Inclusive Leadership in Business: A Vision by Evelynn Ratcliffe

Small Business Canada

Evelynn Ratcliffe is a Co-Partner at Alair Homes in Forest Hill, North York, Lorne Park, and Summerhill. With a background in arts from York University, Evelynn’s career has spanned telecom, professional services, and real estate development, culminating in her current role where she excels in marketing and management. Evelynn is not just an award-winning professional but also a chartered marketer who’s passionately supporting other women in construction, from interior designers to architects and tradespersons. Her work with Alair, a brand known for its custom homes and renovations, showcases a commitment to excellence and integrity. 

“I didn’t join construction or pursue a career as an entrepreneur because I saw it modelled.  I joined it because it wasn’t modelled, and I like to blaze my own path. Maybe it was all those years of being told I should be seen and not heard by my parents that created a rebellious and independent spirit for me.  

I recognize however, that for many, representation is what enables them and empowers them to consider what’s possible.  

I’m both humbled and surprised when women come up to me and say things like, “…Things really changed for me when I started to hear your voice, strong and female, on companywide calls.” 

This reminds me of an interview with Meghan Markle where she said, “You’ll often hear people say, ‘well, you’re helping women find their voices’ and I fundamentally disagree with that because women don’t need to find their voice, they have a voice. They need to feel empowered to use it, and people need to be encouraged to listen.”  

My work at Alair has been deeply rewarding for many reasons, not least of which is because Alair reminds everyone that they have a voice, empowers them to use it, and encourages others to listen. The weekly companywide mastermind starts off with a call for participation, literally inviting every person on the call to have their voice heard. 

I think if I were to speak in association with IWD I’d want to say something like, do [it] because you’ve seen others do it before you, and also because you haven’t seen others do [it] before. Get involved because it feels safe and get involved because it feels scary and new too.  

Not everything we do in life works out, but rarely is that because of our gender. 

Let’s move past the IF you can do it, and on to the HOW you can do it.”

Image Courtesy: Lauren Miller

Evelynn, with your diverse experience in senior management roles across various sectors, what unique challenges and opportunities have you encountered as a woman in leadership positions within industries like telecom, professional services, and real estate development?

I appreciate your question, which touches on the various industries I’ve had the opportunity to work in. While I can’t compare my experiences to those of men in related roles, I’m sure many of my opportunities and challenges were similar.

Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate to collaborate with organizations that prioritize diversity and inclusion; however, like any industry, there have been hurdles to overcome, often stemming from issues like inauthenticity and imbalance within certain sectors.

Despite these challenges, I’ve found numerous opportunities to make a positive impact within my teams and organizations. This journey has reinforced the importance of qualities like competence, confidence, and authenticity in leadership. I’m passionate about sharing these lessons and mentoring others as they navigate their own paths in leadership.

As a multi-award-winning marketing and management professional working with Alair Homes, how are you leveraging your role to influence change and promote greater inclusion of women in construction and home building?

I aim to influence change and promote greater inclusion of women in construction and home building by leveraging our company’s existing culture of inclusivity and recognition of contributions.

Alair Homes employs three times the national average of women in construction and has done a fantastic job of highlighting contributors’ accomplishments and innovations.  Change makers are highlighted, and with three times the national average of women in the mix, female changemakers are more plentiful than perhaps other organizations. By showcasing change makers within our organization and sharing best practices, we create a culture where everyone feels empowered to contribute and excel.

My involvement in company-wide initiatives stems from my passion for what I do and my desire to inspire all my colleagues to strive for excellence. It’s not about gender; it’s about fostering a culture of continuous improvement and recognizing the value that everyone brings to the table.

Image Courtesy: Kim Jeffery 

How in your view does being a woman in leadership; differ from being a woman leader in today’s business environment, especially within the realms of entrepreneurship and home construction?

I understand your question, and while I appreciate the acknowledgment of gender, I believe effective leadership transcends gender distinctions. Whether in entrepreneurship or home construction, success is driven by traits such as humility, tenacity, and improvisation, rather than gender. 

While it’s important to recognize the diverse perspectives that individuals bring to leadership roles, I prefer to focus on the universal qualities that contribute to effective leadership. By moving past gender distinctions, we can have a more inclusive conversation about the traits and skills that truly define exceptional leaders.

Alair Homes stands out for its franchise model, bringing together custom builders and remodelers across North America. Can you share how this model empowers women within the organization and the industry at large, and the role you play in fostering an environment of equality and empowerment?

Our franchise model at Alair Homes fosters inclusivity and representation, which is crucial in an industry catering to diverse clients. We believe in the power of varied perspectives to enhance our approach to homebuilding.

Our focus is on creating an environment where individuals, regardless of gender, feel empowered to contribute authentically. This includes upgrading our language to be more gender-neutral and encouraging team members to embrace their unique identities while remaining humble and curious in their interactions. Words like artisan instead of craftsman, or trade partners rather than tradesmen.  Even language like Master Bedroom (now principal bedroom) and grandfathered (now legacy) refocuses the industry on the many voices it serves. We encourage our team members to show up as authentically as possible, to remain humble and curious in their approach and interaction with each other and homeowners alike.  By recognizing and respecting what makes us unique we make way to find commonalities.  By celebrating our differences and fostering an inclusive culture, we’re better equipped to understand and serve the needs of all our clients and communities.

Image Courtesy: Lauren Miller

Looking ahead, what are your aspirations for furthering the presence and impact of women in the construction and home building, trades etc.?

Looking ahead, my aspirations for advancing the presence and impact of women in construction and home building trades revolve around fostering an environment where ego is unwelcome and humility and authenticity reign supreme.

The perception that women need special support to thrive in these industries is flawed. It’s not about gender; it’s about creating an inclusive culture where everyone feels safe to share, innovate, and contribute without fear of ego or machismo dominating the space. By prioritizing humility and authenticity, we can create an environment where all individuals, regardless of gender, can thrive and make meaningful contributions.

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