More Women Are Now Entering Field of Commercial Real Estate

While different in many ways from residential real estate, commercial real estate distinguishes itself primarily by both the slow progress of women entering into the profession and the number of women who successfully remain in the industry. There are many disciplines within commercial real estate that offer opportunities to women: banking, mortgage/title work, real estate law, architecture/design, asset management, development and brokerage. Although it has been encouraging to see that this side of the industry has opened up for women’s participation, there barriers still remain, especially for the younger women who look for satisfaction from doing business in this arena.

Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW Network) is a North American Association of more than 6500 commercial real estate industry professionals. The goal of this organization is to advance the success of women in commercial real estate. It is a strong and successful national network of professional individuals who benefit from the connection of a shared desire for doing business together and being successful. In 2005 CREW Network released the first comprehensive look at women in the industry through a study which was conducted by surveying over 1,834 online participants with follow up calls to 250 individuals. The survey included both men (36%) and women (64%).

The survey focuses on four disciplines: Asset/Property Management, Financial Services, Development and Brokerage. There are several areas of discussion covered in the survey. However, for purposes of this article, the areas of interest to be emphasized are the number of women in the industry, compensation, title/position and career satisfaction.

The survey finds that “while the number of women professionals in the industry is increasing, men earn more than women across the board at comparable levels of experience and age, and across industry specializations.” The survey found that in the past 5 years, the number of women professionals in the industry has increased from 32% to 36%. However, while more than half of the individuals who specialize in asset/property management are women, only 25% of the individuals working in brokerage are women. In the financial services, the number of women has increased 7% in the past five years.

Commercial real estate can be a high paying profession, often based upon bonus and/or full commission compensation. According to the survey, the earnings of 1/3 of the respondents, both men and women, were over $150,000 per year. Of that group 58% of the men claimed income of $150,000 or higher while only 24% of the women earned the same. This appears to be true regardless of age or experience

When commissions are the sole source of compensation, the survey found that men apparently target and hold these positions more than women. This is especially true in brokerage sales and leasing. Locally, women articulate being risk averse and needing a sense of security especially as they become older and have more personal responsibilities.
One young CU graduate who wanted to enter brokerage was advised to put her financial background to use in a larger corporate environment specializing in asset management and in-house tenant representation based on salary. She was counseled that her chances of success in brokerage as a female would increase if she were to establish herself first with a credible resume. The majority of young males entering brokerage, while having the same financial background, enter the field directly.

A reasonable conclusion to draw might be that men are mentored more successfully by their peers and are not allowed to fail in these types of environments. However it might also be true that simply having more men in the room results in more men being mentored. A few local female professionals in the field do speak of finding a mentor and more often than not that person is a man. Especially in brokerage there are very few women available to mentor younger women.

According to the survey, while 35% of the respondents reported being in a senior level position, particularly in Asset and Property Management, a greater percentage of women than men (21% to 8%) hold mid-level positions. Men on the other hand are 3 times more likely to hold positions of President/CEO/CFO. The survey does indicate that beyond 10 years of experience both men and woman share the same level of Vice President. However the survey shows that this is the ceiling for the majority women in all disciplines.

It was particularly interesting to note that the number of men remaining in the industry over the age of 50 with over 20 years of experience is higher (76%) than women of the same age and experience (53%). Across the board in every discipline the number of women participating in the industry drops by the 20th year in the business by almost 50%. While there is not a reason given for this statistic it might be reasonable to conclude that there is greater job satisfaction for men due to position held and the resultant compensation. Or, conversely, women may have another means of support or may simply have “burned out” due to maintaining the balance of job and family.

When it comes to achievement in terms of satisfaction and success, in the majority of the fields, both genders believe that they are satisfied and successful. However there is greater disparity within the brokerage and asset/property management fields. In brokerage only 56% of the women felt successful while a whopping 72% of men felt that they had achieved success. There was a smaller disparity in asset/property management with 68% of the women feeling successful compared to 76% of the men. The disparity regarding satisfaction with the job is equally maintained in brokerage as well as asset/property management. According to the survey this disparity in both of these fields decreased with years of experience.

In conclusion, unlike other career treks which place a clearer emphasis on recruiting women, commercial real estate isn’t widely regarded as being proactive in attracting more females to it ranks. The track record also indicates that in certain fields, ie brokerage and asset/property management, there is not an active intent to retain those females that are allowed entry. However, if persistent, women can attain seniority through years of service and enjoy a certain feeling of success and achievement.
For its part CREW nationally has developed a program called CREW Careers which aims to reach young women from the age of seven up through their high school years and introduce them to opportunities in the commercial real estate industry.

CREW Network engaged the services of Knowledge Systems & Research to conduct this survey. CREW will hold its national convention in Denver in 2007. We look forward to an update at the convention on how women are tracking in this industry.

Paulette Wray, Principal of Wray & Associates, a Denver-based tenant/buyer representation firm, has 22 years of commercial real estate experience.

April, 2006
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