When Lenora Gates started her career in commercial real estate in 1988 with Coldwell Banker Commercial (CB), she was part of a tiny minority, just one of two women brokers out of an office of approximately 50 brokers.
She has come a long way since then and so has the industry. Today she is President of BLJC Orange Retail Real Estate Solutions, a real estate advisory firm with 20 employees and a portfolio that boasts such big-name clients as Starbucks, Crate and Barrel, Steve Nash, Indigo and Wholefoods. Gates has pushed through the glass ceiling, joining the movement of more women to executive positions in commercial real estate.
A study commissioned by CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women) and administered by Cornell University, with data taken at the end of 2010 showed that there are an increasing number of women entering commercial real estate; there are also more women in C-Suite positions, although they are still outnumbered by men; of the survey respondents that held C-Suite positions, 22% were men and 9% were women.
Gates is also the President of CREW’s Vancouver Chapter. She acknowledges that while traditional challenges continue to exist for women in male-dominated commercial real estate, like pay inequity and work life balance, women with executive intentions cannot consider these as barriers.
The focus, as Gates suggests, is not so much about smashing the glass ceiling that still exists, but to dissolve it through accomplishments that speak for them selves to level the playing field.
Gates did not dwell on the challenges that were put to her as a woman in a traditionally male industry, but worked at finding synergies between her skill set and the components that are essential to upward movement in commercial real estate, supporting her notion that success is not engendered, but a product of hard work.
“Success in this industry is about putting your head down and really investing in the time and effort. It is an industry in which there is a lot of opportunity, “Gates said.
“At CB, I was directed toward retail – which is very common for women in commercial real estate. Having said that, today it is a little more diversified, and we are seeing more women go into office leasing and industrial and investments.”
Gates already had an understanding of retail, as she had previously worked in the garment industry. “Retail was the natural arena that the industry guided you to- it lent itself to women,” she said.
Gates soon discovered that it didn’t matter if you were a man or a woman when it came to creating and maintaining great business relationships. “We are in a networking, relationship business- I don’t care if you are male or female.”
Starbucks Pivotal Relationship for Career
“What really helped my career was the fact that I was very accustomed to building relationships with the people I was doing business with, and I stood by the product,” she said. “It was something I enjoyed doing. It’s what I did well- and it is what served me well in my relationship with Starbucks.”
Gates credits her success in the business to her long and close relationship with Starbucks, which she covered nationally. “Starbucks was the main one that I was able to build my career on. In a 15 year span, I negotiated around 500 transactions for them.”
Gates was a founding partner of BLJC Orange Retail Real Estate Solutions, and lead broker who brought that client and relationship into the company.
CREW a Valuable Networking Resource for Women
Gates says that the growth of CREW in Canada underscores the fact that commercial real estate is a relationship, network-based business.
A decade and a half ago, CREW had no presence at all in Canada, and now they have chapters in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal.
“On the CREW front, there is that networking opportunity for women that are involved in this industry to meet other like-minded women that are moving forward with their careers, so there is that synergy- the opportunity to network and to do business together,” said Gates.
Gates explains that the growth of CREW in Canada is also filling an educational need for women in the industry as well as providing them a much needed networking platform.
As more women move up the ranks in commercial real estate too, CREW provides an opportunity for these women to share their experiences with those entering the industry, which does not readily exist elsewhere, according to Gates.
Gates believes that the emergence of CREW is also fuelled by the desire of these women to create an environment of growth for the next generation. CREW is also “for those that come behind us.”