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Leaning In: Report Reveals Common Challenges Women Face in the Commercial Real Estate Industry

Newport Beach, RETS Associates, Cox Castle & Nicholson, NAIOP, Commercial Real Estate, Women in Commercial Real Estate Survey

By Meghan Hall

The commercial real estate industry contributed more than $935 billion to the U.S. Economy in 2017, making it one of the nation’s most wide-spread industries and one of the biggest drivers of economic success. In all, the industry accounted for 7.6 million American jobs in 2017. Despite its reach, however, the commercial real estate industry lags behind in gender equality, according to a recent survey compiled by Newport Beach, Calif.-based RETS Associates, a commercial real estate recruiting and staffing firm. Titled the 2018 Women in Commercial Real Estate Survey, RETS found that women were still facing several challenges in the commercial real estate industry including access to mentorship, equal pay and unconscious bias.

“Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much movement from when I started in the business until today,” explained Jana Turner, principal at RETS. “And it became very frustrating to me to listen to candidates and all of the trials and tribulations they were going through relative to compensation, promotion, opportunities, having a voice at the table, so I wanted to help educate our clients. It’s not an art or a science, but it’s both.”

The results of the survey indicate that 87.2 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the biggest challenge facing women within the commercial real estate industry today is equal pay. A lack of promotion opportunities and feeling that female opinions were not as valued or respected as their male counterparts came in close behind equal pay as top issues facing women in the industry, at 79.2 percent and 79.1 percent, respectively.

The study also found that 65 percent of respondents noted that they were made aware of being paid less than a male counterpart at some point in their career; of that 65 percent, 75 percent noted it happened more than twice. 61 percent of survey participants also indicated they felt they were bypassed for a job, assignment or listing because of gender; 82 percent of those respondents noted it happened more than once, while 54 percent said it happened three or more times.

And, while sexual harassment was not identified by respondents as one of the main challenges they face states RETS’ report, 52 percent of respondents reported having been sexually harassed at some point in their career; 84 percent of those noted it happened on more than one occasion.

Some of the biggest barriers to increase gender equity within the industry according stem primarily from a mix of lack of education, mentorship and unconscious bias. According to Turner, many women in the commercial real estate professions find their way into the industry through connections with family or friends as opposed to exposure through education or job fairs.

Margo Bradish, a land use partner at Cox, Castle & Nicholson is one such professional. She was inspired to become a land use attorney after a friend’s project was struck down as a result of a community referendum.

“A lot of women entering the industry coming out of college, coming out of graduate school, don’t know anything about real estate,” said Bradish. “They don’t know that there are careers out there that could be rewarding for them. I happened to have exposure to it through my family, but if you don’t, that’s a challenge.”

According to both Turner and Bradish, increasing exposure through college job fairs and programming can be key; currently, stated Turner, there is one female candidate out of four for positions within commercial real estate. With fewer women entering the industry, it creates what Bradish has deemed a “pipeline problem,” as even fewer women reach the highest ranks of the corporate ladder. This, in turn, has created a lack of mentorship for younger generations of women entering the industry.

“I think mentorship and seeing someone who looks like you in a senior role is really important,” said Bradish. “The needle hasn’t moved as much as I would like, but I think there’s a critical mass situation, here. Once there are enough women in senior roles, I think a lot more women will enter the industry.”

To get there, though, Turner and Bradish acknowledge that the industry will have to combat much of its unconscious bias and stagnant thinking.

“At any stage in someone’s career, people tend to hire and mentor those who they can relate to, which means people who have shared experiences,” said Bradish. “When you start talking about diversity, you’re talking about people to approach relationships with different experiences than you, which can be a challenge.”

This, however, is often something that few firms lack or give much thought to, said Turner. When combined with a lack of inclusion training, mentorship and reinforcement, it can make progressing through the industry tough.

“The industry has always been this way; it’s a cultural thing,” said Turner. “It takes education; it takes time; it takes money. It’s a heavy lift. I see companies trying, and it’s one thing to improve diversity statistics but another to really inculcate an inclusive feel and culture. I think that’s the fundamental problem; many companies don’t have a well-thought out recruitment plan, and that’s coupled with a lack of inclusion training and reinforcement.”

However, both women attribute their successes in the industry to learning as much as they can, seeking out mentors and taking initiative within their specific commercial real estate roles. Turner credits her success to two mentors who stuck up for her early in her career, while Bradish’s involvement in a variety of organizations, including NAIOP’s idea committee, which focuses on inclusion, diversity, equity and accountability, has contributed to her professional growth.

“I have been really lucky in terms of my involvement in these groups; I sought mentorship,” said Bradish. “It’s a great marketing opportunity. You are exposed to a lot of people working on a lot of projects, and it’s made my work both more enjoyable and successful.”

Turner agreed, and stated that involvement in the industry and documenting successes is key.

“I hate to use this cliché, but you have to lean in. You have to make sure you’re visible and you can’t hide behind a desk,” said Turner. “You have to go the extra mile, raise your hand. You have to quantify your difference very succinctly. It’s a perpetual resume.”