Getting CRE Out of Its Male-Dominated Status Quo

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Two-thousand-eighteen has been called a Year of the Woman. The nation sent over 100 women to the House; millions joined the Women’s March; powerful men have been held accountable for sexual harassment.

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As women everywhere have been speaking up I, too, have found a new voice as I find myself at the beginning of a new chapter in my professional life.

News that my previous brokerage (Eastern Consolidated) was closing was jarring, to say the least. As a woman in this male dominated field, I have always felt challenged to meet the highest professional and ethical standards.

Now, as a professional woman re-affirming my position in this male dominated field, I find that, despite my record of achievement (30 years, 1,450 properties sold worth more than $25 billion) I am once again sparring for a place at the table.

Just recently, I was retained by the female head of a family office to analyze their portfolio and develop a strategic plan to diversify. I was the only woman invited to pitch for the business, because (she was told) there were no qualified, senior level women in this space! After I was hired, I was told it was not just my methodic and insightful presentation that sealed the deal, but my honesty, integrity, and experience. (Apparently, the men who pitched for the business spent more of their time denigrating than presenting a well-considered plan for the family office.)

It left me asking once again, “Why aren’t there more women working in commercial real estate?”

The latest data is mixed. A study released by CREW Network this year found the percentage of women in brokerage and finance fell between 2006 and 2015, from 39 to 29 percent in brokerage and from 44 to 42 percent in finance. However, asset management and development saw increases in the number of women working in each field. Development saw an increase from 23 to 38 percent—something that truly means that the industry is changing.

It is to those women that I now appeal to help drive further change in our industry by directing their efforts to nurturing female talent and rewarding its success.

Recognize the problem: Don’t stand for the status quo. When an all-male brokerage team pitches you business, ask why there are no females. You may be told they are “behind the scenes” and “not comfortable in high-stress situations.” That’s a cute story—but a study last year found that men were more likely to buckle under pressure during tense moments than women.

The truth is, many bosses have become blind to the favoritism played in brokerage offices across the city. The numbers suggest that hidden biases may well be restricting women’s movement to the top: of more than a 1,000 CRE professionals that the CREW Network surveyed, 65 percent say they had either experienced or observed gender bias at work. When a boss assigns a critical, high-profile project, he should select the best people for the job and if a woman has been involved in preparing a presentation, why shouldn’t she be there to present it?

Become a mentor. As a successful woman in commercial real estate, I have given untold young female students opportunities to learn the business under my guidance. Many women cite a lack of access to a mentor as a major stumbling block to their success. Make a point of reaching out to the many professional organizations and colleges out there who do support women and offer your services. In an interview earlier this year, Wendy Silverstein, the CEO of New York REIT, said she had been lucky to have several male and female mentors during her climb to the top. “If someone who is hardworking needs guidance and direction, not only will I help them think through where they want to go and how they should get there, but I will sponsor them,” she said. “I will try to make introductions, give them recommendations and support. I take that extremely seriously.”

Consider alternatives. Look at the programs and protocols employed by your bank, your brokerage, your legal firm, all of your vendors and business partners. There are many companies that actively support women in the workplace. Choose to do business with companies that support your goal of gender diversity and pay parity.

Hire more women. Many in the industry say if young women entering the field don’t see female managers and directors as role models, it can be a huge deterrent to getting in the business in the first place. Position yourself as a place that welcomes female employees—you can include more images of women in your branding material. Issue press releases about the deals women in your company have completed. Employ practices (such as maternity leave and childcare) that support working mothers and send a message that women are a valuable part of your team.

Support other women in the industry. A study by First Round Capital found that startups that include a woman outperform their all-male peers by 63 percent. The Small Business Association noted that firms that invested in women-led businesses had more positive performances than firms that did not. Failure to support women and their business doesn’t just hurt innovation and job creation, it impacts their ability to create wealth and make economic contributions.

I’ve cited plenty of reasons here why working with, mentoring and hiring women isn’t just the right this to do, it’s good for business. My hope is that more female leaders in commercial real estate will work towards making 2019 the Year of Women Succeeding.

Adelaide Polsinelli is Vice Chair at Compass.