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Women Making Incremental Progress in CRE Hiring, Compensation, Leadership

By March 15, 2023April 21st, 2024Media Coverage

New survey shows 14% had reached top positions by age 54, and 21% for those aged 55 or older.

By Richard Berger 

Women have made incremental progress in commercial real estate when it comes to promotions and compensation equity, according to RETS’ recent survey.  Four years ago, only 13% of all respondents had reached the C-Suite. Most recently, 14% had reached top positions at real estate firms by age 54, a number that increased to 21% for those aged 55+.

Jana Turner, principal at RETS Associates, said in prepared remarks, “With their unique talents, determination, and ability to innovate, women are slowly but surely reshaping commercial real estate. Each time our firm has conducted this survey, we have been inspired to learn how women are leveling the playing field and paving the way for future generations of female CRE leaders.”

The highest earnings in CRE often are found in the acquisitions/dispositions specialty. But there, not much progress is showing. In 2018, only 5% of all women surveyed were working in this area, and most recently, only 5% of women aged 35 or older were in that department.

As for promotions, the number of respondents who felt they were bypassed for a job in favor of a male at some point in their career decreased from 61% in 2018 compared to 55% today.

More than 85% of our recent survey respondents ranked compensation as the most important factor when considering a new job.

Compensation equity is improving, compared to male counterparts. In 2018, 65% of respondents said they were made aware of being paid less than a male counterpart at some point in their career; in our recent survey, this number decreased to 58%.

Casting a ‘Wide Net’ for Talent

Brooke E. Cianfichi, EVP, Commercial Real Estate Lead, M&T Bank, tells that she did not set out in June to intentionally hire an all-female team. She said she sought to hire the best talent and she cast a wide net to do so, including purposefully looking outside of banking to bring in non-bankers.

“I was focused on translatable leadership skills, strategic mindsets, resilience, and curiosity,” Cianfichi said. “It happened that the best candidates for the roles, including the senior leadership roles, were women.”

Women Help M&T Boost Its Underwriting Department

This week, M&T Bank hired Elena Liu started as a team leader, SVP for underwriting in the CRE Segment. She joins other recent female leadership hires, Jamie Bishop, Lynn Wilson, Tiffany Goldberg, Lisa Hart, Julie Golderer, and Sandy Cleveland, all team leader, SVP, in the growing CRE Underwriting Department of M&T, and Seema Hirsch, Michelle Moessinger, Ema Sabovic, Tatiana Register, Karen Nearey, and others in leadership positions within the CRE portfolio management department.

Melanie French held executive-level multifamily leadership roles for over 20 years and was hired by RREAF Residential as the inaugural Chief Executive Office in January, after officially starting her role in October.

French tells, “It is an incredible honor to partner with the dedicated team members that make up RREAF Holdings. I was humbled when CEO Kip Sowden reached out about joining the company to lead RREAF Residential as its first CEO. While RREAF Residential has seen great progress, we are eagerly anticipating substantial growth.

“This is a critical time in the ever-changing multifamily industry as we must continue to evolve and embrace technology. My mission is to ensure an execution and growth strategy that is world-class and am excited to lead this endeavor.”

Diverse Leadership Leads to Better Outcomes

Dipika Patel, managing director of national housing company Homz, tells, “Female perspectives are incredibly valuable to building successful and sustainable businesses.

In fact, multiple studies from the likes of McKinsey and other reputable firms have shown how greater diversity of all kinds in senior and executive roles leads to better outcomes at just about every level – including financial outperformance.

“The business case for gender equity is clear, and to the industry’s credit, strides have been made – particularly over the last decade – in raising more women into senior- and executive-level roles than ever before. But there is still a long way to go, and the perception of commercial real estate as being male-dominated can be intimidating to younger women interested in pursuing careers in the industry, particularly if they feel that their growth trajectory may be finite.

Mentorship, empowerment, and providing equal access to resources and opportunities for advancement is so critical to maintaining diversity at all levels of a business.”

JLL Goal to Achieve 40% Female Representation

Katie Duncan, head of HR, Americas at JLL, tells that diverse and inclusive practices lead to better productivity, stronger business growth, higher-performing teams, and more responsible corporate citizenship.

“With the goal to achieve 40% female representation at our top two management levels by 2025, we’re committed to advancing women in leadership and empowering our female leaders to shape the future at JLL,” Duncan said.

JLL in February added Alison Flynn Gaffney, president, healthcare; Meaghan Elwell, president, industrials, JLL; and Katy Redmond, managing director, integrated portfolio services.

It Isn’t About Checking a DEI Box

Helena Finley, COO, Vero Sade, a company that oversees the construction, design, and development of multifamily projects along the Sunbelt, tells, that the construction industry is struggling with labor shortages, yet according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 10.9 percent of the construction labor market comprises women.

“The construction industry is buckling as workers retire and fewer folks enter the industry, and we as leaders in the industry must recruit new talent including young women,” Finley said.

As the construction industry advances in the use of technology, automation, and modular housing, the opportunities for women are increasing, she said.

“It is critical that those of us who lead construction teams, mentor women and encourage them to join the industry,” according to Finley. “This won’t happen until the men, who hold most of the leadership roles in the industry, boldly step out of their comfort zones and recruit, hire, and promote more female leaders and trade workers.

“Hiring women in the construction industry isn’t about checking a DEI box, but rather a critical way to improve the industry and tap into an underutilized labor market.”

CRE, Construction are Rewarding, Exciting Opportunities

Megan Cordingly, project controls specialist at HPM, who works on the construction side, tells, “While female employee numbers remain relatively low and the labor demand is still high, companies should really hone in to attract more women to strengthen these teams.

“As women continue to be recruited into the industry, and are subsequently elevated into leadership positions, more women will see career paths in CRE and construction as rewarding and exciting opportunities,” Cordingly said.

‘Know Your Worth, Value, What You Bring to the Table’

Tere Blanca, founder, Chairman and CEO of Blanca Commercial Real Estate, tells that the best advice for women thinking of starting a career in CRE is to focus on education and building relationships with mentors and sponsors from whom they can learn, and who can guide them to the right opportunities.

“Put in the work and expand your knowledge within your field,” Blanca said. “Lastly, know your worth, value, and what you bring to the table. Raise your hand and take on more responsibility.”

Mindy McIlroy, president of Terranova, began her career as an executive assistant in 1997 at the company.

Today, she oversees all day-to-day operations for the company’s diverse retail portfolio and has led the company’s strategy through its foray into mixed-use and high-street retail and many other projects and endeavors.

Avoiding One-of-a-Kind Thinking

MDH CEO Jeff Small said his company values diversity, not as a “check the box” on our investors’ expectations, but because diversity makes his organization stronger.

“Having a team in which all members have similar backgrounds and life experiences leads to one kind of thinking,” Small said. “Creativity, however, arises from gaining diverse perspectives and worldviews to innovate our industrial investment, development, and asset management processes.”

Creating a ‘Culture of Belonging’

Reesa Fischer, managing director, client solutions & strategy with Keller Augusta, a woman-owned, full-service boutique search and advisory firm specializing in commercial real estate, tells that one of the most recent placements that Keller Augusta completed was for JLL, at which Katie Parsons, MAI, is now its newest managing director – head of industrial property sector valuation advisory.

“Having women hold leadership roles in CRE, a predominantly male industry, is important because women in leadership serve as role models and impact career advancement for other women; it creates a culture of belonging and equity that all employees benefit from; and having women at the table brings diverse viewpoints and promotes creativity and innovation,” Fischer said.

Suffolk Opens ‘Rebuild the Ratio’ Program

Libby Murphy, a project executive at Suffolk, tells that women continue to be underrepresented in the commercial real estate industry – especially the construction sector, where they represent only 9.9% of the workforce.

Suffolk is committed to providing more opportunities for women to join the industry. Through an initiative called “Rebuild the Ratio.”

Suffolk has pledged to increase the number of women in its workforce from 28% to 38% in the next 10 years, as well as enter a ten-year partnership with the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts.

“We believe it is our responsibility, as an organization and as an industry, to create a flourishing environment for women at Suffolk as well as provide the resources and education that young women and girls need to pursue a career in the thriving fields of STEM and construction,” Murphy said.

Cultivate Inclusive Environments

Donna Blair, chief operating officer at Pacific Retail Capital Partners, tells that a woman’s worth has long been predetermined by societal norms and less on her merits.

“This has permeated throughout corporate America for generations, resulting in women being held back in terms of access to opportunity – and the real estate industry is not immune to this impact,” Blair said.

“Yet, the evidence shows that companies with women in their C-suite perform better across the board than those organizations with less diverse leadership teams.

“Women bring unique perspectives that help to build more well-rounded and connected organizations. The assets we own are meant to be used by all genders, races, identities, etc., and our goal is always to cultivate inclusive environments.” article