Two Years Of Pandemic Changed Everything For Women In CRE

March 8, 2022

Olivia Lueckemeyer, Bianca Barragán and Miriam Hall

I t hit the commercial real estate industry like a precision bomb. Two years later, fallout from the coronavirus pandemic is still being felt — especially by women.

”There's a mentality of ‘Yes, yes, yes. We understand that you are carrying a heavy burden, but this still has to get done,'" Jenna Kirkpatrick Howard, a senior vice president at Lockton Cos., told Bisnow

This year’s International Women’s Day, which honors the economic, political and social achievements of women around the globe, neatly coincides with the onset of the pandemic on March 11, 2020. The pandemic has been an across-the-board shock to the system — a stress test of every institution, family unit and individual. But women have borne the brunt of it.

Nearly overnight, working mothers were suddenly pulling double- and even triple-duty as professionals, caregivers and educators. And women, mothers or not, were far more vulnerable to pandemic-related mass layoffs, furloughs and slashed schedules, especially as they collectively hold lesser seniority than their male counterparts and because the industries hit hardest, such as leisure and hospitality, are female-heavy ones.

In what was popularized as a “shecession,” about 12.2 million women lost their jobs in the first two months of the crisis alone, outpacing lost male jobs by more than 1 million. These are losses women have yet to recover from. Men have since regained employment at triple the rate of women, according to January 2022 U.S. Department of Labor Data, leading many to lament a lost generation of wage increases, promotions, training and the ability to amass retirement savings.

For the commercial real estate industry, long dominated by men, those losses have had a profound but varied impact. The pandemic stalled some women’s career growth and limited mentorship opportunities, prompting them to rethink their priorities, and even their industry. 

“There was a lot of this pace that is unsustainable, and this pace is unsustainable, because there is no end to my workday, and the family demands are greater than they've ever been before,” Howard said. “How do you manage that and communicate that to a boss or manager or your company?”

For others, the pandemic came with a silver lining. Work-from-home and hybrid workforce trends empowered many to strike a balance between their professional and personal lives, and dedicate more time to interests outside of work. Some even used the pandemic as an opportunity to make career moves that better reflected this newfound sense of flexibility and freedom. 

Just as the pandemic brought differing results for women across the board, it also had disproportionate impacts. Working mothers, women in senior management positions and Black women experienced the hardest career challenges as a result of the pandemic, according to McKinsey & Co. research. For many Black women, working from home brought relief from the challenges that existed pre-pandemic for people of color in the workplace, from microaggressions to the pressure of educating other coworkers about diversity initiatives. Despite that reprieve, it will be a long road before CRE companies arrive at appropriately addressing equality in the workplace. 

In this original series, Bisnow compiled data and experiences from dozens of individuals in the commercial real estate industry to explore the pandemic’s impact on women. 

Whether they left the industry, leveled up their career, found even footing in a remote work environment or felt a significant burden from being a working mother, every woman's experience has been different. Yet there is one common thread: The past two years have spurred massive change, reflection and growing recognition that the way we previously worked has not been friendly to the needs of women.

— Katharine Carlon, Central U.S. Editor, and Kate Murar, West Coast Editor