CREW Studies Women in Real Estate

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More women are in senior real estate roles, and job satisfaction is strong despite gender gap.

By Nancy Amdur


[dropcap]M[/dropcap]ore women in real estate are occupying senior-level positions and feeling satisfied with their careers, but a gap remains in the income levels and job aspirations between men and women in the industry, according to a recent study by the Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) Network.

“On the positive side, it’s great to see that we’re making progress,” said Holly Neber, CEO at Walnut Creek-based AEI Consultants, an environmental assessment and engineering firm. “On the other side, there are areas where we still need to improve.”

For instance, the percentage of women surveyed who are filling senior vice president, managing director and partner positions increased over the past five years. However, fewer women than men in the industry hold or seek top executive, or C-suite, positions. Seventeen percent of men versus 9 percent of women respondents held C-suite positions, and 28 percent of women surveyed aspire to the C-suite compared to 40 percent of men, according to CREW’s 2015 Benchmark Study Report: Women in Commercial Real Estate.

The CREW study has been conducted every five years since 2005, measuring progress of women in commercial real estate. The question regarding career goals was added for 2015.

The reasons for this so-called “ambition gap” in the industry are unclear. “There are probably a lot of things that factor into that,” Neber said. “I think that the phrase ‘You can’t be what you don’t see’ really might play a part of it. So, if women don’t see another woman CEO, it might not occur to them that that is an option for them.”

Having sponsors and mentors offering career support and encouragement are key, said Alison Beddard, director of office and investments at real estate brokerage Cushman & Wakefield in Salt Lake City, who is the 2016 CREW Network president-elect.

CREW graphic“One thing that came through the entire report was the importance of having sponsorship early in your career,” she said. “Men seem to have more sponsors.”

“Women tend to seek mentors and ask for advice,” she added, “but then sometimes there isn’t a translation that the person’s actually going to sponsor you and help you seek out those opportunities.”

Women survey respondents indicated that a lack of a company mentor or sponsor is the number one barrier to career success, while relationships with internal senior executives is the main factor supporting future advancement.

Business networking organizations such as CREW can encourage women to fill more leadership roles, group members said. The network, founded in 1989, comprises more than 9,500 members worldwide—including about 450 members in the Bay Area—representing nearly every discipline in the commercial real estate industry. There are chapters in more than 70 major markets across North America.

“One of the things that CREW does specifically is highlighting the achievements of women so that other women can be inspired to achieve,” said Neber, who serves on the network’s board of directors and was CREW’s East Bay chapter president in 2014.

Survey findings also showed an income gap between salaries for men and women in commercial real estate. In 2015, the median annual income was $115,000 for women and $150,000 for men—an average gap of 23.3 percent, the report states.

The income gap is shrinking among lower salaries and is widest within the C-suite and brokerage and development specialties.

“While it’s true that women are negotiating their starting salaries…it’s troubling that what we see is five years out [into their careers], the gap starts to widen,” said Laurie Baker, senior vice president of fund and asset management at multifamily real estate investment trust Camden Property Trust in Houston.

“What’s critical for women to be successful in their careers—as well as getting parity—is that they have ongoing negotiations about their salary, even if they’re staying in one organization, and to not let five or 10 years go by without having those conversations,” said Baker, who is the 2016 CREW Network president.

An “unconscious bias” also can affect women’s role in the industry, Baker said. This bias could include employee hiring, she said.

“By human nature, we all have biases and we have to take a more active role in trying to prevent that from happening, and when we see it, comment on it,” she said.

Still, for the first time in CREW Network’s surveying, women’s job satisfaction increased across all industry specialties and is now equivalent to men’s with 59 percent of women and men reporting feeling very satisfied. Women with higher commission-based pay were most satisfied with their career, the report indicates.

The 2015 CREW benchmark report compiled survey results from 2,182 commercial real estate professionals. Data is used to help CREW enhance its programs, such as the organization’s Certificate in Leadership program, designed to help women gain leadership development skills and provide industry mentors.

“To close the gender gap in commercial real estate, women and organizational leaders must continue to understand these issues and to aim high,” the report states.

The study “creates an awareness” for “men and women [in the industry] that will allow us to get better,” Baker said.

West Coast Commercial Real Estate News