A lot of good things can come to fruition in nine months. The annual Real Estate Hold’em for Life Charity Challenge is one of those things, and I had the pleasure of attending last week. Full disclosure, I’ve had my eye on this event for the last couple of years, but always with a critical lens. Every photo I’d seen that captured the evening on social media or industry newsletters, seemed to have few women in the crowd.

I made a dent in that this year. Through six degrees of separation and by voicing my perspective to a (male) business colleague late last year, not only did I receive an invitation to attend, but also to join the committee, albeit a little late.  After attending the event, I did in fact feel a surge of pride at playing a larger part in an even larger cause, that touches everyone in some way. I saw my own mother go through treatment for breast cancer in my younger years.

This year resulted in unprecedented success. Raising over $2 million dollars during the event had not been done since its creation 13 years ago. It also helps that they’re an entirely volunteer run non-profit with over 85% of the proceeds raised going directly to fund cancer research. The money raised this year specifically focused on a Hold’em for Life fellowship Program. To date, the Challenge has contributed over $31 million to fund cancer research and other initiatives at Mount Sinai Hospital, Princess Margaret Hospital, SickKids Hospital, Ronald McDonald House and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

The Challenge, founded in 2007, was originally created as a way to raise funds for a great cause, and bring industry leaders together for a unique evening of entertainment. It did in fact, turn out to be a fun evening, with healthy competition, attended by over 400 executives from Canada’s leading real estate firms.

And so while I walked into a “mostly” sea of men, it wasn’t all men.  I don’t like to make gender an issue, but the reality remains that I do still work in a male dominated industry. That’s changing. And it takes men and women to step up.  That’s what I believe I did. Rather than shying away from somewhere I wasn’t sure I’d fit in, I said yes. And until we reach a day where gender truly is a non-issue, I’ll continue to say “yes” to opportunities like this, and hope that more women will join me.

For those who are curious, despite the fact that I learned how to play poker just the week before, I didn’t do too badly. But you never really do badly when it’s for a great cause. My tips – know when to fold ‘em… and be patient. I did win one round, which was exciting, but didn’t quite make it to the Championship Round. Maybe next year?

As for fitting in, the first three people I recognized when I walked off the elevator were a dad from my son’s hockey team, a fellow boxer I trained with for the Real Estate Rumble Charity Boxing event last year, and my next door neighbour from childhood who I hadn’t seen in at least a decade. Needless to say, I fit in. I went from walking in alone, to walking out with even more connections and contacts to add to my network. Our city, as much as it continues to grow, is still small. Our industry even smaller, and we all seem to find common ground in building a place we want to live in.

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