For the first time this year the International Council of Shopping Centers will have a session at its Spring Convention in Las Vegas dealing directly with the issue of women in real estate. Titled “How the Commercial Real Estate Industry Can Develop, Retain, and Benefit from Female Leadership,” the meeting will be moderated by Elizabeth Lambert-Saul, who is president of the CREW Network, a national association of women in real estate.

The ICSC session coincides with the release of a recent report by CREW examining women’s role in the industry. Among some of its findings are that 51% of all professionals in asset and facilities management are women, but only 23% of those in brokerage, leasing and sales are female. Lambert-Saul, who is also a VP and director at the Irving, TX-based Archon Group, spoke with GSR Ticket about the study and women in real estate in general.

GSR: How does the real estate industry compare to others in the area of job equality between men and women?

Lambert-Saul: We’ve really honed in on real estate and some interesting things have bubbled up. I’ve talked to a few people in other related industries to try to get a feel. I don’t know if we have enough data to compare real estate to technology or medical. We don’t really have the information to do that.

Yet we did find out that women are clearly gaining a stronger foothold in real estate, and we’ve seen about 4% growth over the last four to five years. But it wasn’t evenly spread. We saw women migrating to the financial side of things, with accounting and appraisal. Asset management and property management has our strongest presence. The brokerage and development side are both very small. Development has seen no growth. We have not seen that particular segment of the industry growing or being opened for opportunities for women.

GSR: What are the biggest obstacles for women when trying to enter the industry?

Lambert-Saul: Women are still, in this day and age, facing a tremendous number of stereotypes. We don’t know for certain, but it seems that one tends to hire people who look like you, act like you and think like you. Since real estate is so overwhelmingly male, with women representing just 36%, that is probably the case. There are a lot more men in senior-level positions, and I don’t think it is conscious that it happens, but we do tend to migrate to people who think like you and share your common goals and areas of thinking.

I think it is clear, based on our survey, that women do pretty well up to a certain mid-level VP position. But to go further than that and become the CEO or the CFO, there is still – I hate to use the term – a glass ceiling. If we’re ever going to see systemic change, it’s going to have to come from the top down. The companies that are successful in recruiting, retaining and promoting women are those where it is part of the core principles of the company.

GSR: Why are there fewer women brokers than in any other category?

Lambert-Saul: You have sort of a knee-jerk reaction and say, “Why would someone not want to be in brokerage?” which is where women have a low percentage. And we’re not seeing a tremendous amount of growth. It’s the same thing with the development area. You start to look at both of those areas and wonder why more women are in professional areas that are more service related, such as law, accounting and asset management versus some of the others.

You do tend to move more toward the risk profile. With brokerage we know that a lot of positions are 100% commission based. We asked the question, and interestingly enough, both men and women said that if they had a choice they would not work on 100% commission. The incidence was higher among women than men, but both said if they had a choice they would not prefer it.

Another thing you can draw a parallel to is that brokerages tend to be more of a solo-type practice. They’re single producers. They go out, get their deals and work apart. They might have an assistant, but it’s sort of been more of a single producer-type environment. Women have told us very loud and clear that it is really important for them to work in a collegial team environment, working on a team and having the respect of their peers.

That’s equally as important to them as title and that sort of thing. Now recently I’ve seen a whole bunch of press on companies that are understanding that a more collaborative environment in brokerage is more conducive to serving customers or clients. They’re starting to think a little more about how brokerage can be more of a team-collaborative effort. But that’s a relatively new trend.

GSR: What is it about property management that makes women the majority in this field?

Lambert-Saul: It goes toward there are not a lot of barriers of entry. It’s easy to get into because it doesn’t require specific credentials. That’s not to say that women don’t pursue higher education, but it’s just an easier role for women to move into on the commercial real estate side. It is a very retail day-to-day role that works directly with tenants.

We honestly don’t know a lot of the “why” answers. Part of what we were trying to do was inform the industry about things like the salary gap. A majority, 58% of men make more than $150,000, versus 24% of woemn. That’s more than two times. The lower income bracket, $75,000 and below, is made up of 32% women versus 11% men

When you ask people if there’s a compensation gap, they say “No.” Everyone thinks the person sitting next to them and doing the same job is getting paid the same, and that is not reality. Part of the next step is to figure out why there is such a heavy concentration in some areas compared with brokerage and development.

GSR: Why have fewer women worked for the same company during their career than men?

Lambert-Saul: There are very few surprising things in the study, but that was surprising. We don’t know. We hear this “on-ramp, off-ramp” way too often. And we know the on-ramp is not as conducive to women as we would like.

Is it easier at a certain point in your career to go off-ramp, have children, be out of the workforce for a period of time and come back? We know there are some challenges with that. We also know that women put higher precedent on personal achievements. Men want title and money. Women want to be respected, work with a team and be able to accomplish things with a personal note, versus being very single-focused in terms of success. My guess is that there are companies that would be more conducive to one or the other.

GSR: Does retail have a higher or lower percentage of women than other sectors in the industry?

Lambert-Saul: The survey told us it was probably one of the product types where we had the most equal representation of men and women. Of the respondents who answered the survey, 52% had some presence in retail, and of that, it was split half and half between men an women. It was an area where we looked the most balanced.

GSR: The retail industry uses a generic “she” when describing its main consumer. Does that help women better gain a foothold in retail, or does it hold no bearing?

Lambert-Saul: When you look at all of the statistics, they say women are now buying 80% of all consumer products. Women seem to understand retail more because we do the grocery shopping, the clothes shopping, and it’s somewhat of an interest to us. For some of us it’s sport. I think that tends to have more women possibly migrate to retail.

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