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Brokerages Build Diversity Through Women's Networking Programs

For Darcy Mackay, CBRE's president of global workplace solutions, West division, the commercial real estate industry gets a C+ in how it handles women. Fortunately, several brokerages are working to create more diversity in a male-dominated industry.

CBRE senior managing director and co-leader of the workplace strategy practice Georgia Collins, vice president brokerage Andrea Reeder and president global workplace solutions, West division Darcy Mackay

Through networking and mentorship programs, women have more opportunities than before to connect with executives and create pathways to leadership. CBRE and Cushman & Wakefield are among the brokerages that have networks to not only provide more opportunities for women, but also to create a more diverse talent pool to match their diverse clients.

Because it is aspiring to do better for women, Mackay gave CBRE a solid B. Mackay, who was a Bisnow Power Woman in 2016, has worked at CBRE for 17 years and manages the global business of clients business in the western U.S. spanning 13 states. In this role, she is responsible for occupier clients, including the provision of enterprise facility management, project management, transaction management and strategic consulting services.

She said having female role models is important to young women deciding what they want to do with their lives.

“I have a daughter, and it is so important for [children] to see role models that look like them,” Mackay said. “If you can see it, you can be it.”

It also is important to have more diversity within the company to better reflect a cross-section of clients, and it is the responsibility of the organization to mirror the diversity of clients, she said.

CBRE’s Women’s Network, which was established in 2000 by 35 women, is helping to do that. There are now more than 3,000 members in three global regions. The program provides women with access to quarterly calls and biannual conferences where they can ask top executives questions.

During last year’s annual Women’s Networking Forum in Chicago, CBRE CEO Bob Sulentic hosted an “ask me anything” session that prompted an open dialogue. CBRE board member Paula Reynolds also spoke about how she is committed to growing the population of women within CBRE, according to 2016 Bisnow Power Woman Georgia Collins, CBRE senior managing director and co-leader of the workplace strategy practice.

Collins said CBRE's executives are actively engaged in the conversation about what it takes to attract and retain women.

Other opportunities within this network include Women’s Network field delegates, who lead 75 groups in the U.S. These local groups offer quarterly programs and events for local members and support the recruitment and retention of female talent. Members also can participate in Dine for Advantage, small group events that provide meet-and-greet networking, and locally led programs.

CBRE reports increased retention rates and higher satisfaction among employees who participate in network groups and mentoring programs. These employees often have higher promotion rates as a result of mentoring.

Cushman & Wakefield managing director Rhonda Diaz Caldewey presents during the launch of Women's Integrated Network at Cushman & Wakefield's San Francisco office.

Earlier in 2017, Cushman & Wakefield’s San Francisco office was the first to launch the company's global initiative Women’s Integrated Network, which will help foster education, networking, awareness and career building, according to Cushman & Wakefield managing director Rhonda Diaz Caldewey. She is the chapter chair for WIN SF and a 2016 Bisnow Power Woman.

While San Francisco has a healthy number of women in commercial real estate, a small percentage are considered for leadership, partnership or upper management positions, Caldewey said.

Among the goals of the new WIN SF is to educate both male and female professionals from various business divisions to become ambassadors of the company’s commitment to investing in the success of women in the industry.

“Through a more diverse offering [of talent] to our clients, we are better equipped to offer innovative solutions and better reflect their needs,” Caldewey said.

As a service industry, diversity better serves clients and studies have shown diversity also leads to enhanced corporate profitability, according to Caldewey.

The Broker Diversity Problem

CBRE vice president, brokerage Andrea Reeder said while other areas within commercial real estate have become more diversified, the broker industry has about a decade to go before equity in leadership roles and top producers is available. The broker business is about locking in relationships long term and often feels like a fraternity.

She said it will take another decade for mid-career women and people of diverse backgrounds who have come into the business over the past two decades to gain the experience and form key relationships in order to rise in the ranks. There is a lack of diversity among brokers aged 45 to 65 and many young female brokers do not have older female mentors.

Reeder initially helped start ELEVATE, an event that celebrates the accomplishments of commercial real estate women, sponsored by CREW East Bay, CREW SF, CREW SV and The Registry. At CBRE, Reeder has been a part of leasing up Salesforce Tower.

The problem is acute when female brokers take time off, especially during maternity leave, according to Reeder. Since brokers are paid on commission, that means they are not eligible for paid maternity leave benefits like a salaried employee would be. This affects a woman’s decision to enter and/or stay in the business if she knows that maternity leave or caring for aging parents or family members may be on the horizon.

“I know CBRE is looking at how to support women taking leave without losing business or valued colleagues,” Reeder said.

CBRE also offers other mentoring programs not specific to women, including EMPOWER, which provides intensive mentorships to young professionals to work closely with an executive sponsor. Another program called IMPACT! offers 15 high-level women additional development and executive exposure. CBRE's G.O.C. Program pairs 28 women with 28 top executives to meet quarterly. The goal of this program is to provide top-down leadership by example.

Find out more about enriching women in real estate during Bisnow’s Bay Area Power Women 2017 event May 31 in San Francisco.