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'A Sobering Picture Of Stagnation’: CREW Finds Gender Wage Gap Is Much Worse Than 2015


The wage gap between men and women in commercial real estate has widened over the past five years, leaving women at all levels underpaid, underrepresented and increasingly unsatisfied with their careers in 2020, according to a new benchmark study report by Commercial Real Estate Women Network.

A survey of 2,930 industry professionals from across all CRE sectors found that for fixed base salaries, women make an average 10% less than men. For lucrative commissions and bonuses, women take home a whopping 56% less on average than their male counterparts.

When average fixed salaries, bonuses and commissions are combined, women make a total of 34% less than men in 2020, an increase of nearly 11 percentage points from 2015, CREW found.


CREW gathered 2,930 survey responses between Jan. 2 and March 31, an increase of 34% from the number of respondents to the 2015 survey. Of those respondents, 82.4% identified as women, while 17.5% identified as men. Nonbinary participants accounted for less than 1%.

The survey posed 77 questions to participants, including eight new questions related to demographics, diversity and workplace culture. Participants were based in Canada, the U.S. and the UK.

The survey revealed that women make up 36.7% of CRE professionals in 2020, a figure that has remained basically unchanged over the past 15 years. Only 9% of survey respondents occupy a C-suite role, which has not changed since 2010.

“What it really is, is a wake-up call for the industry. I think that, perhaps over the past five years, companies have said, ‘Oh, we have one woman in executive leadership and we have one woman on our board, so that’s good, we’re done here,’” CREW Network CEO Wendy Mann told Bisnow.

The report, released Wednesday, includes an industrywide call to action. The results are described in the report as a “sobering picture of stagnation,” and CREW said the industry should focus on five key areas: addressing the gaps in commissions, fixing the lack of diversity, shifting the culture in the industry, looking at why women are feeling less satisfied with their career success and supporting the next generation of real estate professionals.

“I am really very hopeful that this study showing the lack of progress is that call to action that motivates companies and leadership to dig deeper, and really put gender diversity as well as people of color as more of a priority,” Mann said.

The wage gap has been under a spotlight in CRE for years, and indications it has widened from 23% in 2015 to 34% in 2020 are cause for concern. Men and women are no longer starting their commercial real estate careers on an equal footing when it comes to pay. Average entry-level compensation in CRE is $62,828 for women and $70,294 for men. That 9% gap is wider than in 2015, when men only made 2% more than women. The report noted that the earnings gap widens with age and experience.

“As we get more and more transparency around salary, bonus and commission, it is going to be more and more difficult for firms to justify why they would have a 9% gap between men and women to be in an entry-level role,” Mann said.

At senior levels, the fixed salary wage gap between men and women disappears, CREW said. However, the overall compensation gap between men and women in the C-suite amounts to 33% in 2020, a 3% increase from 2015. The figures suggest that seniority pays off for men through bonuses and commissions much more than for women.

For women of color, the wage gap is even wider. When it comes to fixed base salary, Hispanic/Latinx women only make 80 cents for every dollar that men earn, Black women make 85 cents and Asian women make 86 cents.

Bonuses and commissions paint a similar picture. White women earn 51% less than what men do through bonuses and commissions, Black women earn 71% less, Asian women earn 73% less and Hispanic/Latinx earn 74% less.

For the first time, the study gathered data on diversity, a decision Mann said was made last year.

“We’ve been advocating for women for 30 years, but our sisters of color are equally important and we didn’t want to leave them out by not calling out the injustice of the salaries,” she said.

CREW Network CEO Wendy Mann speaking at the 2019 CREW Network Fall Leadership Summit in Orlando, Florida.

The highest concentration of women in CRE can be found in asset management. CREW’s benchmark study showed that women represent 44% of asset management professionals, 41% of finance professionals, 34% of developers and 29% of brokers in CRE.

CREW indicated little has changed not only since the 2015 benchmark report but since 2005. Brokerage is the only CRE sector in which female representation has improved over time, rising to 29% in 2020 from 23% in 2015 — and in 2005. In development and finance, representation dropped a couple of percentage points, respectively. The decrease in women was most evident in asset management, where representation fell to 44% in 2020, down from 51% in 2005. 

Though most of the figures in the report show a reversal of progress, one bright side is that the survey saw a 5.4% increase in women respondents aged 39 years or younger, indicating a growing generation of young and emerging women in commercial real estate. The report also showed that 32% of women are aspiring to reach the C-suite, a 4% increase from 2015.

“So those are good pieces of news, [but] I think what's really more powerful in the study is the overall lack of progress for women in industry. And that has been very disappointing to see, but it is the reality,” Mann said.

CRE professionals reported they do not work in very diverse environments. Only 13% of survey respondents identified themselves as Black, Indigenous and people of color, or BIPOC. Only 16% of survey participants reported that 25% or more of the professionals in their workplace are BIPOC.

Sexual harassment was also examined for the first time in the survey, which Mann said was an attempt to truly understand what kind of culture permeates the industry. 

A total of 7% of women and 3% of men said they’d been harassed at least once in the past year. Some 45% of women said they had experienced sexist behavior they consider offensive in the workplace, compared to 20% of men.

“We needed to understand if there were issues in the workplace that were still holding or creating negativity, that made people feel unwelcome or unwilling to stay in a particular company,” Mann said, adding that more women are reporting feeling less satisfied with their careers and success than in 2015.

The CREW benchmark report indicates little has changed not only since the 2015 benchmark report but since 2005.

CREW's survey results are in grim contrast to the popular narrative that wages and representation are improving in CRE.

“I find the data very depressing, you almost question if it’s right. If you take it at face value ... it is very surprising. It’s not what I felt intuitively was happening," said Gabrielle McMillan, CEO of Equiem, an online platform for tenants to use amenities and resources in their buildings.

“As a woman working in real estate and technology, I felt supported by men and women all through my career. But I don’t think we can ignore this data. That the percentage of women in the C-suite hasn’t changed, and that women are still encountering issues. It’s very disappointing.”

Mann said the pressure is on commercial real estate firms to hold themselves accountable to fix these ongoing — and worsening — problems. She expects matters will improve as clients increasingly refuse to work with firms that do not have diverse staff and leadership.

“It has to start with the companies. The laws that are getting passed, and regulations and restrictions, will they help? Certainly — but it’s got to come from the inside out. And I think it starts at the top. Fish rots from the head down, so until the CEO says, ‘These are priorities for this company and we’re going to make change inside out,’ it may not happen,” she said, adding that seeing multiple companies appoint chief diversity officers, who report to CEOs, is heartening.

Ultimately, Mann said it could come down to the war for talent, as the next generation will only want to work in places that are inclusive.

“I’m calling everyone in this industry to action to say, ‘Now is your opportunity to shine.’ Now is your chance to step forward and be the company everyone wants to work for.”

UPDATE, Sept. 2, 6:15 P.M. CT: This story has been updated to include comments from Gabrielle McMillan.