Remedies for gender imbalance in commercial real estate

Last year, Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” took a look at women in traditionally male-dominated careers and encouraged women to challenge these norms and pursue their goals. Sandberg uses not only her own personal stories, but also research to highlight gender differences in the workplace and what we can do to change them.

CREW Network, the national organization which CREW San Diego is part of, began its own research in 2005 with the benchmark study “Women in Commercial Real Estate.” CREW Network has followed up its research with annual white papers and in 2010 updated the benchmark study.

CREW San Diego brought Janet Pirrello, CREW Network board director, to San Diego in February to discuss with our members the white paper “Success & Satisfaction of Women in Commercial Real Estate — Retaining Exceptional Leaders.” Although more women are entering the field of commercial real estate, women have a higher rate of career dissatisfaction and feel less successful than men.

The white paper focused on key issues that address why women feel less successful and what can be done to help: factors that drive career satisfaction, gender differences in career success progression, and grooming executive leadership with sponsors and mentors.

Three themes were found in the career-satisfaction research. First, the commercial real estate industry remains male-dominated, which presents special challenges for women and results in uneven footing from the time we enter the workforce.

The second theme was the challenge of achieving work/life balance disproportionately impacting women. Family responsibilities remain disproportionally a woman’s responsibility, which can have negative effects on a woman’s career advancement.

Third, misconceptions — such as compensation not being as important to women as it is to men, and that women will not take risks — impede women’s career growth.

Another finding in the CREW white paper was that men are more likely to have a sponsor to advocate for them, while women focus on mentors for career direction. Sponsorship differs from mentorship in that sponsors tend to make things happen, while mentors give career advice. Mentors can be anyone, while sponsors tend to be within the same organization and, therefore, an important part of success.

If things are to continue to improve for women in commercial real estate, women need to know the value of their skills, continue to be advocates for themselves, network more and secure a sponsor. Employers can help women feel more satisfied with their jobs by encouraging policy changes to appreciate the differences between men and women as well as continue to close to pay gap.

Business deals that include women, companies with women in top management positions and even countries run by women outperform those where women are absent from the equation. It is no different in commercial real estate. Fortunately, many companies and organizations such as CREW San Diego and CREW Network are committed to helping women achieve success.

Jennifer Shumaker is controller of the Douglas Allred Company, a San Diego-based commercial real estate company. She is the 2014 president of CREW San Diego and a long-time CREW member.

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