NAIOP SoCal Tackles Gender Diversity

Earlier this year, NAIOP-U focused on the issue of gender diversity. NAIOP-U Chair Taylor Arnett commented on why the issue needed to be covered, citing the huge imbalance between men and women in commercial real estate.  “Commercial real estate companies are missing out on talented women and it’s in everyone’s best interest to figure out why this is happening,” Arnett said.

The event attracted 40 attendees who broke into groups of 10 for 10-minute roundtable discussions ensuring that everyone’s voice could be heard.  “The format created real and honest conversations. That was important because we didn’t want the discussions to be censored,” he added.

Arnett believes the topic has become even more relevant to the next generation. “Gender diversity is increasing and it’s being led by millennials,” he notes. It’s also being dealt with due to the institutionalization of real estate and the amount of institutional capital flooding into commercial real estate. Taylor noted that the “good old boys” club of real estate developers is quickly becoming a thing of the past.  Institutions are hiring the best and brightest young professionals out of undergrad and graduate programs with real estate-focused majors. “More and more of that talent consists of confident and capable young women,” he stated.

The NAIOP-U session featured moderators Jana Turner, RETS Associates; Jo-E Immel, Snyder Langston; Greg Brown, HFF; and Megan Costello, Hines.

For Immel, awareness is foremost. “We become complacent in our day-to-day life. That’s why programs such as NAIOP-U are necessary to bring the issue to the forefront.” Immel also agreed that the format of the dialogue helped to drive the conversation because everyone was engaged and provided real-world input. Immel was personally encouraged by the amount of examples and information shared within the groups.” One of the interesting takeaways was the impact of women-focused groups and programs to create change,” she said.

Jana Turner added that gender diversity has always been important but that the #MeToo movement has provided a window of opportunity for both companies and women to place a focus on equality in the workforce, stating, “It is both economically and politically the right thing to make this issue top of mind.”

For Turner, the NAIOP-U session surfaced an honest, open and real-time discussion about the workplace environment for both men and women. “The women attendees were in a safe environment to share issues and the men’s eyes were open to learning, listening and discussing the issues. The program was inclusive, collaborative and serious about changes that the CRE industry needs to make to have parity for all,” said Turner.

She was surprised by the fact that the men in attendance were not aware of the depth of the pay and promotion discrimination that women were experiencing.  Also, some of the women were a bit naïve about their value and position within their firm relative to pay.

From Turner’s role as principal with RETS Associates, she has an even deeper perspective on the topic. “I’m afraid that there is a lot of rhetoric going on with CRE leaders without tough and potentially expensive actions being taken.”

She shares the positive example of Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff as a true leader who is committed to creating an inclusive and equal workplace for all.  He took an audit of where the company stood with equal pay for women and men and was startled to learn that his operation did not have an equal work environment. Benioff spent $6 million the first year to get it right and $3 million the second year.

Turner shares, “Many leaders are afraid of what their audit will produce both monetarily and socially.  You have to be bold and take tough actions to correct a workplace that has been imbalanced for so many years.  However, you have to start somewhere!”