A first-of-its-kind survey conducted by the CREW Network reveals what a lot of commercial real estate industry professionals had suspected but were never able to quantify: Few women are making headway in the traditional male-dominated disciplines of brokerage and development, and men still occupy most of the seats in the C-suite.

Titled Women in Commercial Real Estate: 2005, the survey also unearthed some unexpected findings. It discovered that women still suffer from gross inequalities in compensation compared to men, and even more disquieting, most real estate executives — both male and female — don't perceive there to be a compensation disparity.

Helping women achieve parity in commercial real estate is a complex and complicated undertaking, says Deborah Quok, a senior vice president of global corporate services at CB Richard Ellis, and former president of the CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women) Network. The most common strategies — training and mentoring — are important, she says, but only part of the solution.

“I see training and mentoring as bottom-up initiatives to help advance women in the industry,” Quok says. “Even more important is executive management that champions the top-down changes needed to support the advancement of women — changes in company culture, attitudes and practices that would result in a more conducive, level playing field for women.”

Setting an industry benchmark

The survey, which questioned 1,834 industry professionals through online and telephone questionnaires, also reached out to men. Of the total survey respondents, 64% were female and 36% were male. Men were included in the survey, Quok says, to accurately pinpoint whether or not there were differences in compensation and job titles between men and women in the industry.

“Anecdotally, many of us knew that we didn't see a lot of women in brokerage, particularly investment sales, and development,” says Ginger Bryant, CREW Network's 2005 president and senior vice president and CFO of SARES-REGIS, a development and management firm based in Irvine, Calif. “We had a sense that women don't make as much money as men, and we wanted to know why. This survey, like most surveys, created more questions.”

Conducted by Knowledge Systems & Research Inc. and funded primarily by CB Richard Ellis, Holland + Knight and Prudential Financial, the survey will serve as a benchmark for CREW and the rest of the industry.

It confirmed that there are more women in the industry today — roughly 36% of all commercial real estate professionals are women compared with 32% five years ago. However, there are fewer women in brokerage and development than any other segment of the business — 23% of respondents indicated they were employed in a brokerage function, and 36% were in development and development-related positions.

With nearly two decades of experience in both brokerage and development, Quok was curious about other women in the industry. She leveraged her position as CREW Network president to spearhead the survey with the expectation that it would provide solid, quantifiable data about women in real estate.

“As an organization, our goal is to achieve parity for women in the industry, and we wanted to be able to point to areas where women were making significant inroads, and the areas that would potentially require more attention,” Quok says. “It's hard to know where you're going if you don't know where you are.”

Female brokers scarce

When Sperry Van Ness President David Frosh broke into the industry after spending most of his career in the software business, he thought it was odd that there were so few women specializing in brokerage. “In many ways, I think the commercial real estate industry is a laggard. It's been a laggard in technology, and it's a traditional type of business where old cultural norms are sometimes hard to break,” he says.

Frosh, who did not participate in the survey, has spent the past six months focused on attracting women to his firm, where women represent more than half of the executive team, the top two producers and three of the top five producers. Overall, 129 of 625 Sperry Van Ness professionals are women.

In Frosh's view, women enhance the workplace and improve company performance because brokerage is such a relationship-driven business, and he believes that women excel at establishing and maintaining strong relationships.

While the survey did not expressly answer why there are so few women in brokerage, there may be hints within other survey findings, says Kathy Wilke, CREW Industry Research Task Force co-chair and vice president of GMAC Commercial Mortgage Corp. “One of the things that I found most interesting was that women had a definite preference to work in a team-oriented environment,” she says, noting that brokerage requires a lone-wolf mentality and lack of teamwork.

In the survey, 67% of women respondents said that working in a team-oriented environment was a key component to job satisfaction, while only 58% of men preferred teams. Moreover, the survey discovered that women aren't interested in commission-only positions. Far more women (70%) than men (48%) said they would not be willing to consider a job where 100% of the compensation is commission based.

So, does this finding indicate that women are risk-averse and seek stability over the promise of increased income? Not necessarily, Bryant says, pointing to the number of women who are entrepreneurs. According to the survey, 9% of the female respondents own their own businesses, which is close to the 14% of male respondents who also are self-employed.

When it comes to development, it's no longer just male territory, say industry observers, but women are still the minority. “We're starting to find more and more women involved in development,” says Jodie McLean, chief investment officer for Columbia, S.C.-based Edens & Avant. She believes that development's close relationship with construction, which is heavily dominated by men, could explain why there aren't more women who work in development.

Within the development and development services category, women are more likely to have positions in architecture and interior design. Respectively, 8% of women and 13% of men respondents were in development and construction, according to the survey.

Moreover, McLean points out that development has always been a very capital intensive business, as well as very time intensive. “Capital has come from friends and family, and a lot of wealth has been controlled by men,” she says, adding that women in development find it challenging to find the balance between work and family. “It takes a very high-energy person who can pull both of those things off.”

Earnings for women fall short

When it comes to equal pay for equal work, the commercial real estate industry has an idealistic view that is not flush with reality. Nearly 40% of all respondents said gender-based disparity in compensation did not exist in the industry, despite the fact that the survey found a striking gap.

“I think there is a perception that women have made great strides and everything has all evened out now,” Wilke says. “I think [the respondents] have a perception that if the guy in office A is doing the same thing as the woman in office B, they're getting the same pay.”

Susan Gwin, who is a senior vice president of Southwest corporate services for The Staubach Co., attributes the misperception to commission-based compensation structures in the industry. “As a broker, I get paid the same amount as any other teammate because I am on straight commission,” she says.

The bottom line is that men and women with the same experience do not earn the same pay, regardless of specialization. Among respondents with 20 or more years of industry experience, 45% of women made more than $150,000 annually compared with 69% of men.

Further, the survey shed light on the fact that within the group of respondents with five years or less experience in real estate, fewer men (37%) make $75,000 or less than women (66%).

As a broker, Quok says that she expected the survey to show a disparity in compensation. “In my own observations within my firm, by and large the individuals that are earning the highest compensation are men,” she says. It's also worth noting that men achieve higher salaries far earlier than women — meaning that they have more time to accumulate wealth, according to the survey.

Absent from top positions

Janis Schiff, a partner with survey underwriter Holland + Knight, blames the compensation disparity on opportunity. “In real estate, when you achieve a certain level, you get to make the money,” she notes, “but women are just not getting to those levels in large numbers.” The survey supports Schiff's assertion.

There are more women who hold mid-level and senior positions than vice president or C-suite titles by a margin of 56% to 33%. Moreover, when comparing men and women with more than 20 years of experience, 44% of men held the title of president, CEO or CFO compared with just 23% of women.

Bryant believes that the dearth of women in high-ranking positions isn't necessarily a sign that women cannot advance. “Perhaps it's the age of the women in the industry,” she says. “I think that women are very poised to take those roles, if they want them, in the next five years as they get older and a different mix of leadership is in place.”

It's also possible that women are consciously choosing not to focus on career advancement. The survey found that more women (44%) had turned down a promotion to a position with greater responsibility than men (32%).

McLean believes work/family balance is the reason. “I've found that women are willing to forgo the title to have a more flexible job,” she says, adding many women will opt for a more predictable schedule over a corner office, even if it affects compensation.

Talented women boost bottom line

Now that the survey has been completed, what will the findings mean to the commercial real estate industry? CREW Network's hope is that the findings will challenge companies to provide better opportunities for women and encourage women to seek leadership positions.

Mike Bush, executive director of the Real Estate Associate Program, a venture that focuses on recruiting minorities into commercial real estate, says the findings should push companies to make changes because of enlightened self-interest.

“We're seeing more women CEOs and CFOs outside of real estate, and I think those women will be more receptive to companies that understand the value of women and minorities,” he says. “It doesn't matter if a company decides to create opportunities for women because it's the right thing to do or because it's a business decision. What matters is that talented women have a place in the industry.”

CB Richard Ellis is taking the survey seriously, Quok says, adding that the firm has asked her to take the findings and implement specific programs that focus on diversity efforts. As of mid-November, Quok was working to outline the firm's diversity objectives.

Quok points out that several studies have proven that companies with large numbers of women in top senior-level positions realize better financial performance than companies where men hold almost all the top management positions. “It's about bringing a variety of diverse perspectives together to create the best possible solutions for clients,” explains Quok, “as well as making improved business decisions for companies.”

Jennifer Popovec is a Dallas-based writer.

UNLEVEL PLAYING FIELD

Women who work in commercial real estate report lower incomes and occupy fewer top-level jobs than men.

Income Women Men
$250,000+ 8% 24%
$200,000 - $249,999 6% 10%
$150,000 - $199,999 10% 14%
$100,000 - $149,999 23% 19%
$75,000 - $99,999 21% 12%
Less than $75,000 32% 11%
Position Women Men
President/CEO 13% 32%
Vice President 20% 25%
Senior-Level 35% 19%
Middle-Level 21% 8%
Entry-Level 2% 2%
Self-Employed 9% 14%
Source: CREW Network