'Long Time Coming': Women Now Lead 3 Major Brokerages In Denver
“Let me tell you a story. She makes it. The end.”
Women are making it more frequently in Denver’s commercial real estate industry, with three of the city’s largest commercial real estate brokerage houses now led by women, a reflection of increased awareness of the attributes women bring to the table in business and in company culture as women in the industry nationwide grapple with new realities in a post-pandemic world.
Growing the prominence and salaries of women in commercial real estate has been a goal for years in Denver and beyond, with individuals and organizations like Commercial Real Estate Women, or CREW, advocating for pay parity, women in leadership positions and family-friendly workplaces and policies.
Covid-19 upended many parts of the commercial real estate industry, starting with where brokers were conducting their work and what their other responsibilities were while trying to keep deals afloat in the most challenging market in a decade.
The pandemic undoubtedly made life and career more difficult in commercial real estate, and 38% of women reported that their progress had stalled as a result, according to a 2021 CREW study. The challenges women faced during the pandemic’s worst months are well-documented, but women still managed to make gains in Denver commercial real estate.
For example, for Moneypenny, who took over at Avison Young’s Denver office just weeks before stay-at-home orders and widespread remote work took over in March 2020, the pandemic presented an opportunity.
“I found the pandemic to be an incredible time to take things apart and put them back together within our office,” Moneypenny told Bisnow. “There were things that I wanted to do to refine and re-establish the culture in a way that was going to be conducive to the growth and success of our professionals.”
The subtle dismantling of the way things used to be in CRE, whether caused by the pandemic itself or the new focus on improving diversity at the top, has implications for everyone in the industry.
The presence of more women at the top of brokerages is a “long time coming,” Moneypenny said, but is the result of a realization that teams with diverse voices are more successful.
“For me, the most important thing is diversity of thought,” she said. “What really started happening is that in the last 10 years, we have seen women in commercial real estate who have hit vice chair, senior executive or vice president because of their production and they could shine a light on what female brokers could do.”
Kristine Reinhardt, director of brokerage and operations for Cushman & Wakefield in Colorado, also notes increased attention to the importance of diversity in the industry.
“We’ve seen an increase in awareness and commitment toward the advancement of women in our industry,” she told Bisnow. “It’s come a long way. You see increased mentorship and role models for women to learn from.”
Reinhardt leads the metro Denver market for Cushman in partnership with a managing principal overseeing Colorado and Utah. A longtime executive with the company, she’s committed herself to personally mentoring people every year and contributing to the company’s women’s network.
The importance of mentorship is a consistent thread emphasized by women in Denver’s commercial real estate industry, and the definition of mentorship seems to be broadening beyond its historical scope of helping people navigate their careers.
At CBRE, younger professionals are encouraged to connect with two mentors, said Katie Kruger, who became Colorado market leader for the firm late last year. One mentor to help guide business and career, and another to bolster a young person’s grit, stamina and courage.
Avison Young has a similar philosophy, emphasizing “sponsorship” as a way to help young people, especially women, feel that there is someone in their corner, helping them take the leaps of faith it often requires to succeed in a career like commercial real estate.
The dual emphasis on career and a well-rounded personal life is proliferating into life at CBRE, Kruger said, a shift she tries to demonstrate by example, even if it is as simple as specifying in an “out of office” automatic response that she’s spending time off with her family, rather than simply noting that she’s out of the office.
Subtle things like that can make a big change in how people view each other’s time, as well as their own, and lead to a higher awareness of the humanity of their co-workers, Kruger said.
These changes also help with talent recruitment and retention, which is the largest problem faced by many companies today.
“You have to fish from the whole pond,” Kruger said, which means looking everywhere for the right talent, and making all types of people feel welcome and comfortable in the workplace.
Denver’s JLL office did just that by bringing on Abby Bartolotta mid-pandemic to lead its health care real estate team. The vice president was working from home and caring for her two young children early in the pandemic when she received the call from JLL’s local managing director, Dan McGowan, and subsequently decided to take the leap. Bartolotta recognizes that she’s different from a lot of the people in the business, but also sees advantages in that.
“When I walk into a room, it’s always very easy to count on one hand how many other women are in that room. But I don’t see that as necessarily a bad thing. Being different in sales can ultimately help,” she told Bisnow.
Unfortunately, one of the places Denver still lacks in terms of diversity in commercial real estate is with respect to people of color. Very few brokers of color work in Denver, and it’s something that market leaders know needs to change.
“We’re not going to take our foot off the gas pedal,” Moneypenny said of her company’s diversity efforts. The firm was formerly run locally by Alec Wynne, one of the few Black brokers working in the city, and recently appointed Juan P. Bueno, a Latino, as its U.S. principal and president.
The conversation has amped up, according to Bartolotta, a result of the more general societal shifts that have taken place as Americans reckon with the realities of systemic racial inequality. She pointed out that her race, successful career and supportive husband put her in a position of privilege as she navigated the challenges of the pandemic.
And even though there has been progress, there is more to be done to support the advancement of women in the industry.
Although she feels supported and that she has access to every opportunity at JLL, Bartolotta said there’s still a need for more representation across the board in commercial real estate, particularly in decision-making roles on the investor and owner side of transactions.
Plus, she’d like to see pay that is equal to what her male counterparts make.
And there are still plenty of biases in the industry that need to be dispelled, Moneypenny said.
“Many of our groups come from different backgrounds, and some may be harder to adapt to change than others. The biggest issues may be fear and that they don’t understand. There are these unconscious biases but they haven’t been made aware of what they’re doing,” she said.
But these women leaders aren’t dismissing the progress they’ve made or resting on their laurels. They’re working to make sure that the next generation of commercial real estate finds success as well.
“I’m forever grateful for the opportunities I’ve had and I want to pass that along. Male, female, whoever. I want to help them realize their goals and the aspirations they have and help them get there,” Moneypenny said.