Opportunities to accelerate industry change
Despite women occupying 43% of the positions in commercial real estate (CRE), the industry remains male-dominated.1 Inclusion does not equal diversity.
Underrepresentation is visible at all levels, from the small number of female CEOs to a scarcity of women speakers and panelists at industry conferences. Despite signs of slow progress, industry participants can act to accelerate gender diversity.
Opportunities to accelerate change
What can help the CRE industry to achieve gender diversity more quickly? Important actions include:
- Women leaders who lead by example. As more women assume leadership positions, it is imperative that they champion gender equality. This is vital to breaking through male-dominated networks that exclude women and office behaviors that stifle women’s voices and impeding advancement.
- Organizations that connect women as resources. The Women’s Housing Leadership Group provides mentorship, leadership, professional support, and a platform for shared knowledge between executive women leaders in the Housing Industry. Elena Bennett, Senior Vice President with Wells Fargo’s CRE-Homebuilder Banking Group, is a founding member along with three other current and former Wells Fargo customers including Cory Boydston, CFO of Ashton Woods Homes, Leigh Austin, Principal of Arroyo Capital and Cindy Gilmore, SVP of Hearthstone. Wells Fargo has been a key sponsor of the group recognizing its impact on supporting the success and advancement of women in CRE. The industry needs more organizations focused on providing mentorship, networking and learning opportunities.
- Women speaking up for change. According to Bennett, it is difficult to instill change, often due to unconscious bias. People are used to doing things a certain way, turning to the same industry conference speakers and utilizing the same resources (largely male) over and over again. Speaking up and advocating to include more women as speakers, drawing on their knowledge as leaders and highlighting bias is vital to making change a reality. Corporate cultures must make women feel valued by elevating them to leadership, promoting their voices and supporting their community engagement. Corporations must also ensure that clear bias reporting channels are in place and that women do not fear reprisal for speaking up.
- Advocacy by men for women. Given persisting male dominance in the industry, men must actively engage in advancing gender equality. Male leaders should ensure that everyone has the opportunity to present their ideas in meetings. They must break down the exclusivity of male-dominated groups to incorporate a diversity of thoughts.
- Good corporate citizenship. Several big institutional investors have called for gender diversity on corporate boards. One large firm publicly stated that the companies in which it invests must have at least two female directors. Another firm pressed for boardroom diversity by using its vote against the re-election of directors where the boards did not meaningfully address gender diversity.2 In one sign of progress in board representation in the CRE industry, U.S. real estate investment trusts elected a record number of women to their boards in 2018, or 52%, up from 41% the previous year.3
Gender diversity is good for industry growth
Efforts for equality would not only help women, but also strengthen the entire CRE industry. Studies show that businesses with gender diversity perform better. Research by Boston Consulting Group found that innovation revenue jumped to 45% for companies with above-average diversity on management teams compared to 26% for those with below-average diversity. Leadership teams must be at least 20% female in order to achieve a leap in innovation revenue.4 Given that the commercial real estate industry has resisted new technology and innovation, gender diversity can help to create a competitive advantage.
Despite change, there is still a long road ahead to attain gender diversity in CRE. The desire to change requires collective attention, which would benefit all.
1“The Boss? You’re Looking at Her: 7 Women in the Building Business”, by Joanne Kaufman, March 1, 2019, The New York Times
2“BlackRock: Companies Should Have at Least Two Female Directors”, by Sarah Krouse, Feb. 2, 2018, Wall Street Journal.
3“REITs elect record number of women to their boards: Report ”June 26, 2018, TheRealDeal.