech like Dr. Caitlin Fisher, who was my Ph.D. supervisor and director of the [Augmented Reality] Lab at York University," she said.

Women in the tech industry often feel less than welcome. A global study by Booking.com found 46% of women working in tech surveyed felt they were treated differently in the workplace because of their gender. That percentage rose to 59% for women in senior management roles and 58% for executive board members. 

The low representation of women in tech is highlighted by the growing need for talent. Canada is facing a skills gap in the information communications and technology sector, which is predicted to widen. An IDC Canada report released in September found a skills gap of 46,000 in 2016.

Also in need of a tech talent infusion is commercial real estate, which remains largely male-dominated, especially at executive levels. According to CBRE Executive Vice President and Executive Managing Director Paul Morassutti, CRE is desperately in need of people with tech expertise of any gender to plot the future of the industry. 

“I recently reviewed the management teams at many real estate companies both public and private,” Morassutti said during a recent CBRE Market Outlook talk in Toronto. “And I [have] got to be honest with you; I don’t see a lot of tech expertise in the C-suite. And by tech expertise, I don’t mean the guys who oversee the servers and hand out the laptops. I mean those who can provide timely strategic guidance. This is definitely an area where the industry has got to evolve."

CBRE EVP and Executive Managing Director Paul Morassutti,  Market Overview Women In Tech.
CBRE Executive Vice President and Executive Managing Director Paul Morassutti speaks to large audience at CBRE's Market Outlook talk Tuesday.

A recent Altus Innovation Report surveyed 400 CRE executives from around the world. It discovered a level of indifference when executives were asked to assess the impact of so-called disruptive technology like artificial intelligence.

Only 28% anticipated a major impact on the CRE industry, while 38% said it will have no impact at all. Similar responses came with the subject of big data and predictive analytics and blockchain technology.

Papagiannis said technology like augmented reality, which enables digital content to be superimposed on and integrated into the physical surroundings, has direct applications for CRE. 

“It can be utilized to help developers and investors preview what a property will look like on the actual site and location,” she said.

“Consider how 3D renderings currently help better communicate and market a commercial real estate space to prospective partners and buyers. AR is the evolution of that and the next step.”

CORRECTION, MARCH 6, 1:15 P.M. ET: A previous version of this story did not have Helen Papagiannis' current title. The story has been updated.