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?

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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