Being a woman in commercial real estate has been a struggle, but ultimately worth it if you focus on the prize of getting to the top of an amazing industry in the greatest real estate city in the world. This is a completely male-dominated industry and you have to fight through that. You need to have thick skin, ignore the sexist remarks and focus on growing your network with important real estate players who respect and want to promote women. I have also found a great group of women in real estate who are clients and friends and we always lean on each other. And quite honestly, these women make deals happen with little ego and a ton of creative energy. It can be so brutal, but sometimes the toughest challenges are worth it — especially when you know you are slowly changing perspectives.
I always dreaded the company Christmas party while working for a large office developer in Atlanta. Each year the man who held the purse strings to lots of insurance money to invest in commercial real estate came to the party since his company financed the complex I was leasing. I tried to avoid him at all costs. But this particular year, he came up to me and stuck his tongue in my ear. I was so taken aback that I just walked off. The next morning, I went into my boss’ office and told him that if that man ever did that again, I would punch him in the face. He said, “You better not.” At another company, a big developer, the president told me that I better not get pregnant. I didn’t. Another time I walked into my boss’ office and he asked me what was wrong. I said I had cramps. He said, “Get up on this desk and I will fix that.” That year, both my boss and another executive with the firm paid out handsomely to a woman who was a clerical worker who sued both of them for sexual harassment. Of course, it never hit the news.
Later, at another huge commercial real estate developer, I was vice president and one of only a few women in the firm. The head of office leasing put together a broker skiing trip event. Even though I was a VP and a woman, I was not invited. It was very embarrassing when brokers asked me why I was not there when I did not even know about it. I heard one of the attendees from my firm saying it was a real “fuck fest.” By far the worst event was when we were making a big presentation to one of our owners about how to lease a property. I was the one who put together the presentation. The meeting included all upper management of the company. As we were setting up the meeting, one of them asked me to get the coffee. That kind of thing is not good for self-esteem.
I think a lot of the backlash we are hearing from women today has to do with Donald Trump and his misogynous remarks. Since he is so verbal about his conquests — even bragging that he hit on women while married to his current wife — he seems to be giving approval for such bad behavior. Many segments of the population are now doing the same and feel if it [is] OK for President Trump, it must be OK for me. Having a rude president trickles down. Nothing will change until women have a seat at the head of the table and the ability to join the C-suites.
As a commercial real estate executive, I’ve spent over 30 years in lending, asset management, leasing, consulting and brokerage — pretty much the entire real estate service platform. That said, I really don’t believe that my gender defines me in my field, nor do I believe that it should in real estate or any other industry. I say that because I am a CEO of three businesses. I’ve already reached a place that most others will never experience, men or women. I believe in the power of gender networking, but I also believe that an individual’s success is defined and driven by the individual. As an example, I love the powerful organization of Ladies in CRE in Dallas. These primarily Millennial women are succeeding because they have talent, determination and a group approach that is getting them noticed.
Overall, I think as a society we are driving a wedge between each other by defining challenges by gender. I have a lot of male mentors and friends who have worked with me in real estate. There’s no glass ceiling if you don’t see one.
In construction operations, women represent less than 1% of the industry. Often I’m the only woman in the room. You’ve got a lot of men who will say and think they understand what it is like to be a woman in construction and they are fair or accommodating and work with you as a peer. But in the next breath, they tell you you should be quiet and more “ladylike.”
I’ve had to learn that you just practice saying no with a period at the end. Once you get them off the mindset that they can change your mind if they are more of a dick, you can make progress and they become less jerkish. If you take a woman and try to put an outfit of a male leader on her, then the woman gets branded a bitch and a nasty woman versus a bad hombre. Guys can get by in business by being jerks and that is considered being assertive. I don’t curse and I’m not rude, but to be called to the carpet for doing something that is just business is ridiculous.
Early in my career, this job was very cutthroat. I was the only woman on this job and had to put other women down to get the spot. Now, it is very different. I do what I can to pull women up with me. Women naturally doubt themselves and if I can provide opportunities to better themselves, maybe that can solve some of the problems? It has to be equal at home to be equal in the workplace. A lot of Baby Boomers have wives at home, but as you get younger it is a dual income. I am the primary breadwinner and my husband stayed home. I’ve had more opportunities and I don’t have to run off to day care every day to pick up the kids. We equally split the household. He is one of my greatest fans and the first one to say, “Get in there and fight for the money.” The first person men learn to fear is their mommy. Nothing is more fearful to men than a woman confidently in charge walking into a room.
Being a woman in real estate has been a difficult path to navigate at times in my career. I have accepted the fact that I will never be one of the boys, but I have learned how to capitalize on that. I am now more open to speaking up about issues and use women's groups to network. I have been able to meet great women at very senior levels. Not feeling like one of the boys is difficult at times. You are not invited to drink or play golf, but also, you take things more to heart, which is hard to accept at times. Passion is a big part of this business and women generally feel more accountable and responsible compared to men.
I have also benefited from being a woman. I was able to work four days a week when I had my girls. This helped me enjoy being a mother, although it didn’t help my pocketbook. Being labeled as a “scarlet mom” didn’t help grow my career, but I kept myself in the mix with exciting real estate to work on. My mentors have mostly been men since I never really had a senior woman as a role model. The women I have worked with have become my role models — and we have all advanced in our careers. I am very fortunate to have this great group of women to turn to for advice.
Being a woman in real estate development has been a big, messy and exciting adventure. Success came to me largely because I was part of a meritocracy — best man or woman for the job. And I worked hard to become good at my work. This allowed me to navigate sexism, discrimination and the “old boys' network.” While the internal meritocracy fueled my career, I was nonetheless often judged, discounted and marginalized in the business before I even said a word.
My best example of the worst in our industry: Once about a decade ago, while negotiating a $300K lease with a financial services CEO, the executive, in the presence of other C-suite executives (men), commented that he didn't know if he wanted to sleep with me or hire me. This is remarkable because I was there to conclude a business deal — not interview for a gig or buy him a drink. Such was the state of our industry. A decade later, much is improved because women have earned their way into boardrooms, C-suites and elected office. More is still needed. Articles like this keep the industry honest.
First, I'm a woman. Second, I'm Asian. It's been very difficult for me to go up in the ranks. I've been paid less. It was difficult because I did all the work of an executive management position but got paid less than the men. I received little acknowledgment. It was always an old boys’ club, and I'm not part of the old boys’ club. There is discrimination. There is inequality. It would have been better for the industry to be more open for women and have rightful recognition of women not on looks, but on their accomplishments in the industry.
The commercial real estate industry has been home to me for most of my career. I have seen qualified women get passed up on promotions to male counterparts for no apparent reason. I have witnessed and experienced inappropriate comments and behavior from male peers and superiors — and been around rude and harassing remarks from male clients. None of this is OK, but it has happened and still happens. Women need to defend themselves against this and voice to those that are guilty of it that it is not acceptable behavior and they will not put up with it. It must start with us. No means no.
What bothers me greatly is the way that women treat other women. This is not to say all women are female haters, but we do have our share. I read a survey that said half of men and half of women in the workplace say women treat women worse than men treat women. I witness it all the time. That is distasteful. We are forced to fight the men who are inappropriate in the workplace — and then put up with the women who feel no need to help other females. We seem to be our own worst enemies. I hear over and over from women that no other women helped them in their career. So, why should they help others? It’s time we put all our insecurities aside and figure out why so few women are CEOs and board members. We need to take a hard look at ourselves and realize it won’t change unless we change.
The fast-paced, dynamic and ever-evolving commercial real estate industry is undoubtedly for me. Having that confidence and clarity in my career is something I am thankful for every day. I consider myself fortunate to not only know that I am in the right field, but to actually be completely passionate about it. Does CRE tend to be a boys’ club? Yes, but this is changing. No one can deny the tremendous progression women have made over the decades. I personally believe this is due to women having qualitative advantages that, partnered with pro-women initiatives from corporations and public figures, have advanced all of our careers within the industry. Attention to detail, having a caring nature, along with a knack for hard work are competitive advantages we tend to embody compared to our male counterparts.
I've experienced firsthand the stigmas against women, I've had limitations placed upon me, have been overworked and underpaid but throughout it all, I strive to remember that female camaraderie is a very powerful thing. Let's continue to build each other up and shatter the glass ceiling!
My career in commercial real estate spans 25 years. I’ve touched all facets of the industry, from brokerage to operations, from investment properties to human resources, from managing niche brokerage teams to broker recruiting. I have done it all, but have had incredible help along the way. Having worked for both corporations and privately held brokerage firms, interestingly enough, every one of my mentors in the industry have been men.
Yes, unfortunately there still remains a disparity in the industry both compensation-wise and obtaining key leadership roles; however, I have never once felt like a victim. I am of the mindset, I can accept it, I can change it or I can leave. I will not accept the status quo; I am a “change agent.” I want to be a part of growth and change for prosperity. I have made it my responsibility to mentor young women in the industry and I have joined various industry organizations that allow me to influence the CRE industry for women. So if I reach a point where I believe I can no longer make a difference or impact positive change, then it's time for me to leave!
Commercial real estate was not an industry that I had considered or even knew much about. After leaving my first job out of college, acquaintances in the business who saw that I had a solid knowledge of the region and aptitude for remembering addresses suggested that real estate might be a good fit. Almost 28 years later, I am still in the business, and it has been a good fit. I have generally had positive experiences in the industry. I enjoy working with brokers, and the collaborative, sometimes hectic environment. I do not feel that my opportunities have been limited because I am a woman. However, there is a subtle level of sexism that is still present in the industry. It is not blatant, but I feel that I am expected to do tasks that would not be asked of a man in the same position. This is hopefully generational, and will begin to disappear.
My interest in construction started when I went to the Putnam Vocational Technical High School in Springfield. My teacher was a great influence and said I could do anything I put my mind to. He finally looked at me one day and said, “Hey, kid! You’re way too advanced for this class. Please go join the union.” So I did. It’s nice to have that good boost when you want to give up all the time. It was nice to see a male figure positively influence a woman like that because you don’t see that too often. My mother is the other reason why I got into construction. I got so tired of seeing men coming in and not being able to fix her house, so now I can. You do anything for your mother.
I think the best way to get more women involved is to show women it’s possible. If we’re able to push out a kid, we should be able to do this. The guys on a site may tell me to not hurt myself, but I can do just what they do. Some guys will expect a girl to prove herself, but I’ve never had to do that. There are some guys who don’t expect too much because you’re still learning, but, at the end of the day, they’re still learning, too. It’s never been about proving myself. It’s just been about getting better. The biggest challenge for me isn’t about being a woman. It’s about believing in myself as a person. Can I deal with this day to day? I think back to my teacher telling me there will be days that I will have to get up and get at it even when I don’t feel like going into work or am sick. I still try to conquer it no matter what.
Privilege is invisible to those who have it. When the majority of our industry are white men, then white men are normal to them. It’s normal to them because they are surrounded by people who look like then, talk like them and identify with them. It is natural for them to recruit and hire in their own image. They call on corporate executives who, for the most part, look exactly like them — white men. Everyone is comfortable with that. They’re all the same. Awesome! It doesn’t even occur to them that diversity is absent. They rarely give it a second thought until the odd goose shows up. At an intellectual level they may know diversity is good and that they should treat the odd goose just the same, but it never happens. The majority just don’t know how, nor do they spend the energy to figure it out. And so the cycle repeats itself.
Discrimination does exist in the commercial real estate industry — gender, age, color and more. But it’s hard to pin it down. It’s very subtle and insidious. No one will say it out loud, so it’s hard to prove and even more difficult to fight. When confronted, those who have the invisible privilege of being a white male are insulted. They think they are being judged, totally unfairly. They are blind to it. It’s impossible for them to walk in our shoes and it’s impossible for us to fight the invisible. It hasn’t changed in decades. So this is where we are. Heavy sigh.
I was told at one point that I was hired over another applicant because I was better looking. It's not all that groundbreaking; I'm sure many women have been told that. It's just a fact of life, it's just not always said out loud. He did say I was more qualified but it was my looks. It was embarrassing.
I want to start off by saying I love my job and my career. There are a lot more opportunities for women today, but it is still a male-dominated industry. I have a lot of horror stories. I have suppressed a lot of them. Being told "she must leave the room.” Being ignored in rooms. People assumed I was there to take notes. Not being awarded the better projects because they assumed I couldn't travel because I had kids. Always the hard worker, but never compensated equally. But there were some people who did take me under their wing and loved having a smart woman around. Going to industry events was torture — and I really was not permitted. The firm itself held me back. Now I have my posse and these woman would walk through a war zone for me. But it took me over 20 years.
I am not in commercial real estate anymore, but it was definitely like a boys’ club. The women were mostly in support positions. All of the brokers were mostly men, except there was one female broker. There was degrading talk about women within earshot of the support staff — about women they were dating or saw on the street. Men were always talking about their sexual escapades. If you had on a nice dress, they would make catcalls. It made you feel like you didn't want to look nice or wear heels at work because you knew you were going to be leered at and made comments about. They made you feel uncomfortable. There was locker room talk happening out in the open in the office.
There was just a general discomfort with most of the female employees. Most didn't last a long time. I didn't feel like I could advance or move up. It was like they were [expecting] that you bring them coffee. They expected you to be in more of like a service type of role. You really weren't taken seriously. Your ideas were not valued.
Just like in life, you can choose who you hang out with, and hope to get a little lucky. I recognize that I’m very fortunate to have entered the industry when I did and work in a firm committed to respect and diversity with a group of like-minded individuals (predominantly men) who want to see me succeed. The stories I heard when I first started, about the industry being like the Wild West, don’t come up as much anymore as the ones who lived through it have begun to retire and the culture has become more aware, sensitive and corporate. There are also many more women in the industry who are not someone’s secretary, which has also helped.
Do I feel that the guys in the room feel the need to speak louder or more than me? Sure. But I can’t say they act a certain way around me versus other men. Do I notice I’m usually in the minority at meetings? Yes. But I’m also noticing that my words and contributions are equally valued. At the end of the day, you definitely need a thick skin to be in this industry, regardless of being a man or woman, and learn to accept that some people are just assholes, and they exist in every walk of life, not just real estate.
The good news is that things are changing for the better in measurable ways for women in construction. There are still important challenges that need be overcome, but I’ve been a union carpenter for 28 years, and there have been significant changes over the last eight or nine years in Massachusetts. For example, in apprenticeship, after decades of stagnation at 2–3%, the state now has 6.9% women, and 91.6% of those are in union apprenticeships. We had a 163% increase in female apprentices in just the last four years.
We have a generation of women who have moved into leadership in both the unions and, to a smaller degree, with the contractors — stewards, business agents, apprenticeship instructors, and foremen. Nationally, just two months ago the Iron Worker’s International Union became the first to offer a paid maternity leave to female members, and we hope other unions will follow suit! How have these changes come about? In Massachusetts, tradeswomen have built a multi-stakeholder collaboration that includes tradeswomen, labor leaders, contractors, academics and government officials who have met for the last nine years to create and share tools for crushing the barriers for women. My message to women who want to build a better life — through equal pay, satisfying work, good benefits, pride of craft, and being part of a strong community of workers — is: Come join us!
Going into construction was never part of my plan, but life happens. I came to work at the family business in 1985. We get things done because we know each other and share similar common interests. I’m the fourth generation of my family to run this business. Once the lightbulb went off, I had to answer to my father. He asked, “Do you have the same values that have driven this company for years?” That was the ultimate litmus test — not whether or not a daughter was a worthy heir. It surprises me at this stage that there aren’t more daughters running family businesses, but I see the pendulum swinging. I’ve been in the business for over 30 years, and 17 of them have been as an owner. At the beginning, I was much more hands-on than my father. Since then, I’ve learned just because you’re the chief doesn’t mean you’re always the decision-maker. I’ve come around to his more hands-off style of letting people grow a bit on their own.
The 20% female participation in construction by 2020 is a bold plan, but it’s not that far from being achieved. We have to make massive strides, and I’m doing my part. Construction is a fun, dynamic industry, and we should be selling this work to women. We’re really at the forefront of where it’s happening.
There is a reason why there are so few women in real estate sales. The barriers to entry are not unusually high in sales, however, the invisible line in the sand holds women at bay. It is still an “old boys’ club” — even today. This high-stakes industry breeds a level of superhuman egos. The limitless amount of money and power attainable is an aphrodisiac, channeling god-like tendencies. Guys tend to indulge their fantasies with their male peers. Women are not invited or welcomed. Unfortunately, this is where deals are made. Another reason why men dominate — women don’t stick up for one another.
Being a woman in a male-dominated field can be challenging on many fronts. Speaking as a Millennial working woman and girl boss, we are downright tired. We are tired from being overlooked, talked over and judged by men in meetings because we are the only woman in the room. But mostly, we are tired of being judged because of our age. Because of this, there are extra levels of so-called “proving oneself.” We are physically exhausted from waking up early to make 6 a.m., 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. meetings that older generations love to set. This has to stop. Why can’t we have happy hour meetings sometimes? I’ll settle for a lunch meeting now and again. We are fatigued from the 24-hour workday that is not technically required, but is necessary to prove ourselves reliable and ready for anything. Having our work email on our phones (and all other devices) makes it super hard to get away. There really is no "off the grid" for the Millennial working woman. Commercial real estate does not take a vacation, so neither can we.
We are weary from the extra attitude of some of our senior female co-workers. While men have ignored, scoffed and laughed off our ideas in meetings, women can be just nasty. I’ve been told that I was not right for a promotion. I’ve been told I should quit. I’ve been told I needed to lose weight. I’ve been told I need to buy more expensive clothes. Is this because you were ignored, scoffed and laughed at in meetings when you were our age? Do you think we should not have it so easy? Try being a mentor to a Millennial working woman. We could use your support more than you even know. We are worn down from the politics of the workplace, but also charged with the seemingly unobtainable ideas of raising a family, paying off student loans, buying a house and getting our lives together. How does anyone do it? I'm not sure. Regardless, we do our best. I’m tired.
A friend recently asked me what it was like to be a woman in the construction industry. Without hesitating, I answered “It’s great!” I am sure you were expecting horror stories of misogynistic behavior, catcalls and sexual harassment. The good news is many of the general construction firms and their job sites are enlightened environments with collaborative teams of great diversity. Nowadays, I go to job sites and find project managers, superintendents, tradeswomen all hunkered down over building plans and working through design and materials issues.