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To paraphrase JP Morgan, if you have to ask about diversity, it’s just not happening. While much has been written about the diversification of the real estate industry, a benchmark survey recently conducted jointly by Commercial Real Estate Women and some 10 other industry associations provides a snapshot of an industry that still has a way to go in terms of equality in the workplace. Key among the findings was that, while the percentage of women in the sector is growing, they still find equal pay and top-of-the-pyramid chairs in the C-suite allusive. Interestingly, the survey, which questioned some 1,834 participants (64% women, 36% men), discovered that regardless of pay and regardless of title, men and women reported equal dissatisfaction with their ability to balance careers and private lives. Ginger Bryant, 2005 president of the CREW Network, and CFO of Sares-Regis is San Francisco, talked with GlobeSt.com about the implications of the survey. (For the record, the other participating associations included ULI, NMHC, BOMA International, CCIM and Corenet.)

GlobeSt.com: What was the biggest surprise of the survey?

Bryant: The survey confirmed what we always found anecdotally, that women are under-represented in brokerage and development, and many of us always felt there was a gap in compensation and the level that we have achieved, that while women are achieving many senior-level positions they’re not getting the highest-level positions. But we were surprised, when we saw the actual numbers, at how big that gap was. The second surprise was the gap in perception. When we asked people if they thought men and women are achieving the same level of success, most said yes.

GlobeSt.com: But any progress is good, no?

Bryant: We’re very pleased with the progress we’ve seen over the past five years in terms of the number of women in this industry and the success they’re achieving.

GlobeSt.com: At the same time, isn’t it very 1960s to be so far behind the salary curve?

Bryant: I don’t know I would characterize it that way. While I can’t compare it to other industries beyond real estate, anecdotally I would agree. But, in this study, we wanted to create this benchmark to measure our success. No one has ever done this in this industry. It’s definitely a first. We want to work with companies to put into place initiatives that will help women, and everyone, succeed. So we needed to measure our success. That was number one. Now we’ll be able to delve into some of the questions we’ve raised, to dig into those, so we’ll be able to better understand and then eliminate the barriers that are there.

GlobeSt.com: So what issues have been unearthed?

Bryant: There’s a real question about commission-based compensation and why certain people might choose that path. Our research shows that more men have chosen that path than women. The question is why. We know women take risks in other lines of business. Many are entrepreneurs, a very risky thing to do. So you can’t make the statement that women are risk-averse. There’s something else about that structure that we need to examine. We’re hearing that 60% of commercial real estate professionals don’t want to be compensated on a commission plan, period. So nobody’s real excited about it, including men.

GlobeSt.com: What else are you looking at?

Bryant: We clearly want to explore the successful path to the C-suite. We want to understand why so many women are achieving senior-level positions but not moving up to that top level. Is that a time-in-the-business thing? Our research doesn’t support that, because we looked at how long people have been in the business and the gap is there even if you’ve been in the business for a significant time. Is there something else that’s creating that barrier? If we can help identify that, we can say here are the steps you need to take, here are the jobs you should be holding, this is the kind of experience you need to get in order to move to those positions. That will be very helpful in the long run in helping women understand what it takes to move into those positions and be successful there. It might be that we’re choosing the wrong career paths early in our career.

GlobeSt.com: That would imply more dissatisfaction with women professionals, but your research doesn’t support that.

Bryant: There’s no statistical difference. There were other areas where there are differences. Women feel it’s very important to work in a team environment and earn the respect of their coworkers. Men didn’t rate that as high.

GlobeSt.com: The cowboy mentality?

Bryant: Maybe. The interesting thing will come as the business environment changes–business itself, not just real estate–where everyone is shifting toward a team environment and greater respect for each other. When there’s an outsourced project you’re going after, that sense of team can really add to the equation.

GlobeSt.com: The survey also revealed that women are more likely to direct women. Is that a matter of low expectations on the part of management?

Bryant: I don’t know if I would interpret it that way. People like to hang out with people who like them. When you’re interviewing, you’re more likely to bond with candidates with that connection.

GlobeSt.com: Don’t you start leaning dangerously close to hiring discrimination then?

Bryant: You do, but it’s natural for people to be comfortable with people who are more like them, and maybe this is why this has developed over time. It might also be a function of the position you’re looking at. Women have become very successful in the service category. So there are more roll models there. One of the things we’ve found among companies with strong diversity programs is that they want to make sure that a diverse group of candidates is interviewed. Real estate has always been about the informal network. If you can broaden the pool of people you talk to, the odds of selecting the best candidate and creating diversity are enhanced.

GlobeSt.com: So when do you do a follow-up?

Bryant: We’re in the process of discussing that now. Probably every two or three years we need to do another benchmark. Every five years might be too long, but we don’t want to go out and do it every year.

GlobeSt.com: Do you expect to see change?

Bryant: I do. I think we’ll continue to see women enter sales and leasing, and I hope to see more women entering the development business. If we all understand what we have here, everyone can contribute to making it better.

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