Gender diversity in commercial real estate (CRE) is a familiar topic to many within – and outside of – the industry. And, while there has been progress made to increase gender diversity within the industry, there is still work to be done. Developing new recruitment strategies, ensuring retention with recognition and promotions, and fostering inclusive environments where women are treated and compensated equally are all factors that firms need to consider and leverage to build and retain a gender diverse workforce.
As we look at the current landscape and the measures that employers can take to achieve this goal, we must also recognize the barriers that many women in CRE face and, in turn, identify and eliminate biases in hiring, promoting, and retaining women while empowering them to grow their careers.
The Current Landscape
Since 2000, the percentage of CRE positions filled by women has increased from 32 to 43 percent. CREW’s 2020 Benchmark Study: Gender and Diversity in Commercial Real Estate study showed a 5.4 per cent increase in women 39 years old and younger in the industry since 2015; however, the percentage of women in CRE as a whole has not changed much over the last 15 years. While more women seem to be entering the field, women in their 40s or older seem to be leaving it, indicating that there is still work to be done by companies to ensure they are retaining women, providing opportunities for them to grow into leadership positions, and fostering their development within the company and the broader industry.
Early Development Opportunities for Women
Approximately 73 per cent of real estate-related undergraduate and graduate degrees obtained in Canada and the U.S. are obtained by men. As certificates in Brokerage or Property Management are not typically offered as options within post-secondary institutions, there is an evident lack of knowledge/awareness around the opportunities available in CRE. Along with nepotism-centred recruitment techniques, which are still very much present in modern-day organizations, the current recruitment process needs to be scrutinized in order to truly level the playing field for diverse CRE candidates and to better ensure individuals are hired for their skills and qualifications instead of their family name or network.
Firms across the industry are taking the initiative to partner with educational institutions and professional organizations to offer internships, mentorship, networking opportunities, and employment to underrepresented talent. Professional organizations, like CREW Network, are working to transform the commercial real estate industry and advance women in CRE by conducting industry research on gender diversity in CRE, offering business networking opportunities, providing leadership development training, and educating women and girls about CRE and opportunities within the field.
The lack of female role models and women in senior leadership positions in CRE has been identified as one of the challenges in recruiting and retaining women in the industry. Despite the fact that 32 percent of women aspire to serve in C-suite positions, only 10 percent of those jobs are held by women. With women under 40 likely to target the C-suite, and women holding just over 30 percent of Senior Level roles, there is an evident lack of sponsorship and support for women who are aiming to transition into C-suite level roles, which may explain the loss of women over 40 in the industry.
In addition to the lack of diversity in the leadership pipeline, lack of advancement opportunity has been cited as the most common reason why women have left their employers since the onset of the pandemic. When you combine lack of advancement opportunities with men taking up a larger percentage of Senior Level roles – there is a clear disparity between qualified female and male candidates when those leadership opportunities do arise. While women are earning advanced degrees, entering high-paying industries, and acquiring impressive qualifications at rates equal to or higher than men, it still takes women longer to get promoted, and few make it up the corporate ladder.
The Post-COVID Workforce
COVID-19 turned the workforce upside down, and its impact continues to be felt across all industries. During the past two years, 29 percent of respondents in a CREW 2022 survey said women had voluntarily left their companies because of COVID; however, post-pandemic, 95 percent of those who left have not returned. Post-pandemic, there has been virtually no change in the job satisfaction of women; however, women are still underrepresented in leadership roles. Despite the pandemic's negative effects, some positives have stemmed from its long-lasting impact, such as more organizations adopting hybrid work models and proposing flexible work environments - which are often beneficial to women juggling both personal and professional obligations.
Achieving Gender Equity in CRE
CRE companies must take steps to identify and eliminate biases in the workplace and ensure adequate measures are in place to recruit, reward, and retain women.
Leveraging Early Development & Junior Level Recruitment
More women need to be positioned and coached to be successful in leadership roles. In addition, there needs to be an overall increase in female representation within senior positions. One of the many factors contributing to the lack of gender diversity in CRE is the lack of diversity in the hiring pools that organizations are recruiting junior candidates from. An article from McKinsey & Company states: “To create workplaces where [all genders] progress equally into top-level business leaders, we must address a glaring gender disparity at the very first rung of the corporate ladder.” Recruiting more women at the junior level and supporting them through retention, development, and promotions would, in turn, result in more females in the leadership pipeline who are qualified and prepared to be successful when leadership positions become available.
Leaders and talent acquisition teams alike need to consider early development opportunities and identify new recruitment approaches to broaden the organization’s overall recruitment strategy, targeting fields where women are underrepresented and conveying to women why they should look at CRE as a long-term career option. Creating and using intentional talent recruitment strategies will diversify the talent pool and alter the prevalent demographic of candidates. This will allow recruiters and leadership to engage with emerging talent and build brand awareness with minority groups in the labour market.
Addressing the Pay Gap
As of 2019, women in commercial real estate earned 23.3 percent less than men in the same industry. For organizations that are looking to recruit and retain more women, addressing and mitigating the pay gap and ensuring pay equity is a crucial step. Organizations should strive to be transparent about salaries and discretionary pay across all levels and “conduct a pay equity analysis to uncover any pay discrepancies.”
Not only does pay transparency help organizations identify and tackle pay discrimination, fostering an open dialogue will instill trust in employees and better equip them to advocate for themselves during salary and career progression discussions. There are more factors that contribute to pay transparency, including providing all employees with the information needed to ask for a promotion or salary increase and “rethinking the norms around negotiation and discretionary pay.”
Creating an Environment That Fosters Gender Equity and Growth
Organizations that curate a strong learning culture, with programs that are aimed at further developing their employees, can benefit from 30-50 percent higher retention rates than organizations without those same programs, according to a study from Deloitte. Providing opportunities for employees to progress in their careers and develop market-relevant skills is a paramount factor in building out long-term retention strategies. These programs can include mentorship, apprenticeships, leadership development training, and opportunities to pursue industry professional development and membership in partner organizations.
By providing increased systematic training and empowering employees to build and grow their professional networks, more women may be attracted to the industry and encouraged to stay in the industry. Increasing the leadership pipeline with diverse candidates may encourage women to stay within the industry and grow mentorship opportunities.
While the shift in work environments and in-office requirements, accelerated by the pandemic, has enabled and encouraged more organizations to adopt hybrid and remote work environments, the need for inclusive leadership is greater than ever. Ensuring an inclusive leadership team will enable organizations to create new ways of working, promote and maintain an inclusive culture, and allow employees to collaborate in new and meaningful ways.
Elevating Inclusiveness at Colliers
At Colliers, we are advancing our efforts to foster diverse, equitable, and inclusive environments that give our people meaningful opportunities to make an impact and create economic and social value across the business. In May of 2022, Colliers announced its new Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) strategy, with a new global goal to have 40 percent female employees overall and in manager+ roles by 2025.
As of year-end 2021, our baseline was 36 percent women in management, and 39.4 percent women in the workforce. Meeting our target will require promoting women from non-management positions into the management ranks and growing the proportion of women in our general workforce. Our teams are committed to de-biasing the processes we use to hire, promote, and retain women at Colliers. While we are undertaking this effort in service of driving our gender diversity goals, removing bias from key processes will also benefit other aspects of diversity within our organization.
We have partnered with organizations, like CREW Network and Catalyst, that are making a difference and leading the way for change in CRE; we are also proud signatories of the CREW Network’s Pledge for Action. Internally, we offer our professionals the opportunity to participate in our annual Mentorship Program, launched in 2016, and connect with their colleagues and peers, develop valuable skills through one-to-one knowledge transfer, and accelerate their own development and growth. In addition to our Mentorship Program, our Management Development Program prepares our professionals for management roles and helps them to improve upon their leadership skills.
As part of our North American Diversity and Inclusion Program, we have launched seven Employee Resource Groups (ERGs): employee-led groups that provide a channel for our people to leverage and learn from different perspectives and help identify opportunities where we can be more inclusive. By partnering with LinkedIn Learning and Catalyst, we can give our employees access to external learning resources, events, additional training, and more. We have also formed a partnership with Project Destined to improve our diverse recruiting pipeline. In 2022, we launched a revamped campus recruiting program, which includes a new focus on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
We recognize that gender equity is achieved one hire and one promotion at a time, and we are committed to advancing gender equity and leading the CRE industry towards greater diversity and inclusivity.