“We’re still challenged in the C-Suite, [but] there are nevertheless a lot of senior women . . . who continue to elevate and advance diversity.” says Cheryl Ann Gray

TORONTO – Diversity in the traditionally male-dominated field of commercial real estate is a major push these days for forward-thinking companies and the associations that represent them.

Among the most logical–and visible–advocates of the cause is the president-elect of IREM, (Institute of Real Estate Management), Cheryl Ann Gray, CPM. Gray herself has been a pioneer in the diversity wilderness, having been the first female property manager in the headquarters office of a major Canadian insurance company and the first female director in its North American portfolio.

Right now, Gray, who is head of special projects at QuadReal Property Group, is literally preparing to take the message of inclusion on the road…to San Francisco, especially as IREM fires up its annual Global Summit in late September. An educational session entitled “Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Empowering Women in Real Estate” will share the experiences of women who have done just that, and spread the message of empowerment to men and women alike.

Gray sat down with GlobeSt.com recently to discuss the movement of empowerment, the strides that have been made and what more can be done.

GlobeSt.com: As next year’s IREM president, you have a great chance to lead by example. What does the position mean to women in the business?

Cheryl Ann Gray: Obviously, just to have it said, this position comes with demonstrated leadership skills, which is itself an important message. But there’s also the clear visibility of the position and what it could mean to women in any leadership role, whether it’s at the association or company level. Those who are coming up the ranks will always inspire and model behaviors that other women can follow, whatever scenario it is. I hope my activity in business and with IREM will demonstrate to others that there are opportunities for them to achieve those higher positions.

There was a time when it was unusual to see a female director. While we’re still challenged in the C-suite, there are nevertheless a lot of senior women in the business who continue to elevate and advance diversity and make the statement that there are opportunities here to grow.

GlobeSt.com: Do you think positions in property management are more attractive to women than other disciplines within commercial real estate?

Gray: There are aspects of commercial real estate that may not have as much diversity in gender as we do in property management. There are two reasons for that. First, it’s more of a people business than some of the more transactional disciplines in the industry. But it’s also a problem-solving business in terms of what we do every day. Management is much more about ongoing engagement and the personal touch.

Real estate is no longer a commodity. It’s a service. Tenants today are more expectant of what their experience with the surrounding environment will be. So the manager has a much more active role in addressing those expectations and maintaining those relationships.

GlobeSt.com: The gender gap, especially in management, seems to be closing. What more needs to be done?

Gray: Recently, at a meeting in New York, I heard a presentation by leaders of the Property Council of Australia, from the Male Champions of Change initiative, including a few of their real estate CEOs. They’ve launched this initiative, which isn’t about women helping women, but men helping women and promoting gender equality with a focus on both talent development and public advocacy. This includes transparency around equal pay.

So, there are a lot of things we can do more of in the North American market specifically, but I will say there are many institutions supporting and promoting women. We have to continue to advocate up to the most senior levels of every organization. Ask this question a few years from now and we’ll see more advancement.

But, that’s not to say nothing is being done here, and there are U.S.-based programs that are important, such as Real Estate Forum’s annual Women of Influence program, and we were happy to see a number of IREM members recognized this year.

GlobeSt.com: Let’s talk about IREM’s role in the diversity movement.

Gray: There are a number of initiatives we’ve established. For instance, there’s the IREM Diversity and Inclusion Succession Initiative, through which we match individuals with industry mentors. It includes a scholarship program and complimentary registration to the Global Summit. And, certainly the focus on diversity that will be a part of the Summit is a big part of that messaging.

Of course, we’re not alone, and other organizations, such as BOMA International and the CREW Network, are making concerted efforts to continue that outreach. So, it’s an industry-wide perspective that we clearly all think is important.

I’m happy to report that our certification numbers for women keep going up and the number of female CPMs and candidates rises gradually every year as do the number of Accredited Residential Managers. For instance, in 2014, 50 percent of our CPMs were women. Today it’s 54 percent.

So, it’s clear to us that individuals who are looking to increase their professionalism find IREM programs helpful. They see these opportunities as celebrating successful women and underscoring everyone’s potential to contribute and be recognized.