Advancing Women in CRE: The CREW Network Celebrates 30 Years

CREW Network, Holly Neber, Wendy Mann, NAIOP, CREWbiz

By Meghan Hall

Traditionally, the commercial real estate industry has been structured in such a way that incorporating new — and increasingly diverse — talent has been difficult. Knowledge of the industry and its workings are often passed down through interactions with those already in commercial real estate as opposed to educational institutions or youth programs. 30 years ago, The Commercial Real Estate Women Network (CREW), was created in an effort to expose young women to multiple disciplines in commercial real estate. Looking back on nearly three decades, during which CREW has seen the evolution of the “Me Too” movement, its global expansion and more, The Registry spoke with CREW’s CEO Wendy Mann and CREW Network President Holly Neber about what the future looks like for CREW and women in commercial real estate. 

Wendy and Holly, please tell The Registry a little bit about your backgrounds in the commercial real estate industry. How did you both originally become involved with the CREW Network?

CREW Network, Holly Neber, Wendy Mann, NAIOP, CREWbiz
Image Courtesy of CREW Network

HN: I have been with AEI Consultants, an employee-owned international property consulting firm, since 1999. I was introduced to CREW through a client in 2009. She invited me to a CREW East Bay event, and I immediately felt welcomed and found ways to engage and get involved. I held various positions within the chapter, including President in 2014, before serving on the CREW Network board of directors and as Global President. 

WM: I brought my passion for commercial real estate to CREW Network in February 2017 when I was hired as CEO. Before taking the lead at CREW, I was a senior executive at NAIOP, and my husband and son both currently work in the industry. Commercial real estate is a frequent topic of conversation at home. 

In your various roles throughout the CREW Network, how have you seen both yourselves — and the organization evolve?

WM: In the last two or three years, CREW Network has reenergized the membership through our online community that is a beacon for all members to seek business partners and a give and get business from one another.  We have expanded globally with our launch of CREW U.K. in 2017. We are re-invigorating our mission working with our industry partners, companies who care deeply about transforming their workplace and culture to be more diverse and inclusive as well as releasing white papers on time sensitive topics that provide an action guide to companies.  Our recent launch of our new brand and image campaign will elevate the organization to greater heights as more companies value and engage with our organization to advance their internal goals. It’s a very important time to be part of CREW Network. Members and the industry see the value and imperative of the work we are doing. 

HN: In the last decade, CREW Network has been integral to my professional development, helping me advance my public speaking skills, develop a professional network, gain more perspective about the commercial real estate industry, and transform my company’s culture to strengths-based leadership. I also feel that CREW Network has evolved over the past 10 years, especially in terms of expanding to a more global focus. 

Even today, as the commercial real estate industry continues to diversify, is an organization such as CREW important?

WM: Greater diversity in our industry is a critical first step in transforming the industry. Our vision is an industry that is not only diverse, but also inclusive and equitable for all, where women and people of color have equal access to opportunities, and equal compensation, power, and influence.  Even with diverse teams, greater inclusion and equity, CREW Network will still retain its premier role as the industry organization developing the next generation of women leaders in the commercial real estate industry.  

HN: The industry is recognizing the business benefits of bringing diverse talent to the industry. However, we must also prioritize advancing diverse talent into the highest levels of leadership to achieve equality. CREW Network provides opportunities for professionals to advance through business connections, leadership development and career opportunities, and we support our members through every stage of their careers.

CREW Network, Holly Neber, Wendy Mann, NAIOP, CREWbiz
Image Courtesy of CREW Network

Why do you believe, historically, women have remained a minority in commercial real estate?

WM: The path to a career in commercial real estate may not be as clear as other traditional career paths. In addition, many commercial real estate businesses started as family endeavors often founded by men and taken over by their sons. 

HN:  Research indicates that women may avoid risk-taking and commission-based jobs both early in their careers when they need steady paychecks and mid-career when they have greater family obligations. CREW Network’s mentorship and leadership programs help women to embrace risk-taking and a growth mindset. In addition, CREW Network’s research and white paper series provide actionable steps that companies can take to provide an environment where women, and all staff members, can excel and as a result, improve business outcomes.

How can the industry benefit from having a more diverse, equitable workforce?

WM: Companies that prioritize gender leadership diversity are outperforming others. Studies show a correlation between women leaders and organizational outcomes, including greater earnings, better governance, greater innovation, and more opportunity. We dive into some of this research in our latest white paper, Accelerating the Advancement of Women in Commercial Real Estate. 

HN: Research also shows that diverse teams can develop more innovative ideas — and they are more likely to have shared experiences with their clients, which is critical in commercial real estate.

How far away do you think the CRE industry is from achieving true equity? Why?

WM: If companies embraced the action guide tactics and strategies we’ve provided in our latest white paper, I would say we could reach equality in 25 years. If every company embraced these strategies, it really could shift the dynamic and achieve equality much sooner than anticipated. 

HN: With younger generations entering the workforce and taking positions of leadership, I believe our momentum on this will continue to speed up. I am optimistic.

CREW Network is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Looking back, what are some of the Network’s greatest accomplishments?

WM: We have established our credibility as one of the premier business organizations in commercial real estate. We are the only multi-disciplinary organization in the industry, and we are well known for the quality of our membership, and the diverse expertise of our members. Expanding throughout Canada to become an international organization, and establishing our presence in the UK to become a global organization, were also critical milestones for our strategic growth. 

HN: Establishing the CREW Network Foundation in 1998 made it possible to dedicate resources solely to educate young women about careers in commercial real estate, support their higher education and initiate our industry-leading research agenda. Our career outreach efforts and research are now two cornerstones of our mission. The technology we’ve launched in the last few years, including our CREWbiz member community, has enabled our members to network across markets and across the globe. Providing opportunities for our members to conduct business using this technology has been a game changer.

What are CREW’s goals in the future, and what strategies does the organization plan to implement in order to achieve these efforts?

WM: We will undertake a strategic planning process in November which will be our guide through 2022. We will focus on areas of opportunity, including being the industry leader for diversity and inclusion in commercial real estate. And, we will continue to raise the visibility and stature of CREW Network through our new brand and image campaign.

HN: To expand on the diversity and inclusion efforts Wendy mentioned, the CREW Network board developed four objectives that will guide our initial efforts to broaden the diversity of our organization:

  1. Obtain data that enables us to understand the current diversity of our members and a baseline from which to grow.
  2. Ensure that our members embrace diversity as an organizational imperative and have the knowledge and tools to move diversity and inclusion forward in their markets.
  3. Increase our inclusiveness network-wide so that every member as well as potential members feel they belong and are welcome.
  4. Position CREW Network as the leading researcher on women and diversity in commercial real estate.

How do you see CREW Network Foundation’s four main initiatives — CREW Careers, UCREW, College Scholarships and Industry Research — specifically being enacted to achieve these greater, common goals?

WM: In Canada and the U.S., only 27 percent of real estate-related degrees are obtained by women.

Our career outreach programs and college scholarships focus on educating young women about commercial real estate careers, and provide the financial support and mentorships to help them be successful in this industry. We are working to continually grow these initiatives and as a result, strengthen the talent pipeline of women and people of color.

HN: We will extend our 2020 benchmark study to encompass more data on diversity and inclusion. We will be calling on all commercial real estate professionals to participate in our survey launching in January. This crucial data collection will allow us to benchmark progress for diversity and inclusion in our industry. 

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