The Sexist-y Beat? Why Women Dominate Commercial Real Estate Reporting
Tom Acitelli Oct. 16, 2009, 1:31 p.m.
The world of New York commercial real estate is often still a tale of clubby patronage, posturing and mistakenly asking the one female broker at the meeting to fetch coffee. Sixty-four percent of commercial real estate brokers nationwide are men, a gender predominance that holds for New York as well; yet, the majority of print reporters covering this boys’ club are women.
The more notable commercial real estate reporters for prominent publications like Crain’s, the New York Post and The New York Times (and, for that matter, The New York Observer) are women. The same holds for area trade publications.
Lois Weiss of the Post, the beat’s regnant veteran, says she started writing about commercial real estate in hopes of plugging her husband’s tax law office. “It was an easier entrée; nobody wanted it,” she says, “and we were young and had a baby.” Ms. Weiss, like many women covering commercial real estate, says she ended up there because she clawed out the niche on her own. “I had totally no interest in it at all,” she says, “it was survival.”
The Times‘ Terry Pristin agrees that real estate was just a beat. She says that while the real estate business is “not very modern … neither is the newspaper business. The worst sexism I ever encountered was while gaining a foothold in journalism.”
Things are looking up for women on all sides of real estate in New York City these days, with the celebrated successes of many brokers. “Look at the people you have in the field in New York,” says Deborah Herman, publisher of Building Long Island. “Look at Faith. Who is gonna screw with Faith?” Faith Hope Consolo, perhaps the city’s best-known retail broker, has succeeded on her own markedly feminine terms: she is known for her fashion sense and sports an all-pink Web site. And the election of CB Richard Ellis’ Mary Ann Tighe in September as chair of the industry’s leading trade group, the Real Estate Board of New York, feels like a breach of the final glass ceiling for commercial real estate.
Maybe New York City is an especially progressive place; at worst, it is clearly a media-savvy place. Amanda Marsh, a reporter with Bisnow.com, says brokers “don’t see sex when it comes to the media. I think they understand the point, that you are a conduit.” Ms. Pristin says she has experienced resistance from “some provincial people in remote offices,” but in New York, “we live in the real world.” Ms. Weiss adopts passive, impersonal language to describe what she says everyone in the field knows. “Some of the women may have dated some of their contacts.”
A reporter on the finance side of commercial real estate who requested anonymity said she finds her interaction with brokers and traders to be highly gender-based. One broker asked her to meet him for a drink at his hotel; when she suggested lunch, he canceled the interview. More than one has asked during their first conversation if she is married.
So why is this nitty-gritty industry the purview of the fairer sex? “Maybe because women were more open to taking the beat; it wasn’t a step aside, it wasn’t covering the government or the city,” Ms. Weiss of the Post says, “and looking back, I think women were willing to work for less.”
The one common theme: necessity. The unnamed reporter covering real estate finance says she took her job for a simple reason: “only gig in town.” Plus, the crowd commercial real estate attracts is not exactly demure, unassuming women. “I don’t think of myself as a man or a woman, just a businessperson,” Ms. Herman says.
And Ms. Weiss’ experience perhaps exemplifies the interaction between male brokers and female reporters. “There are some wild stories about assistants being asked to copy nude photos … that kind of thing doesn’t bother me,” she says. “I shoot on the weekends; I’m the only woman on the [firing] line. I find it charming when they apologize for cursing.”