Promoting Gender Equality in CRE

Carrie Rossenfeld Professional Services

Gender pay and opportunity discrimination, as well as sexual harassment, are pervasive within the commercial real estate industry, according to a recently released survey by Newport Beach, California–based CRE recruiting firm RETS Associates. The firm’s first-ever “Women in CRE” Survey gathered information from 618 female respondents nationwide shows that equal pay is the industry’s biggest challenge.

SoCal Real Estate spoke with Jana Turner, a principal at RETS Associates and a former executive of a Fortune 500 CRE global company about what is preventing gender equality in our industry, what can be done to cause meaningful change in this area, and any practical advice she has for both women in CRE who want to lead, as well as current male and female leaders who want to help ensure gender equality in the workplace.

Jana Turner | Courtesy RETS Associates

SoCal Real Estate: What is preventing gender equality in the CRE industry?
If you look at the makeup of the workforce, it’s predominantly — especially at the upper and middle levels — a, male-dominated industry. It started out unbalanced, and it has not been able to catch up over these years and create a balance. The CRE field has not been marketed and looked at by females as an exciting workplace.

If you look at any of the colleges, you don’t see real estate companies recruiting there like the other Fortune 500 companies do. When I was at CB, there was no college recruitment program. You’re not educating your young folks about this industry. The only people getting into it are those who have a friend or relative in it. CRE has been ignored as a very exciting industry; what you put in you get out. You’re not marketing and adding a diverse group of people and minds into your organization. You have to search out and be strategic about building your workforce; you can’t just hire those that apply.

If you look at brokerage, it’s especially dominated by men, and the compensation model is faulty for young people coming in. It’s commission only, and I’m not so sure that is a good model. Everybody keeps doing it the same way, and a lot of these young people wash out unless they’re on their parents’ team. It’s a faulty system.

What needs to be done to cause meaningful change in this area?
The leaders have to understand it’s an endemic problem. For example, take the CEO of Salesforce. I recently watch a “60 Minutes” interview with him that was absolutely compelling. He noticed that there were meetings in his organization that were only attended by men, so he went to HR and said, “Give me some stats.” He was shocked at the low level of women in his organization, so he went on a mission and made that part of the company’s initiative. He did an audit to see where everyone is compensation wise, and they soon realized there wasn’t parity with women and men. He said, “Let’s fix it.” The next year, compensation was still not even Steven, so now the company does an audit every year; he made this a main priority of his organization.

For CRE folks, too, it has to start at the top and permeate all the senior leadership. The compensation structure has to include a diverse and inclusive workforce. They have to have zero tolerance for those who aren’t doing it or violating it. CB just came out with report saying that women in this field are unhappy. There’s a disconnect. Leadership thinks we’re making strides, but when you get under the hood, they’re not. You need to tell the leadership about this study.

What steps are companies and industry organizations taking to make this change happen?
ICSC, ULI, and NAIOP have all surfaced the topic. It’s now become top of mind. I did a roundtable on this exact topic, about pay discrimination and diversity; ULI and ICSC are now having roundtables on it. They’re surfacing the topic and creating an awareness, and maybe this constant awareness is going to force the leaders to take a more aggressive posture on this. You have to find out what you have and fix it and continually make improvements year after year — it’s not a project but a program. It has to have continual address.

Women have become accustomed to the way men socialize in the environment, in their environment —their mannerisms. But we never saw anything as diverse as a Weinstein situation. Now it’s loud and clear: these are isues that affect their pocketbook. Companies need to do an audit. They’ve got to make a commitment. Let’s be very bold and aggressive on this. It’s one thing to have a diverse workforce; it’s quite another to have an inclusive environment.

What practical advice can you give to both women in CRE who want to lead, as well as current male and female leaders who want to help ensure gender equality in the workplace?
I hate to use [Sheryl Sandberg’s] words, but you have to lean in. You have to be vocal about your thoughts and ideas. And as I look back on my career, and people ask why I was successful as an executive, I realize that I was never afraid to be vocal about something if I felt I was right. If I was doing an acquisition in 2003 and my counterpoint was a male, and I saw the guy made more than I did had less responsibility, I said, “There’s an inequity here and we need to fix it.” I was not shy about it. I presented my statistics: this is my history and what I’m producing. And they couldn’t say no to me.

Quantify your difference. Present your case, and do not be afraid to and ask for what you want. Find people in your corner. You can’t just play the gender card. Write your story and keep track of it. Engage the people within the organization to help you build that: What do they want? What’s going to work?

Also, college recruitment would help create a more diverse and inclusive workforce. Start bringing in a new generation of people. Millennials are so much more inclusive; they’ve grown up in a collaborative. They like to be part of a group. Have programs in place so you’re constantly checking yourself.