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On International Women’s Day, how are Women Fairing in CRE?

In the U.S. commercial real estate industry, many of the statistics on gender equity in the workplace can be discouraging. For example, according to Cushman & Wakefield’s CREW Network Report on Best Practices for Gender Equity and Inclusion in Commercial Real Estate:

  • Just 23 percent of senior roles are held by women.
  • A full 31 percent of businesses have no women in senior positions.

However, this International Women’s Day, we wanted to take a moment to point out the progress that is being made in our industry. The CREW Benchmark Study on Women inCommercial Real Estate found that the underrepresentation of women in CRE is gradually changing. The study found that women filled more senior-level or higher roles in 2015 than they did in 2010 and 2005. The study also found that the percentage of women in CRE worldwide grew from an estimated 32 percent in 2000 to 43 percent in 2015, and it’s continuing to grow each year.

Natalie Snyder Bode, Director in Cushman & Wakefield’s Leasing Tenant Representation group in Dallas, has been in the industry for 10+ years and has seen a much larger percentage of young women entering the industry in junior broker and financial analyst roles than ever before. Bode, who was recently honored with CREW Dallas’ Outstanding New Member award, says now the bigger question is, how do we encourage women to stay in the business?

“Once they are working in the business, is the dream of achieving the next level of success enough for them to want to continue making the sacrifices necessary to stay?” she asks. “I believe the same question is true for other industries like public accounting, investment banking and law. Women who want to stay in CRE for the long haul or achieve executive level positions need to decide how bad they want it and what they are willing to sacrifice in order to achieve these goals. You cannot do this without a supportive family, friends and superiors in your company who can—and want to—help you get there.”

The Benefits of Balance

As more women join the industry, CRE firms stand to benefit. Research by Catalyst found that Fortune 500 companies with the highest percentage of female corporate officers reported, on average, a 35.1-percent higher return on equity and a 34-percent higher return on shareholder investment than companies with the lowest percentages of female corporate officers.

Meanwhile, according to the CREW Report, businesses where women account for the majority of top management have shown superior sales growth and higher cash-flow returns on investment. The report also found that diverse teams are smarter, scrutinize other members’ actions more closely and tend to be more innovative—all of which help to drive success.

Marla Maloney, Cushman & Wakefield’s President of Asset Services for the Americas, explains, “Diverse, cross-functional teams bring different ideas and opinions that challenge the status quo, and, as a result, create better client solutions. Leaders across many organizations are recognizing women for delivering exceptional results in their businesses and for their clients by rewarding their great work with significant leadership opportunities.”

Strategies for Encouraging Gender Equity

With women accounting for 43 percent of the CRE industry, there’s still room for improvement. Simply raising the issue is a good first step; in many cases, CRE professionals may simply not recognize the industry’s gender imbalance until they read or hear about it.

By raising the visibility of the issue, individuals and companies can encourage both women and men to work together to improve the situation, to ensure women have a voice in meetings and projects, and to collaborate on new solutions.

There are also specific ways in which companies and individuals can take action to improve gender equity. For example, they can promote employee resource groups, like Cushman & Wakefield’s Women’s Integrated Network (WIN), a group whose mission is to develop and support the talents of our women team members, and have meaningful impact on the firm’s performance.

Bode says in her experience, networking and mentoring make a big difference. Indeed, in the CREW Report, women in real estate ranked the lack of a mentor or sponsor within their company as the number one barrier to success, with women being 54 percent less likely than men to have a sponsor.

“Women often talk about there being a ‘boys’ club’, and that does exist,” she said. “I think it’s important for women to form their own ‘girls’ club.’ Identify other women in CRE and in other industries who think like you and have your back. This can be a good support and referral network. People tend to hire people and mentor people who are like they are. That’s why older, male professionals tend to help encourage, advance and give opportunities to younger male professionals they think are like them. So go find women who like to encourage and promote other women. Of course, there are men out there that see the strengths women bring to the table, and they like to help women advance in their careers. Go find those men too! I promise you they are out there.”

Stronger Together

Evidence supports that a gender-balanced workplace benefits a business’s bottom line as well as its employees. And the good news is, in the last decade or so, overall, the number of women in CRE has grown significantly. This has helped the perception of women in the industry to shift as well, which has led to greater success for both women and men.

For women who are in the trenches of CRE, Bode recommends keeping their eyes on the prize.

“I think it’s important to encourage women not to put so much thought and emphasis on the gender gap,” she says. “Keep your head down, and do not worry so much if you are the only woman in the room or if you think certain opportunities may have passed you by because of your gender. Focus on your strengths and what you like to do. Establish goals for yourself and achieve them. Do not think you cannot achieve certain goals because you are at a disadvantage or because you are the ‘underdog.’ Studies have shown it can actually be an advantage to be considered the underdog. Learn to think of being a woman in a male-dominated environment as an advantage and an opportunity—instead of an impediment.”

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