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Bay Area Power Women In CRE: Diversity Leads To Higher Returns

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Allen Matkins' Caroline Chase, Walker Realty Capital's Daria Walker, EAH Housing's Laura Hall, Lendlease's Meg Spriggs, MJD Capital Partners' Marie Murphy

To achieve real parity for women in commercial real estate, companies and individuals need to begin by using data to establish a baseline that can serve as the foundation for improving gender and racial diversity.

That's according to panelists at Bisnow's Bay Area Women Leading Real Estate event, held at Levi Plaza.

The commercial real estate industry’s makeup of primarily white men is well-documented, and though the industry has advanced in dribs and drabs in recent years, women leaders in CRE have noted the industry still has work to do.  

“Well, honestly, it starts with data. And I think if we know where we stand in terms of our gender distribution, we're then able to create a path for improving so, at Lendlease, for example, we've got about 35% women in the U.S. business," Lendlease Executive Vice President Meg Spriggs said. "That's not terrific. That's not terrible either. I think we've probably all seen worse. But with that information, we're able to say OK, we want to hit 40% women in the U.S. business in the near term, we then re-evaluate when we get to 40. And we can set a higher goal so that that data is very powerful to us."

“We also track salaries across genders, so men and women in like-for-like roles, and with that, we're really able to see what our own pay equality looks like. And that goes a long way in retaining and encouraging women to grow up through the organization,” Spriggs added. 

EAH Housing CEO Laura Hall noted that one of the biggest drivers for hiring and retaining women in CRE is leading by example. 

“What's so great about that too, is if you can see it, you can be it, right?” Hall said, adding that she benefited from a host of female bosses early in her career who helped show her the path forward. 

Walker Realty Capital founder and principal Daria Walker said despite the industry’s steps forward in terms of gender diversity, true success when it comes to DEI initiatives requires looking not just at the company makeup, but at who is inhabiting the leadership roles. 

“I love that we're in a room full of women, but I think we should also look at you know, even if there are 50% women or 60% women, what does your executive leadership look like? You know? Is that diverse? Does it gradually get browner as you get to the bottom? When you’re hiring people, where are you hiring them from?” Walker said. 

“My biggest thing is that sometimes we do tend to go on the stage and say, 'Oh, look at all these women that we've hired,' but then you go behind the scenes and these women are being marginalized or being trapped in support roles or being trapped into operations and out of the positions of power," she said.

This sentiment was echoed by MJD Capital Partners principal and CEO Marie Murphy.

Murphy said that having the varied perspectives afforded by increased diversity at the negotiation table can offer value when making deals, and ultimately, will boost the bottom line. "The data is there, that capital has higher return with a woman in charge," she said.

“Think about hiring more women, hire more Black and brown people, you make more money. That's the kind of consensus,” Walker said.


CORRECTION, NOV. 11, 3:16 P.M. PT: A version of this story previously misquoted Meg Spriggs as referring to pay "quality", instead of pay "equality". This story has been updated.