Commercial real estate lawyer Sunita Mahant passionately explains why diversity and inclusion should be a priority in her industry.
“It’s a question of productivity and commitment. . . . If you have different points of view around the table, you are going to share different ideas,” says Mahant, head of global initiatives, diversity, equity and inclusion at Ivanhoe Cambridge. “You will capture that blind spot.
“You might get an idea of this person who never felt they could express themselves and (now) they have a voice and that might be your next big idea.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part two of the RENX International Women’s Day celebration dedicated to successful women in commercial real estate. Part I was released on Monday, CRE is a female-friendly career option: Madeleine Nicholls
Mahant is the daughter of immigrants who made sacrifices for their families when they moved to Canada. Her role in promoting diversity allows her to pay it forward by creating opportunities for the future, she says.
Role of Senior Director, Legal Affairs, Investment Management
She is also Senior Director, Legal Affairs, Investment Management at Ivanhoé Cambridge and, in this capacity, she recently played a key role in negotiating her company’s lease with CIBC for 1.75 million square feet of space in Toronto’s signature CIBC SQUARE project.
Mahant credits his team and his many mentors and supporters during his 14 years with Ivanhoé Cambridge for his success in both roles.
As a woman in the industry, she is still in the minority. Women make up just 36.7% of commercial real estate professionals, according to the Commercial Real Estate Women’s Network (CREW).
Mahant says Dial has been slow to move forward on equality for women in its industry, particularly in leadership positions.
A key step towards diversity, equity and inclusion
At Ivanhoé Cambridge, a gathering of about 80 women in 2018 to form the Corporate Women’s Forum was the start of something big, Mahant says. She credits Nathalie Palladitcheff, the company’s CEO, with being the kind of open-minded leader that commercial real estate needs.
In 2020, Ivanhoé Cambridge decided that diversity, equity and inclusion should be a business imperative for the company, both as an employer and as an investor.
Mahant took on the lead role as the company went through a process of examining its corporate culture through interviews, surveys and focus groups. In October 2021, the strategy was launched with the aim of cultivating an inclusive culture internally and, as an investor, taking on an influencer role.
“Our vision was to choose to invest in an inclusive future where we all belong,” says Mahant. “When you talk about engagement, being your best self, and being productive, it’s all about belonging.”
Ivanhoé Cambridge, which has more than 600 employees and an interest in more than 1,100 buildings worldwide, has a responsibility to influence the industry through sourcing, investment and who it partners with, adds she.
Mahant and Ivanhoe Cambridge
Mahant started out at Ivanhoé Cambridge in the retail division. Then a colleague who was general counsel for Ivanhoé Cambridge offered her the chance to work at CIBC SQUARE, then called Bay Park Centre.
The development is a joint project between Ivanhoé Cambridge and hines. The two towers, at 81 and 141 Bay St., comprise three million square feet of space. CIBC is the anchor tenant.
Mahant says she was happy to find out that one of the main negotiators on the CIBC side of the lease was a woman she knew.
“It took a lot of openness, patience and a lot of trust, understanding and curiosity, as we are building this huge transformational building here in downtown Toronto. It changed the horizon and we had a great tenant partner with us at the table.
She says the negotiations involved not only determining the bank’s square footage needs, but also how it was going to mobilize thousands of people into its new campus.
“The coolest thing is being able to feel the impact today. I’m working in this office now and CIBC is slowly settling in. That’s the cool thing about development – seeing something coming of an idea and actually becomes something tangible.
COVID-19 adds a new wrinkle
Mahant and his CIBC SQUARE team also had to navigate the COVID-19 curveball. The pandemic and government orders to halt construction have caused delays in the entire process.
The first 49-story tower at 81 Bay debuted in 2017 and opened in summer 2021 despite disruptions. The second 50-story tower at 141 Bay was dedicated in March 2021 and is expected to open in 2024.
“Your sales team turns to you and says, ‘So what do we do?’ I don’t think any lawyer in the country, in the world, had all the answers,” she recalls. “The humility was huge – being with your clients and your team and saying ‘I don’t know in which direction it’s going to go, but we’re going to find out.”
The disruptions are just one example of the overall disruption the commercial real estate industry is currently experiencing. Mahant says her industry needs to place even greater emphasis on diversity and inclusion as it faces these challenges.
Real estate needs to have an inclusive lens, bringing together different perspectives as people change the way they shop, work and socialize, she says.