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CREW Boston President: 'We Need The Men To Notice When There Are No Women In The Room'

While women in CRE are more satisfied than ever with their careers, simultaneously closing the pay gap and growing into more senior executive roles remain top priorities for CREW chapters nationwide. CREW Boston's president and president-elect are supporting an awareness and sponsorship campaign they say will ultimately smash the CRE glass ceiling.


The 2015 CREW Network Benchmark Study Report revealed the advances and stagnations of work life for women in CRE. While it heralded female career satisfaction for being exactly the same as males for the first time in the survey’s history, it also showed a distinct aspiration gap. When asked about their dream job, a majority of women chose senior vice president while the most popular male response was a higher rank in the C-suite. 

The division continues with compensation. The industry average salary is $115K for women and $150K for men — a 23% gap. The difference grows to nearly 30% in the C-suite, where men outnumber women (17% of the men surveyed vs. 9% of the women).  

“Ultimately, there needs to be awareness,” said Lisa Serafin, founding member of real estate investment and advisory firm Redgate and incoming CREW Boston president. “It’s about getting people consciously aware of what’s happening.”

Serafin will take over the CREW Boston chapter from Cara Nelson, a partner at law firm DLA Piper. The two share a belief that sponsorship is the key to overcoming lingering career obstacles for women in CRE.

While a mentor from inside or outside one’s company is great for career advice, they said sponsorship from within one’s workplace is pivotal to success, as some senior men may have a harder time naturally relating to younger women.

“A sponsor is always at your firm, and they will vouch for or endorse you,” Nelson said. “You may not even know who they are.”


The CREW Boston leaders said a woman can find a workplace sponsor in a variety of ways. Serafin said women should get outside of their comfort zone and let people know what they want. While there is a risk-taking element to such an approach, she said the CRE community is receptive to those who take the chance. Nelson said sponsorship grows naturally through hard work.

“You have to prove yourself, create value for the sponsor and perform,” Nelson said. 

The two stress the importance of sponsorship; it is the stepping stone into the upper echelon of the still male-dominated industry.

“We look to give women the skills and insight so they can peek under the tent the men in the industry get,” Serafin said. “I don’t think there’s intentional discrimination going on, but it’s easy for someone to stick with people who look and feel like themselves.”

The CREW study says women are more likely than men to accept lateral moves within their companies. Nelson said a large number of women drop out of CRE after a certain point from either life events or lack of promotion. The number of women in CRE with over 20 years experience is actually decreasing, and she wrote about the need to change course in an open letter earlier this year.

“We need the men who are leading most of the commercial real estate firms to notice when there are no women in the room, at the table or on the panel," Nelson said

While the two acknowledge the work ahead of them, they are also proud of the accomplishments made by the organization. What began as a dozen women looking to educate and provide opportunities for other women in CRE now has 500 members on a mission to clear away remaining obstacles for upward mobility. Still, with more women than ever, they recognize just how far they have come. 

“This is a pretty universal issue, but the work dynamic in Boston is improving on all diversity metrics,” Serafin said.