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Women in Commercial Real Estate: High Time We Bridged the Gap


The fur is flying anew, and with good reason. Continued research shows that despite decades of good intentions and diversity efforts, women in commercial real estate (and more broadly in business) have not achieved equal access to C-suite positions or equal pay for equal work. 

Theories abound as to why: Inherent gender differences, side effects of the Mommy Track, personal decisions to opt out, lack of sponsorship, bias, discrimination, and more. 

But why should we care? What's broken, and what is lost when women aren't at the table at every level of commercial real estate organizations?

Women bridging the gap

How about financial performance? Would that get your attention? If you're not convinced that diversity and women's voices in leadership matter, read the recent Ferguson Partners/FPL Associates report: Correlating REIT Enterprise Performance and Board Diversity Representation. Ferguson found that over a five-year horizon, firms with female Board members outperformed their peers by a material 3.6% per year. Of all the characteristics considered, female board representation was "far and away the characteristic most likely correlated with performance." Of note from their study, 44% of REIT Boards studied did not have a single female board member.

I was motivated to write this post after tuning in to Howard Kline's CRE Radio show last week.  Women hitting it out of the park in commercial real estate were interviewed on the topic "Can Women Break the Glass Ceiling in Commercial Real Estate?" Faith Hope Consolo and CREW Network presidents Collete English Dixon (2011) and Diane Butler (2012) were among the knowledgeable and passionate participants. Kline's palpable shock during the interview upon learning that pay inequity remains--and exists to such a measurable extent--highlights a misconception that women in the industry have come a long way, baby... Further, it brings to light just how much men (and women) underestimate continued disparities and the cost to individuals, corporations and society.

Three pay-gap statistics of note:

  • The Pay Chasm: Women have gained a mere half a cent annually on the gender pay gap since the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963. In theory, women would have to work 4.5 extra months per year to match men’s pay (1) 
  • The Mommy Tax: A first child produces a wage 'penalty' of 6% of earnings, while two children produce a wage penalty of 13% (2)
  • The Power of the Ask: Male grad students earned 7.6% more ($4,000 on average) than their female counterparts in their first job. Only 7% of female students negotiated their first salary, versus 57% of men (3)
  1. What can be done, and who is doing it?

    Actions speak louder than words. Let's start with the words:

    CREW Network mission statement

    Next, the action. Beyond the mission, advancing women's success in commercial real estate, CREW invests in research and results, including multiple whitepapers (a member benefit), such as Success and Satisfaction of Women in Commercial Real Estate: Retaining Exceptional Leaders (2012), Glass Ceiling or Sticky Floor: The State of Women's Advancement in Commercial Real Estate (2009), and Minding the Gap (2007).

    As a result of their findings, CREW Network put their money where their mouth is. In 2011, along with sponsor Cassidy Turley, CREW launched "Bridging the C-Suite Gap," a 9-month executive level pilot mentoring program matching 10 commercial real estate C-suite aspirants with women at the top of their game. As one of the pilot mentorees, I personally (and passionately) testify to the program's value in supporting leadership development and career advancement. 

Will it make a difference?

I believe it already has. At the C-Suite program's kickoff, Cassidy Turley President Joseph Stettinius expressed nothing short of an epiphany, and was very transparent about his past views and future commitments. Further, you will hear in coming weeks and months about specific outcomes of the C-Suite Mentoring program from female difference-makers in the industry.

What can I do?

Get informed. Resources abound, starting with the research documents referenced here.

Women in CRE: Find not just a mentor, but a sponsor. Sponsors, unlike mentors, buy into your success and use their chips to advocate for your advancement. Sponsorship yields quantifiable results in advancement, stretch assignments, and compensation.

Men in CRE: Recognize the value of diverse perspectives at every level of assignment and within your organization. Look for opportunities to invite women to teams, pitches, and boards where they are conspicuously absent.

Male and female CRE leaders: Identify women in your organizations you can mentor or sponsor, and encourage others on your leadership team to do the same. Encourage female brokers, attorneys, accountants, architects, and the like to become active in CREW.


Women in Commercial Real Estate Barbi Reuter TucsonBarbi Reuter, RPA oversees Cushman & Wakefield | PICOR’s operations, research, finance and marketing/social media activities and serves as Associate Broker. One of 13 company Principals, she is active in industry and community leadership, through such organizations as Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW), Greater Tucson Leadership, Arizona Town Hall, and board work for the Tucson Girls Chorus and PICOR Charitable Foundation. She was one of 10 women matched with executive mentors in the inaugural CREW Network/Cassidy Turley "Bridging the C-Suite Gap" program.


Photo Credits: bigstockphoto, Lyn Sims 

(1) Sule Aygoren Carranza, "We're Not There Yet, Baby," GlobeSt.com (May 21, 2012)

(2) Sylvia Ann Hewlett, with Kerie Peraino, Laura Sherbin, and Karen Sumberg, "The Sponsor Effect: Breaking Through the Last Glass Ceiling," Harvard Business Review (December 2010), p. 22

(3) Hewlett et al., "The Sponsor Effect," p. 9

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Barbi: You beat me to the punch. Really good post. I didn't realize that my surprise, nay, "shock" over pay inequity was so "palpable". No doubt though, I was shocked. It really caught my attention, and for the life of me, I can't understand why it still exists. I know all of the explanations, but none of them make any sense to me. 
Posted @ Tuesday, July 03, 2012 7:04 AM by Howard Kline
Thanks, Howard. Plenty to be said, and your blog will be a great forum to reach even more in the industry. Thank you for being a catalyst for discussion and, hopefully, action.
Posted @ Tuesday, July 03, 2012 8:27 AM by Barbi Reuter
Excellent post Barbi. We have both been in this industry for many years and understand this first hand. We are fortunate to work for companies that support and value our contributions but the disparity is not that surprising in what continues to be a "Good Old Boy" industry. I am glad to hear about CREW's mentoring program.
Posted @ Tuesday, July 03, 2012 11:27 AM by Jeanne Honsaker
@Jeanne - My thanks! As Tucson's first female industrial broker and an early mentor for me, you are one of the pavers of the road for other women. PICOR's Board is now 23% female. Not a bad start.
Posted @ Tuesday, July 03, 2012 11:39 AM by Barbi Reuter
As usual - great stuff, Barbi! Kudos to CREW for the role they play in improving the #CRE environment - for everyone.
Posted @ Tuesday, July 03, 2012 12:34 PM by Dave Lewand
Spot On! 
Considering that a recent study showed women being the richer sex as well as close to 60% of the workforce, the financial community as a whole needs to wake up and realize the strength of a non-biased environment. 
We have found that the post baby boomer female population are well in control of their financial lives but still suffer lingering discrimination in the workplace. We need to cooperatively work on getting out of the dark ages as a culture. 
I have enjoyed working with the team at PICOR over the years as a client and hope companies will learn from their example.
Posted @ Tuesday, July 03, 2012 12:35 PM by Bruce Specter
@Dave - thanks for the support, as always! 
@Bruce - Spot on, yourself, and add to it the high percentage of purchase decisions made by women. Appreciate your support and kind words about our team.
Posted @ Tuesday, July 03, 2012 4:01 PM by Barbi Reuter
Thank you for continuing the discussion. This sort of open dialogue is the only way that we can build awareness of the matter and engagement to make changes. The value-add for improving the diversity in the industry all shows on the bottom line. Kudos for a great article!
Posted @ Tuesday, July 03, 2012 8:57 PM by Collete English Dixon
Collete - your note and continued leadership mean a great deal. Pleased to increase the level of awareness, dialogue, action, and, hopefully....progress!
Posted @ Wednesday, July 04, 2012 9:52 AM by Barbi Reuter
Great post Barbi. As someone who stepped away from commercial real estate nearly a decade ago, coming back in at a C-level position was a great step up for me. But, looking around at the industry in general, not that much has changed for many other women.  
I know that I had to go outside the industry to gain knowledge (technology, social media & running my own company) which made me an attractive prospect to be lured back to an industry that I love in a key position. But, I also pulled together a crackerjack team of women to help me negotiate my deal (it helps to have friends who work in recruiting and executive compensation). I'm also making sure that I have a network in place to help me succeed in my new situation, and that's why I look forward to getting back involved with CREW! Looking forward to updates on the C-Suite Mentoring program.
Posted @ Tuesday, July 10, 2012 10:59 AM by Diane Danielson
@Diane - it sounds like you understand and leveraged the value of a network when you re-entered the industry. CREW should be a terrific resource for you going forward. Happy to help make any connections and grateful you weighed in.
Posted @ Tuesday, July 10, 2012 11:23 AM by Barbi Reuter
There is also the division of the type of commercial real estate that women are accepted in. I do Industrial and Land in IL and I have seen firsthand how women are treated in the industrial brokerage arena. Don't get me wrong I have worked with many supportive male brokers, but if you want in on the largest industrial brokerage firms you will have a very hard time. Definitely see the good old boy network hard at work-play! 
Posted @ Thursday, July 12, 2012 4:23 PM by Georgia Kokkinias
@Georgia - Point well taken. I'm sure there is variation in treatment across markets and disciplines. Would be curious to see if there are broad geographic trends, or if size of market is a factor.
Posted @ Wednesday, July 18, 2012 3:18 PM by Barbi Reuter
Nice writing... Barbi..
Posted @ Wednesday, December 05, 2012 12:42 AM by Maz
Appreciate it, Maz
Posted @ Wednesday, December 05, 2012 9:52 AM by Barbi Reuter
This is so true! It's about time for women to be treated as equals. Both in real estate and as tucson pavers. It's about time.
Posted @ Thursday, January 24, 2013 9:29 PM by Charles Brawnyson
Barbi, it is such a nice thing we all need to consider in our business dealings that will help us not only to have a person in the business but also get the best and new ideas. In the homemaking and decoration there are so many great ideas to get the services of women because women are good in the decoration of the home and the other decoration we always need to have. I like the way you have written this great post for the women to play an active part in the business and at the high post.
Posted @ Saturday, May 03, 2014 1:47 AM by Jusica
Barbi you are exceptional in this article and define your points with stats that is a good thing in your article. Women's in the real estate business is an excellent thing because now women's had a significant impact on all fields. There is no field in the world where women's did not participate and plays a vital role.
Posted @ Wednesday, May 07, 2014 6:31 AM by Judy G. Muniz
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