By Jessica Howe
Commercial real estate has long been viewed as a male-dominated field – a trend which has been shown in various statistics about the industry.
A 2015 benchmarking survey released by the CREW Network, found that women made up 35% of all of the CRE workforce, but only 11% of the C-suite jobs. In addition, the study found that there was a pay gap of more than 23 percent between men and women in the field – with the differences most pronounced in brokerage. And while there’s been some recent movement in the industry, there’s still a ways to go.
Each women in our industry interprets these stats in their own way, so I wanted to talk with women in my network here at Cushman & Wakefield about how they’ve developed in commercial real estate, and what advice they have for other women to overcome barriers.
Kelly Golden, Associate Director with Cushman & Wakefield’s Asset Services team, transitioned from residential real estate into commercial after interacting with a client who was a broker; starting out in the research department. She felt that women in the industry do face barriers, and that in such a competitive field. You really do need to “outwork your competition.” But at the same time, it’s important to have patience, and leverage networking groups and opportunities to work with other women.
Deanne Pace, Managing Director on the Lease Audit team, started in commercial real estate while working her way through college. While originally working on the landlord side, she eventually landed in tenant rep and has advanced on that track since.
“Personally, I have never felt there were barriers along my career path. I was offered jobs and opportunities and accepted or declined them depending on whether they were right for me at that time,” said Pace. “Maybe I have been fortunate, but I have found that barriers are only there if you allow them to be.”
With a similar message, Lauria Brennan, a Senior Vice President at Cushman & Wakefield, felt that women can overcome the barriers they may see, telling people getting into the field “the most important part of getting into this field is getting some sales experience first – once you have experience, you have some built in confidence.”
She added that mentoring and networking have been crucial for her, as her first boss, a woman, continued to support her as she navigated different roles.
That mentoring aspect was mentioned by almost every woman I interviewed. Sabrina Dello Russo, a Senior Director at Cushman & Wakefield, recalls a mentor that grew out of a frustrating initial experience.
“She started a year after me but was promoted very quickly. My initial reaction was to be bitter. I was there longer and felt I should have been promoted before her. But I quickly realized that she knew a heck of a lot more than I did and had many more years’ experience, she deserved it,” she said. “I stopped pouting and asked her to be my mentor and she accepted. We bounced things off each other (me more than her), asking her what she would do in any scenario possible.”
Dello Russo added that her mentor really worked to coach her through a lot of difficult deals and situations, calling her an “amazing resource.”
Individual success stories aside, a level playing field in the commercial real estate industry is not something which will be created overnight, or by one person or action. It will take everyone working together.
Cushman & Wakefield has taken an initial step by officially signing The Boston 100% Talent Compact, a first-in-the-nation, business community-driven effort to level the playing field for working women. By signing, Cushman & Wakefield has joined forces with the Boston Women’s Workforce Council, a public-private partnership between the City of Boston and Boston University, and more than 220 other Boston-area employers to close the gender wage gap.
It’s up to all of us to keep raising the bar.
Jessica Howe is the Director of Strategy & Operations for Cushman & Wakefield’s Industry & Specialty Advisory Group Platform, and the 2019 Chair of the Boston Chapter of WIN – Women’s Integrated Network at Cushman & Wakefield.