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Empowering Women in Real Estate: How One CRE Professional Is Encouraging Women To Become Industry Leaders

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Women in the commercial real estate industry are focused on achieving gender inclusivity with the goal of building a more balanced future. With more women aspiring to achieve C-suite positions than years past, the future's looking bright.

Research shows that companies with higher percentages of women in senior ranks tend to outperform those with solely male leadership. The Harvard Business Review reports this is due to the increased willingness of women to foster change and dodge potential risk, altering the way leadership conducts decision-making.

“While this signals that more women are feeling confident about their role in the greater CRE industry, there is still more that can be done,” said Sandhya Espitia, chief operating officer for the Real Estate Board of New York, New York City’s leading real estate trade association.

Bisnow spoke with Espitia to learn more about how her professional experiences have helped shape her career and what REBNY is doing to empower women in New York real estate and beyond.  

Bisnow: How did you get into the real estate industry?

Espitia: My first job was in retail real estate. I worked for a developer from California who bought a distressed asset of 1M SF. It was a massive redevelopment and repositioning project at a time when the industry was already struggling to lease traditional big-box space. I was inspired by the creativity of my team and learned how vision, redevelopment and leasing come together. 

After leaving that position to pursue other opportunities, I came back to the real estate industry 10 years later and landed on the association side of the business. I worked for ICSC as managing director of the Latin America portfolio and as global vice president.

Five years ago, I joined REBNY to become hyperfocused on New York City real estate. This year, I was appointed by Gov. Kathy Hochul as a member of the NYS Board of Real Estate. 

Bisnow: What is the most impactful professional experience that has shaped your career path so far?

Espitia: Industry evolution is my sweet spot. I am fascinated by the cycles that strategic industries go through to evolve and compete. I find it to be inspiring when industries come together to reach a better collective future.

In 2009, I worked at Harvard University, leading knowledge development initiatives for governments across the Americas. My team worked with top talent from strategic industries, elevating their knowledge in disciplines that were essential to their national economies. This required in-depth collaboration between government entities and the private sector.

A decade later I found myself in the same situation. The skills I learned from my time at Harvard University translated to my position at REBNY. The Residential Listing Service at REBNY needed to have a consumer front end for their listings. It took about two years to reach consensus and craft a plan for real action. 

The result of this is Citysnap, a consumer product created for the industry, by the industry. This is an important milestone for the residential real estate industry in New York City.

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REBNY Chief Operating Officer Sandhya Espitia

Bisnow: How has REBNY focused on elevating the role of women in real estate?

Espitia: Women represent 70% of the REBNY workforce. Our leading female members not only coach other women across the industry to become tomorrow’s leaders, but they are also widely recognized for their contributions to real estate at the annual REBNY awards, signaling a sense of confidence and hope to the next generation. 

There is strong representation of women chairing our industry committees and boards for commercial and residential brokerage. We also have a REBNY Fellows Leadership Program for midcareer professionals in which 80% of last year’s participants were women.

However, we still have more work to do and remain committed to fostering leadership opportunities for women in the business.

Bisnow: What are some of the broader steps REBNY is taking to support the evolution of the real estate industry?

Espitia: REBNY works across multiple fronts. We advocate, convene and power business activity for real estate in New York City. Varying perspectives and strengths are needed for an organization like ours to deliver impact.

Our advocacy arm is essential to everything we do. We work with multiple constituencies in business and government to ensure the industry is well-positioned to support the city’s economy. We educate and proactively advocate for good policies.

We have a strong business approach to our services where we lead and enforce industry best practices, co-brokering, licensing education and listing data exchange for the city’s 12,000 real estate agents. At a macro level, we want to continue to be a partner to New York City and keep playing a central role in powering our city’s economy.

Bisnow: What advice would you give to other women and people of color looking to enter the real estate industry?

Espitia: Women should not be afraid to speak up to add value and expand their group of mentors. Taking this approach can help women engage in a supportive network among people who do not look and think like them, while also earning the respect of others throughout an organization.

The most influential mentors in my career had enough room in their leadership sphere for me to join because I added a different perspective to important issues. Women need an established colleague to mention their names in a room full of opportunities and make their work visible.

I believe that being trustworthy is important for career advancement. Relationships are everything and it’s essential to respect confidentiality and treat information with human ethics at the forefront. It takes discipline to develop this muscle, but it is imperative in leadership.  

This article was produced in collaboration between the Real Estate Board of New York and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

Studio B is Bisnow’s in-house content and design studio. To learn more about how Studio B can help your team, reach out to studio@bisnow.com.