Commercial real estate is unquestionably an industry that is dominated by men, however women are making gains in North America both in numbers and higher compensation levels.
A benchmark study that was conducted in 2010 by the Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) Network in partnership with Cornell University Program in Real Estate and reported in Women in Commercial Real Estate: 2012 identifies trends in women’s role in the industry by making comparison to similar research completed in 2005.
The study found that while there is a gender imbalance more women – 43 percent today compared to 36 percent in 2005 – are engaged in the commercial real estate workforce.
The research also showed that the wage gap between men and women is narrowing though still present. There were modest gains in compensation for women earning less than $75,000 who in 2010 represent a third rather than a quarter of that income category shown in the 2005 study.
There are more women in the $100,000 to $250,000 wage bracket now than in 2005 and an increase from 8% in 2005 to 11% in the $250000 plus category. There is a persistent imbalance of three times more men than women in the highest income bracket.
Results of the study are grounds for optimism however the report also suggested advancements for women in the industry are tenuous. It revealed a low satisfaction level for new women entrants and barriers to career advancement. The study’s authors concluded that this could mean that the gains may be “precarious.”
Sponsoring Men vs Mentoring Women
Following up on the 2010 study, the CREW Network has uncovered a lower levels of satisfaction among women when compared to men in senior positions according to Gail Ayers, CEO of the Lawrence, KS-based CREW Network. In response to these findings the CREW Network’s Industry Research Committee has undertaken a study to pin down the source of job dissatisfaction among women and to become better informed about the issue.
While they are still awaiting completion of the new research, Ayers expects that lower compensation levels for women than men who have equal qualifications and background is likely one of the main reasons women are less content in their jobs than men. She is surprised that compensation is still an issue in 2012 as women are clearly acknowledged as being equally capable.
Speculating about why women’s compensation is lower, Ayers said, “It could be that women are not negotiating for higher income or possibly they are not recognizing they are bringing equal value to the table.”
Women move up through the corporate ranks in a different way than men explained Ayers. Interviews with executives in the property sector have revealed that men advance by being ‘sponsored’ while women tend to be ‘mentored’ into higher positions.
There is an informal sponsorship programs for men where “if there is a guy that someone thinks is doing well then they have them moved up.” The mentoring program is not as active an advancement method with a lower level of training and involvement, she elaborated.
When systemic mechanisms that are a barrier to career advancement for women are pointed out to CEOs and companies, it provides an opportunity for them to correct them. “As the knowledge that corporations are leaving qualified talent off the table, out of the boardrooms and other key positions running the company becomes available, there is hope that we will be able to change this,” said Ayers.
The Women in Commercial Real Estate: 2012 report poses the question as to whether the positive trend for women will continue or follow the model of “Rosie the Riveter” and subside as men try to re-establish their dominance in the top positions as the economy in the U.S. recovers.
Initiating industry research is one of the ways that CREW Network serves its members. It prepared a first of its kind benchmark study in 2005, a precursor to the 2010 study that examined women’s position in the North American industry. CREW Network is committed to updating that report every five years and on the off years it conducts other studies such as the current one on job satisfaction that is nearing completion.
“CREW’s groundbreaking study shows that growing numbers of women are choosing a commercial real estate career but work still needs to be done to achieve true parity,” said Mike Lafitte, President, Americas, CBRE. “As an industry leader, CBRE is fully engaged in the effort to ensure that the talents and performance of women commercial real estate professionals are given full opportunity to flourish. We are very proud to support CREW in this effort.”
CREW Network Has Taken Off in Canada Since 2000
CREW Network is a growing organization with 8,000 members in North America and 74 chapters in major markets representing the full cross section of disciplines in the industry. In Canada the organization has taken off in the past decade adding four new chapters Montreal (2003), Vancouver (2005), Calgary (2006) and Edmonton (2009) to CREW Toronto that has been around since 1996.
While the CREW Network head office is in Kansas, the only border that the organization truly acknowledges is the ‘currency conversion,’ quipped Ayers. The sponsorship, leadership and all other services are equally available in the U.S. and Canada.
“All across the North American continent we are seeing a growing interest in women in commercial real estate. It is a relationship business where multi-tasking in positions like development are beneficial skills. It is just a good fit for women,” said Ayers.
CREW Network “seeks to influence the success of the commercial real estate industry by focusing on fulfilling four key initiatives: business development, leadership development, industry research and career outreach” according to its website.
In addition to the formal objectives of the organization, it also promotes the concept of community. “It minimizes the need for ‘a cold call’ and while they say real estate is local, you can also have friends in CREW Network in other places where you can share information,” said Ayers.
An expanding membership base is one indication of CREW Network’s success. Another is its very high retention rate at 85%. Clearly commercial real estate women are banding together to support one another, to advance their careers and improve the industry while they are at it.
Canadians have a unique opportunity to get involved in CREW Network and learn more about the organization by attending a 2012 Spring Leadership Summit & Council Meeting that is to be held on June 14-15, 2012 at the Hilton Montreal Bonaventure in Montreal, Quebec.
The CREW Network 2010 Benchmark Study is available for purchase on the Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) Network website. Summary statistics have been included in this article with more extensive analysis related to other factors such as the impact of the U.S. recession and the relative position of men provided in the report.