‘It Makes Us All Better In the End’: Women REALTORS® Are Leading the Way to a More Inclusive Industry

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Did you know that more than 60% of REALTORS® in Canada are women? Also, according to data from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) in 2019, 61% of first-time and repeat home buyers in Canada were women. While anecdotally it may seem like real estate is a male-dominated space—which, to be fair, it has been in the past—the reality is, as with most things, the future is female. 

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “inspire inclusion,” so we’ve connected with some REALTORS® to hear about their journeys in real estate, and how they’ve seen it become a more inclusive space. 

Laura Leyser—Stratford, Ontario

Having been in the industry for more than 30 years, Laura Leyser of RE/MAX a-b Realty has seen real estate shift and grow. A Past Chair and former member of the Board of Directors with the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) said she was always interested in helping others. Before becoming a REALTOR®, Leyser had started a home cleaning company that specialized in new homes, but eventually the builder approached her about selling homes, and she decided to make the leap. 

“Looking back to 1988 when I was first licensed as a REALTOR®, the majority of agents were much older than I was,” she told us. “I never thought of it as a difference in genders, but rather it was a new challenge and opportunity and I just wanted to help people find a home. I’ll never forget my first sale—a very young couple who called me because they said ‘I looked so young and approachable, not like all the other photos in the newspaper.’ Today, it’s a whole new world, and not just about gender. I’m proud to see so many women in our business.”

Now, as women are becoming more and more successful in their real estate careers, Leyser reflected back on how the industry has changed. 

“From early on, where it wasn’t even common to see women in a professional career such as real estate, to now, not only are we succeeding and in many cases surpassing the historical male-dominated profession, we’re also sitting on boards and committees and making a difference,” she shared. “It really was daunting, but with hard work and a strong team of leaders to work with, we were able to break through the glass ceiling.”

As for finding success and ensuring women have seats at every table, Leyser says it’s not about gender. 

“It’s not about being a woman, it’s about having the confidence to know you’re the right person and you have something to offer,” she emphasizes. “Never feel you don’t have anything to offer. If I was asked this question 10 or 15 years ago, I would have said if you don’t challenge the status quo and break through the ‘Old Boys Club,’ who will!”

Anu Joshi-Mehendale—Caledon, Ontario

Anu Joshi-Mehendale, a REALTOR® and founder of Anuvision Group in Caledon, Ontario, has grown her career a lot in the last 10 years, building her business from the ground up by helping people buy, sell, lease, and invest in real estate. As an award-winning REALTOR® and broker, she’s experienced a lot of personal development, but she’s also seen the industry change, too. 

“My first two years in real estate looked very different from my most recent two years in real estate,” she told us. “When I started in the industry over 10 years ago, things were very male-dominated. Today, I’m happy to see more and more women not only entering our industry but also creating wonderful and thriving careers in real estate. It’s extremely important for minorities to have role models that look like them do things in the world; this applies to all industries and careers, not just real estate.”

Joshi-Mehendale currently serves on the Government Relations committees for the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board and the Ontario Real Estate Association, in addition to her role on the Federal Affairs Committee with CREA, where she helps inform housing policy and government programs. It means she has a busy schedule, but she says this type of involvement has always been important to her. 

“My parents instilled in me the importance of volunteering and giving back to the community, whether volunteering at our community temple to raising funds for various charities,” Joshi-Mehendale told us. “Serving on these committees is impactful work as it allows our real estate organizations to advise on matters of housing policy and help create connections with elected officials to foster a better understanding of housing policy and the nuances of the issues surrounding housing in Canada as a whole. It has been an honour for me to serve at all three levels and advocate for better, more inclusive housing policy in Canada.”

As for creating a more inclusive industry, the ultimate advice Joshi-Mehendale has for women is to “trust your gut and be authentically yourself.”

“I got my real estate licence at 19 and my broker licence at 22, so my entire professional life, I’ve been a young, millennial woman of colour that is a daughter of immigrants,” she shares. “At the start, it seemed like I had a lot of things going against me. There were some people that didn’t want to work with me for these reasons, but I realised in hindsight those were never my clients to begin with. The people that did work with me and the hundreds of families I’ve helped over the years work with me for me. They appreciate what makes me different, what makes me unique, and what I have to offer them. What the world may see as your weaknesses may actually be your strengths.”

Valérie Paquin—Blainville, Quebec

Valérie Paquin, a REALTOR® with Via Capitale Partenaires, is a current CREA board member and in line to become CREA Chair in 2025—a noble accomplishment no matter who you are. For Paquin, she says her journey to where she is now started at a young age and was born out of her desire for a flexible career. 

“My dad being a real estate broker, I’ve been immersed in this field since I was very young,” Paquin told us. “A routine nine-to-five job didn’t suit me, so at the age of 20, I decided to take a chance. Eighteen years later, I can only confirm that it was the right decision.”

In the 18 years she’s been a REALTOR®, Paquin credits a shift towards a more human approach to real estate for the increase of women in the field, she says. 

“At the beginning, there were many more men than women in the field, but we could feel that it was gradually changing,” she explained. “Real estate brokerages have evolved in recent years. The role of the broker is to advise, not just to sell.”

Paquin is hoping the trend of women in real estate increases as the industry continues to be more welcoming. She believes there’s room for everyone, and women entering the landscape “should not feel like intruders among men.”

“Many experienced brokers are happy to assist new brokers in getting started in their careers,” she shares. “My advice is to surround yourself with them and learn from them rather than feeling intimidated. The professionalism of each REALTOR® must increase to ensure the industry’s sustainability. The contribution of women will help bring about this change.”

Cailey Heaps—Toronto, Ontario

A veteran of the industry for more than 20 years, Cailey Heaps of Heaps Estrin has seen lots of evolution in the real estate industry since she began her career in the 1990s. She originally started in advertising, but made the personal decision to go into business with her mom, Heather, who had a thriving real estate business. Heaps said the switch gave her the opportunity to combine her love of design, business, and working with people. 

“As it turns out, it was one of the best decisions I ever made, both from a personal and professional perspective,” she told us. 

She has ended up growing her business into one of the most successful brokerages in Canada, thanks to her overall strategic vision, thought leadership, and business savvy. In 2023, Heaps was an excellence finalist for the ​​RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards for her efforts. 

Reflecting back on how the real estate industry has evolved since she began her career, Heaps shared it’s been exciting to watch the landscape evolve. 

“Over the last couple of decades we’ve seen women rise to positions of power and influence,” she explained. “There are more top-ranking teams with women at the helm than ever before and we are also seeing more women enter the commercial real estate world. Perhaps most exciting, though, is that these changes are also translating into women taking on more thought leadership, mentorship and coaching roles, than when I started out in this industry, which will obviously foster even greater success among women in the years to come.”

“I’m thrilled to see other women thrive in this business,” Heaps continued. “As a woman in business who learned from another woman in the business—my mother—it has always been important to me to provide opportunities for growth and development to other women.”

“Whether you’re breaking a glass ceiling, or you are benefitting from the inroads made by your predecessors, there are always challenges that come with being a woman in business,” Heaps explains. “The best thing we can do as leaders to foster a sense of inclusion is to cultivate an atmosphere of support and collaboration among the whole team. When one team member is feeling strained, for example, having a culture where others are ready, willing, and able to pinch hit is not only good for business, but also for the morale of the entire team.

“For anyone feeling intimidated about entering a male-dominated industry,” she continued, “I would just encourage them to find their own support network, find like-minded people with similar aspirations, lean on each other when needed, and lift each other up whenever possible.”

Women helping women

Powerful women-led real estate teams extend beyond just business. Take, for example, the Modern Real Estate Team in Victoria, British Columbia. The team started in 2013, and to date they have raised more than $241,000 in support of women’s shelters in their area, in addition to their numerous volunteer efforts. 

“The thought that someone would go home and feel scared for their life or their childrens’ lives rocks me to my core—and that’s the experience of so many women in this country,” team member Saira Reynolds told us. “The concept of home is really important to me. It’s a place for self-expression and safety; it’s a place where you come to be at ease and be yourself. Home for me represents stability and security.” 

To read more about the Modern Real Estate Team and all they do, you can check out our story on the REALTOR.ca Living Room blog

The real estate landscape has significantly evolved over the years, but make no mistake—strong women have been here forever. The difference is the trailblazers and move makers that have opened doors, broken glass ceilings, and created an environment where women REALTORS® are given more opportunities to thrive, grow their businesses, and make a difference. 

And that’s how we can create a more diverse, inclusive industry. 

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