Several top brokers agreed that New York was uniquely conducive to women rising through the ranks. “Had I started in Miami, Los Angeles or San Francisco, I wouldn’t have grown at this pace,” Ms. Consolo said. “They have smaller downtowns and lots of malls, which are dominated by men.” And while New York arguably has incomparable global appeal, it also suits brokers with a sharp eye for detail and a winnowed focus. “New York rewards expertise, no matter how minute,” Ms. Tighe said.
The rising tide of female real estate power brokers has not lifted all boats. Work site and construction management, for example, have lagged significantly behind brokerage. Ms. Gilmartin said that women compose 8 to 10 percent of those divisions. “If you look at a niche like development, it’s harder to find good female representation at high levels,” she said. “It’s quite often, still, that I find myself in a room full of 20 people where I’m the only woman.”
The disparity in development can partly be attributed to vestiges of the old boys’ club still in place. But even the fiercest proponents of gender balance in the industry concede that women are sometimes to blame for their own shortcomings.
“Women have to be more supportive of each other, especially in commercial,” Ms. Consolo said. “Men are supportive; women are competitive. Men go out for beers and a round of golf. Women talk about other silly things. If we want to succeed on a bigger level, we have to work together. Men do it—they have a club.”
Ms. Carey voiced similar sentiments when she mentioned the “pink ghetto,” or the tendency of women to be relegated to one or two sectors of the industry—as retail brokers or analysts, for instance. While this can often be attributed to a company’s infrastructure, Ms. Carey said, “Sometimes we do it to ourselves.”
The lack of a cohesive insular culture among women in real estate can also be attributed to the short amount of time they’ve spent in the business relative to men. Several organizations including AREW and Commercial Real Estate Women foster a valuable sense of community. The women they represent and bring together are often likely to have honed certain advantageous traits that industry men lack.
“Women tend to focus on education and skills, and realize they need to know more than their male peers,” Ms. Gilmartin said. “In the technical disciplines, we’re as competent as, if not superior to, the men. The tougher nut to crack is development and driving P&L, areas where you eat what you kill. I don’t want to say those areas require aggressiveness, but they cater to personality traits not always associated with women.”
Despite the challenges that persist for women in commercial real estate (and that don’t spare men), the industry in general fares well against others, particularly law. “Real estate is performance-based,” Ms. Gilmartin said. “Unlike in law, where you’re judged by your billable hours, here you succeed through creativity, effectiveness and rainmaking. Also, you’re not chained to a desk until the wee hours.”
Ms. Scanlon believes that real estate lags “maybe a decade behind Wall Street.” But finance is hardly a paragon of gender equity. “The women I know on Wall Street have done well off the trading floor,” she said. “But on the floor, it was terrible.” Ms. Scanlon said that the major breakthroughs in real estate came at the brokerage level, where stars like Ms. Consolo and Ms. Tighe stand to rake in millions of dollars in commission each year.
Looking forward, New York real estate’s prominent women anticipate a time when gender ratios are no longer a point of discussion, even if a divide lingers. “I will love the day when the idea of balance is off the table,” Ms. Gilmartin said. “We share a common bond, but we also have to elevate our game and talk about meaty topics and future growth.”
One of the most encouraging developments for women in New York commercial real estate pertains to the vaunted family dynasties that once seemed impenetrable, if not hostile, to young women. “The old families are part of the magic of New York City real estate—they set standards and maintained financial stability because they intended to stay in the marketplace forever,” Ms. Tighe said.
“Now, their daughters—Helena Durst, Samantha Rudin, Lisa Silverstein—are moving into senior roles. The gender walls are breaking down. It’s geometric growth, and a virtuous cycle.”