COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | TARA BURNS

Leading to change: How responsible companies strive for parity

More women are entering the commercial real estate industry and while their income is growing, there is still disparity between men and women when it comes to income, according to CREW Network's recently released industry benchmarking study, Women in Commercial Real Estate: 2010.

The findings were shared at the 2010 CREW Network Convention & Marketplace, held Oct. 20-23 in San Francisco.

The four-day conference, "Leading to Change," brought together more than 1,000 women and men in commercial real estate for education, business development opportunities and roundtable discussions. Whether attendees were celebrated for their career advancement or educated in leadership development workshops, the conference echoed the mission of CREW Network: to influence the success of the commercial real estate industry by advancing the achievements of women.

When the benchmarking study was first conducted in 2005, it was the first of its kind in the industry and measured the status and achievements of women in commercial real estate. The 2010 study looked at three key areas: advancement, compensation, and success and satisfaction.

The results found more women have entered the field of commercial real estate (36 percent in 2005 as compared to 43 percent today), although the wage gap between women and men is still present. Other results included a positive shift in annual salaries for those compensated between $100,000 and $250,000. When asked in 2005, only 8 percent of the women surveyed were compensated at this level, compared to 11 percent in 2010.

During the conference, a panel of C-suite executives discussed these findings in a session called "Making Strides: Strategies of Innovative Companies to Achieve Industry Equality." The panel was moderated by Sally French Tyler, executive vice president & divisional president at First American Title Insurance Co. Tyler, a past president of CREW Network, posed the question to each panelist, "How do women bring value to your business?"

Mike Lafitte, president of Americas at CB Richard Ellis, stated that of the 30,000 employees at his company, 36 percent are women. To foster a culture of equality, CB Richard Ellis has created an internal Women's Network, which exists to unite and develop women's initiatives. Lafitte stated, "If you believe in equality, there should be no gap in compensation."

When asked what three things companies can do to support their women employees, both female panelists replied "honest feedback." Gwendolyn Butler, president and COO of Capri Capital Partners, said whether receiving or giving critical feedback, it must be done in a timely manner. She also noted creating an environment where people can fail without penalty and advised companies to create opportunities for individuals to expand their experience beyond their existing skill set.

Diane M. Morefield, who also listed feedback as a way to help women become successful, is the executive vice president and CFO of Strategic Hotels & Resorts. She recommended every company have a formal system to review compensation and create a formal or informal mentoring program. Both Butler and Morefield urged women in the audience to take risks in projects and job roles, as the risks they personally took eventually led to success.

Each panelist followed a different road to their current position, and offered these traits when asked, "What characteristics are you looking for when employees are looking to advance their career?"

Butler said those who have a natural curiosity and can interact comfortably with clients are candidates for advancement in her eyes. Morefield said those with integrity and strong communication skills are likely to be considered for advancement. Mike LaFitte rounded out the discussion with his "Lafitte Five." Those considered for advancement must have all five characteristics: integrity, work ethic, focus, expertise and attitude. Attitude, he said, is comprised of humility and a servant's heart.

All panelists agreed that the industry has made progress in achieving parity in the last five years although there are still great strides to be made.

CREW Network has committed to conducting the benchmarking survey every five years, and taking steps to build on the knowledge gained from the study. CREW Network believes that through this knowledge, it can help companies:

  • Make greater progress toward achieving compensation and leadership parity across genders.

  • Identify and maximize the skills and talents of the entire professional workforce.

  • Improve recruitment, retention and advancement of talent through a better understanding of current industry conditions and factors important to commercial real estate professionals.

    Founded in 1989, CREW Network is now comprised of over 8,000 commercial real estate professionals in 73 chapters across North America. To find more information on the 2010 industry benchmarking study, visit crewnetwork.org or crewsandiego.org.


    Burns is on the board of directors of CREW San Diego as director of marketing communications. Her involvement with CREW San Diego is strongly supported by The Brickman Group, where she is an account manager.

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