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How Can CRE Firms Support Women In The Industry?

The Goldie Initiative founder Goldie B. Wolfe Miller with Ankur Gupta and Jen Sweeney.

The commercial real estate industry has been working to add more women to its ranks for decades, and in 2020, it seemed as though it was succeeding. The Commercial Real Estate Women’s Network’s 2020 benchmark study saw a 5.4% increase in women respondents 39 years old and younger, indicating a growing generation of young women in the industry.

This past May, however, Bisnow reported that as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the childcare issues and other problems that arose from it, fewer women work in CRE now than at the start of last year. This means that once again, it is time for the industry to re-evaluate what more it can do to bring women into the fold.

One organization that has been working toward this goal for more than a decade is The Goldie Initiative, which encourages women to join the industry and highlights the accomplishments of established female CRE professionals through mentoring programs, scholarships, leadership development and networking opportunities. 

Each year, the organization hosts the Goldie Gala, an annual event where hundreds of CRE professionals gather to honor the Goldie Scholars, celebrate prominent women in the industry and raise money for the Initiative. This year’s successful Goldie Gala was an all-virtual event held on Sept. 23. The organization is still working to reach its goal of raising $850K to help women in commercial real estate.

Bisnow recently sat down with Ankur Gupta, a partner with the law firm of Sidley Austin and a member of The Goldie Initiative board of directors, and Jen Sweeney, executive director of the Millbrook Real Estate Co. and president-elect of the Initiative, to talk about how firms can attract more female talent and support women who want to build careers in commercial real estate.

Bisnow: In what ways do CRE companies benefit when they bring women into their teams?

Gupta: Several ways, but the first that comes to mind is they bring a diversity of thought. Women can bring a diverse perspective to the table in terms of experience, approach, team management style and more, all of which are extremely helpful in terms of breaking a unilateral way of thinking. These benefits have been documented — there are a number of studies that show a link to a higher level of profitability when companies have more female representation at the C-suite level. 

Bisnow: How can CRE firms that are looking to increase the number of women in the workforce bring on new talent?

Gupta: The best way is to have an extended interview period, with women who are actively networking and looking to build their businesses. The industry needs to work harder to provide a clear path forward for women in CRE that addresses the unique challenges they face in the workplace. There's still a lot of work to be done to really get the playing field more level.

There are also organizations that CRE firms can connect with including The Goldie Initiative, Commercial Real Estate Women Network, She Builds, SHEcon and BOMA International, who can help connect them with top female talent.

Sweeney: Firms can mentor women in real estate, and one way they can do that is through the Goldie Initiative. We have an incredible mentoring program that allows our scholars to network with a myriad of real estate professionals across all tiers. Additionally, our Silver, Gold, Platinum and Diamond sponsors have the ability to tap into the mentorship rocket software and network with all the professionals within our organization. 

The 2021-2022 Goldie Scholars.

Bisnow: What resources are available for women looking to get into the CRE industry?

Gupta: Historically, CRE has primarily been a male-dominated industry, but we’re seeing rapid changes in that there has been an incredible number of women in the field who have accomplished so much. 

I think the industry is working to acknowledge the historic problems wherever possible and provide meaningful solutions going forward through mentorships, scholarships and networking opportunities. Organizations like The Goldie Initiative provide people with resources to succeed. 

Sweeney: There are a lot of women in commercial real estate, but there are not a lot of women in high-level executive positions. To change this, I believe that first, women need to start thinking with the end in mind and be proactive with their career choices. Second, companies need to recognize and reward the numerous competent women out there. Third, women should seek out associations, nonprofits and scholarship programs such as The Goldie Initiative whose mission is to elevate women into C-suite positions.

Universities also offer many women’s clubs in their respective departments and there are real estate associations like CREW, Chicago Real Estate Women and the Real Estate Women’s Forums that can help. Also, the Urban Land Institute has a Women’s Leadership Initiative. There’s a long list of great resources, just google it!

Bisnow: How is The Goldie Initiative working to give women more opportunities in CRE? 

Gupta: Every year, we work with about 25 or more women in our scholarship program, all of whom are exceptionally talented in school and working hard. We give them opportunities to not only network among themselves but also to liaise with mentors and previous Goldie scholars. We also give them the opportunity to meet a number of successful female CRE professionals including Penny Pritzker and Debbie Cafaro.

Through the organization, there's mentorship, scholarship, programming, classes and fellowships, and the Goldie Initiative is working to constantly expand those classes to really make an impact across the industry across the countries in the largest way possible.

Sweeney: I would add that Karin Kraai, the executive director of the Initiative, has been actively working to provide women with more opportunities in CRE since its inception. She is passionate about the mission and leads a team that creates impactful programs, providing each scholar with more value than the $7,500/year tuition reimbursement. Training classes on “your elevator speech,” scholar retreats to network with their peers and “Wednesdays with Goldie” are just some of the additional value each scholar receives. 

This article was produced in collaboration between The Goldie Initiative and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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