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Retaining Female Talent in the Current CRE Landscape: What Companies Need to Know

By March 30, 2023April 19th, 2024Media Coverage, News

By Jana Turner, Principal at RETS Associates

Jana Turner

Women’s History Month presents an opportune moment to assess women’s status in the commercial real estate workforce.

Although CRE has always been male dominated, women have been making strides in the industry. The question is how fast are they advancing—and how is the pace of their progress impacting their employers’ growth?

As one of the nation’s leading real estate executive search firms for more than 20 years, RETS Associates has seen the tremendous value women have brought to the industry, and how this value is directly tied to their companies’ profitability. Seeking to turn a spotlight on CRE’s female talent, our firm recently conducted a survey of nearly 300 women in commercial real estate on issues including career advancement, compensation, workplace culture, and sexual harassment. We then compared our research to a similar survey we completed in 2018.

While the comparison did show some progress over time, it also highlighted the need for companies to accelerate the pace of change in how they regard women in our industry. Women are working hard to make this happen, but they won’t wait forever, and firms run the risk of losing talented, innovative women who could have led their companies to the head of the pack.

In light of our research, today’s CRE firms must make a concerted effort to retain female talent as employee turnover is a costly problem that limits corporate growth. Developing a solid retention plan for women will help stakeholders distinguish themselves from their competitors and thrive in a challenging environment. Here are a few ways companies can keep powerful women on their teams—and reap the benefits.

Prepare more women for the C-Suite

In 2018, only 13% of our survey respondents had made it to the top echelons of their company. While in our most recent survey this number increased to 21% for women ages 55 and older, only 14% of all respondents had made it to the C-Suite, which might be a major deterrent to female retention.

Research shows that CRE firms could be missing out by not actively promoting women to their company’s highest levels. According to the Harvard Business Review, firms who appointed female executives shifting their strategic thinking in meaningful and positive ways: by being more open to change and less open to risk, and by altering their focus from a knowledge-buying mindset to a more collaborative knowledge-building one. As a female leader at an accomplished CRE services firm, I can personally attest that these strategies produce better outcomes for today’s businesses.

Bringing more women into top leadership positions starts with preparing them earlier as they move through the company ranks. This means considering women for the same key roles as men at every level, mentoring them for the C-Suite along the way, and giving them the same opportunities and encouragement to try for these roles as men are given.

Offer men and women equal pay

Although it is disheartening that in many cases women are still earning less than men for the same work, our 2022 survey shows that this is an ongoing battle in the CRE marketplace. In fact, 46% of respondents cited inequal pay as a main challenge, and over 85% ranked it as the most important factor when considering a new job—a point to consider if retaining women is a goal.

That said, the wage gap does appear to be narrowing: in 2018, 65% of respondents were made aware of being paid less than a male counterpart at some point in their career, and in our recent survey this number decreased to 58%.

CRE firms can narrow the gap further by evaluating their compensation policies for gender bias and truly offering women equal pay for equal work. It really is that simple, and it can dramatically decrease female attrition in the industry.

Promote a workplace culture and work/life balance that respects and supports women

While companies are focusing more on great workplace culture as an overall retention tool, a supportive workplace culture is growing increasingly important to women in particular. Workplace culture ranked second only to compensation among women considering a new job in our latest survey—a notable rise from 2018, when it ranked fifth.

Similarly, as women juggle careers and family responsibilities, the balance between their careers and personal lives is becoming a rising concern. Working mothers are especially challenged: in our survey, some respondents with children said they were penalized for not being available after hours, missed after-work social gatherings, and had issues related to taking maternity leave without judgment or punishment upon returning.

Employers that prioritize a positive workplace culture and work/life balance for all team members are most likely to win women’s loyalty for the long term and benefit from the unique knowledge and expertise female professionals have to offer. Creating a culture that supports and respects women and offering them flexibility in when and where they work, as we do here at RETS, is paramount for CRE firms looking to attract and retain exceptional women workers. Working with an experienced service provider can help companies develop a strongly positive culture that reflects their mission and core values.

Be proactive on preventing sexual harassment

Despite decades of mandatory education on sexual harassment in the workplace, this scourge is pervasive, even in the commercial real estate industry. However, possibly because of the #MeToo movement, its prevalence is beginning to decline: in 2018, 52% of our survey respondents said they had been sexually harassed at some point in their career, while the number had declined a bit to 49% in our most recent survey. This is concerning as sexual harassment creates a hostile environment for women in the workplace that can drive them away from their jobs and derail their careers.

Ongoing, effective employee training and enforcing a zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment is a smart employer strategy, as is swiftly and thoroughly addressing complaints. Hearing out all parties and not automatically blaming the victim is imperative, and any form of career retribution or punishment should not be tolerated. Developing a reputation as a company that treats men and women justly is vital to attracting and retaining the best women workers in the field.


Women’s contributions to commercial real estate are immeasurable. Their work at CRE firms is inching the industry forward and having a real impact on companies’ bottom lines. By equalizing men’s and women’s compensation and growth opportunities, promoting a positive work culture and work/life balance, and being proactive on preventing sexual harassment, employers can increase the velocity of women’s progress in CRE and boost their company’s profitability for the long term.

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