Women in commercial real estate

Commercial real estate has never been known to be a particularly women-friendly field—but a host of corporate initiatives to promote equality and changing attitudes in the workplace suggest a new era is around the corner.

In the drive to be competitive, business and public sector leaders across many industries are recognizing that it’s no longer possible to ignore half the talent pool. Nowhere is this more urgent than in industries where women remain under-represented—like commercial real estate (CRE).

One significant bright spot in the industry: For the first time, women in CRE reported parity with men in job satisfaction and life/work balance in Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW)’s annual study of women in commercial real estate. The study traces progress for women in CRE over a 10-year span, gauging compensation and career satisfaction, and asking participants about their about career aspirations.

CREW’s most recent 10th-annual Benchmark Study Report: Women in Commercial Real Estate, based on 2015 data, found that 50 percent of both men and women are “very satisfied” with their work life balance, while only 7 percent of women and 5 percent of men are “not at all satisfied” with their work life balance.

“We are encouraged by the positive results of this research and the overall satisfaction of women in commercial real estate, but change is not coming fast enough,” says CREW Network CEO Gail S. Ayers. “We are looking to industry leaders to take action.”

Leading from the top could help to speed up progress which has so far been slow and steady. In 2000, an estimated 32 percent of CRE positions were filled by women; by 2015, that total was 43 percent, according to the CREW study. The percentage of women in development nearly doubled, from 20 percent in 2000 to 38 percent last year. And while men still dominate the C-suite in terms of numbers, the number of women in top positions is rising.

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Such numbers spell good news for the future of the industry. “Think about how much talent companies failed to recognize because they didn’t advance their female employees to the level of their abilities,” says JLL Chairman of the Board Sheila Penrose. “That attitude needs to stay in the past.”

Building for a stronger future for women in CRE

Several industry organizations are working on opening doors for women (and minorities) in CRE. The National Association of Industrial and Office Parks (NAIOP), for instance, shares best practices and success stories from its members’ diversity initiatives, including best practices, challenges and solutions and why their diversity programs are a priority.

Among other practices, one leading national developer requires all 50 members of its management committee to engage in two-year partnerships with diversity organizations (including organizations focused on women) and actively seek a wide range of candidates when vacancies arise. The CREW Network also has a variety of events to support business development and networking among women in the CRE industry.

CRE companies also can learn from companies in other industries, such as accounting or management consulting, that have been historically dominated by men. Ernst & Young, for example, has focused on executive sponsorship and mentoring, matching women managers with more senior managers to gain access to the client assignments and leadership experiences that lead to promotion. The firm also trains staff to become more aware of unconscious bias, and continually gathers data to monitor progress.

Although many companies run their own formal and informal networks for women, McKinsey, a management consulting firm, offers formal training programs specifically for women on such topics as “Pathway to Partner” and “Pathway to Director,” in addition to its training programs for all recruits. The firm also has invested significantly in research and thought leadership around the economic importance of women in leadership positions.

Supporting the United Nations’ “Women’s Empowerment Principles”

In the wider business community, gender equality was in the spotlight recently with the announcement of the United Nations’ new “Womens Empowerment Principles.” Signed by more than 1,100 business leaders around the world, including JLL, it emphasizes the business case for gender equality through seven key principles.

These include establishing high-level corporate leadership for gender equality; treating all women and men fairly at work; implementing enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices that empower women; measuring and publicly reporting on progress to achieve gender equality, and other broader ideas.

“When companies recognize the business imperative for gender parity and implement strategies to address it, women are able to perform to their highest potential and make their companies more competitive,” observes Penrose, in the World Economic Forum’s January 2016 briefing note on its Global Challenge Initiative for Gender Parity.

And while a growing number of companies are incorporating equality as a key part of their corporate values and their strategy for business success, there is still a long way to go – both in CRE and a new globalized business world.

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