October 12, 2006

Teaching girls how to break the glass ceiling

  • CREW Careers shows school-age girls what jobs are available in commercial real estate and what they need to overcome to get them.
    CREW Foundation


    So you think you’ve come a long way?

    As painful as it is to face the facts about internal salary comparisons, if you’re a woman in commercial real estate, there are some things you (and your boss) should know.

    Despite some significant advances for women in commercial real estate, men continue to make more money than women across the board.

    This finding was confirmed through a recent commercial real estate industry survey conducted by CREW Network. The survey justified long-held assumptions that in the world of commercial real estate, men are earning more money and reaching higher positions than women, despite similar backgrounds and experience levels.

    Backed by corporations like CB Richard Ellis and Holland + Knight, “Women in Commercial Real Estate: 2005,” was the first industry-wide look at differences in salaries, promotions, job types, and career values for men and women. The survey established a data baseline.

    What really resonates about the compensation aspect of the study is this: When the respondents were asked if there is gender-based disparity in incomes, less than half believe this disparity exists. There is big disconnect between reality and perception.

    All of this is despite the fact that over the last five years, the percentage of women in commercial real estate has grown from 32 percent to 36 percent.

    Getting girls into real estate

    How do we change these norms and get men AND women to think differently about the potential of female leadership?

    One way is to educate people, and to start that education as early as possible.

    With the support and shared diversity goals of industry giant Cushman & Wakefield, along with KeyBank and Starbucks, the CREW Foundation launched CREW Careers in 2005 to teach middle and high school girls about commercial real estate opportunities by taking them to project sites and introducing them to the wide variety of careers.

    In 2006, CREW Careers expanded the program to 19 major cities across North America with hands-on educational programs, and will expand further to 26 cities in 2007. The goal is two-fold: (1) to provide girls with tools and strategies to guide their pathway to economic self-sufficiency; and (2) to increase diversity within the industry.

    In Boston, participants spent a day touring Fenway Park and the surrounding neighborhood to learn about new housing and retail developments and what that collocation means to the success of both Fenway and the real estate developments. The girls had private meetings with an all-star line-up of female Red Sox staff, including attorneys and the vice president of planning and development for Fenway Park, Janet Marie Smith, who is known internationally for her designs of Camden Yards and Turner Field.

    Charlotte chapter CREW members matched their CREW Careers participants to a certain profession within commercial real estate based on a personality test taken ahead of time.

    CREW Seattle’s program was based at Kent Station, teaching the girls about the entire development process, including a hard-hat tour of buildings under construction to showcase layout, construction and design procedures.

    Lasting inspiration

    Through this first introduction to commercial real estate, CREW has the unique opportunity to position the profession as a desirable career choice for tomorrow’s female business leaders. CREW Careers strives to leave behind some inspiration that lingers long after the programs have ended — the experience of working side by side with some of their hometown’s top female business leaders and of witnessing first-hand the opportunities that are available to them.

    This year, CREW Network is extending that message of the future to its Annual Convention & Marketplace entitled “Opportunities Rising — The Future of Commercial Real Estate,” to be held Oct. 18-21 in Atlanta. Considered the premier networking event for women in commercial real estate, this meeting will bring together top industry leadership to share the latest ideas and initiatives.

    The commercial real estate industry needs and will benefit from diversity and strong female leadership. Our world and our clients are more diverse, and we need to become more diverse to serve them and to succeed. Through industry programs and events like CREW Careers and the Annual Convention & Marketplace, companies and individuals can help increase diversity and attract, retain and benefit from female employees. It is the smart thing to do.

    Anne DeVoe Lawler is managing member of Jameson Babbitt Stites & Lombard, a Seattle law firm focusing on commercial real estate. She is a past president of the CREW Network, and is the 2006 chair of the CREW Foundation.

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