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Power Women On CRE Gender Gap: 'There Are A Lot Of Mediocre Men, But There Are No Mediocre Women'

When Donna Shalala accepted the job as president of the University of Miami in 2001, she was tasked with a big mission: making the school competitive nationally.

Donna Shalala gave the keynote speech at Bisnow's Miami Power Women event.

Using the team she inherited, she encouraged employees — especially women and minorities — to learn new skills outside of their comfort zones. Eventually, the university edged its way into Top 50 rankings.

“We cannot be a world-class city unless everybody gets a chance to move up,” Shalala said Thursday at Bisnow’s South Florida Power Women event at Miami’s InterContinental Hotel, where she was the keynote speaker. “My mentoring isn’t about giving people advice; it’s about putting people in situations."

Shalala served as President Bill Clinton’s secretary of Health and Human Services for eight years, has sat on the boards of Lennar Corp. and UnitedHealth, and is currently running for Congress. 

Bilzin Sumberg partner Cristina Lumpkin speaks during a panel discussion.

Shalala and other panelists at last week's event agreed that women can do well in the commercial real estate industry, but that they still often face disadvantages compared to men. They suggested that women become experts in their fields, always be prepared and take on challenges, even if they seem daunting. 

A 10-year study from the Commercial Real Estate Women Network analyzed gender in CRE and found that between 2006 and 2015, the percentage of women professionals in asset management grew from 51% to 54% and in development, from 23% to 38%. But during that period, the percentage of women in brokerage and finance declined — from 39% to 29% and from 44% to 42%, respectively.

It also found that women consistently earn less than men, with the biggest pay gap (33.8%) in brokerage and the smallest (16.7%) in finance. CREW also found that the gender wage gap widens the higher a woman ascends the corporate ladder. In 2015, the median total annual compensation in commercial real estate, including bonuses and profit-sharing, was $150K for men and $115K for women. 

A panel discussion included Bilzin Sumberg partner Cristina Lumpkin, CBRE Senior Managing Director Arden Karson, Stantec Director of Interiors Susan LaFleur, Duke Realty Vice President of Leasing Stephanie Rodriguez and Vagabond Group founder Avra Jain.

Now may be time for that to start changing. Record low unemployment means that across all industries, quality workers are in high demand, and the #MeToo movement has exposed many males’ bad behavior, even in CRE. Around the country, there are efforts to get women interested in construction labor and management jobs.

Duke Realty Vice President Stephanie Rodriguez said during Thursday’s event that she was a directionless college graduate with two liberal arts degrees when she took a temp job at a Washington, D.C., staffing agency that put her in charge of managing property. She is grateful she did not shy away from the challenge.

“Take leadership of roles, even if you don’t know what you’re doing,” Rodriguez advised the audience during a panel discussion. “Ask a ton of questions.”

Stantec Director of Interiors Susan LaFleur said it has become easier over the past decade to break into commercial real estate, even without much targeted experience.

“Because of the economic crisis in 2008, there was a whole level of designers and architects that left the industry,” she said.

Traditionally firms like hers used to hire people with 10 to 18 years of experience, but today they will take more junior candidates who are fast learners or bring valued soft skills, LaFleur said. She said that in hiring, managers look at well-rounded portfolios and sleek designs — but also at personalities and work styles.

“I want to see if they’re going to be a cultural fit in the office,” LaFleur said. “I’m also looking at their body language, how they’re holding themselves in the room.”

Rodriguez said personality is important because real estate requires constant engagement with the public.

“You have to walk in and meet strangers every day. Stay involved and entrenched in the community,” she said.

Still, the panelists acknowledged that it can be intimidating, especially for women and minorities, to speak up or get noticed in an industry dominated by white men. Formal mentoring programs can help, they said.

“You can’t just do it by hard work. Unfortunately, that’s not enough,” said Bilzin Sumberg attorney Cristina Alana Lumpkin, who helps real estate investors assess and fix environmental problems.

Vagabond Group CEO Avra Jain said mentoring the four female architects she employs is one of the most gratifying aspects of her work. She tries to remain mindful of that role, offering to share her expertise by asking them, “Is there something you want to learn or know?”

Honorees at Bisnow's 2018 Miami Power Women event.

Men and women can be good mentors, and some said that influential men had generously advised them years ago, when women in real estate were even more rare. Still, the panelists said women have to work harder than their male counterparts.

“There are a lot of mediocre men [in commercial real estate], but there are no mediocre women,” Jain said. “You just have to be really good at what you do, know your homework, and don’t be afraid.”

“I really had to prove in a very, very rapid manner that I knew my business,” Rodriguez said. “I had to study tremendously at all hours of the day. If I was caught flat-footed trying to negotiate a deal with a male broker in the industry, they might eat me for lunch, breakfast and dinner.”

Studying the industry has paid off, she said. Over time, she became confident that she was qualified and can now even consider her gender as an advantage.

“There are so few women in industrial real estate that I stand out,” Rodriguez said. “I’m the lady who shows up in industrial spaces in four-inch heels, and I’m proud of that. I wear them as a badge of honor and not as something that’s a challenge to me any longer."

Honorees at Bisnow's Miami Power Women event. July 12, 2018.

Following the panel discussion, Bisnow honored 54 women from Miami's commercial real estate industry:

  • Donna Abood, Avison Young
  • Annette Aravena, CPM Services
  • Beth Azor, Azor Advisory Services
  • Kerri Barsh, Greenberg Traurig
  • Barbara Liberatore Black, JLL
  • Tere Blanca, Blanca Commercial Real Estate
  • Carol Greenberg Brooks, CREC
  • Jessica Browdy, J. Kelly Advisors
  • Beth Butler, Compass Florida
  • Sandra Cardona, Hersha Hospitality Trust
  • Silvia Coltrane, Transacta Developers LLC / Real Estate Transactions International
  • Nancy Klick Corey, Coldwell Banker
  • Vivian de las Cuevas-Diaz, Holland & Knight
  • Meg Daly, Friends of the Underline
  • Jennifer Bales Drake, Becker
  • Iris Escarra, Greenberg Traurig
  • Gloria Estefan, Estefan Enterprises
  • Carol Faber, Akerman
  • Caroline Fleischer, Cresa
  • Peggy Fucci, OneWorld Properties
  • Vanessa Grout, CMC Real Estate
  • Felecia Hatcher, Code Fever + Blacktech Week
  • Della Heiman, Wynwood Yard
  • Amanda Hertzler, MKDA
  • Avra Jain, The Vagabond Group
  • Maria Juncadella, Fairchild Partners
  • Arden Karson, CBRE
  • Angie Kenyon, MOD Pizza
  • Teresa Kinney, Miami Association of Realtors
  • Ilene Katz Kobert, Greenberg Traurig
  • Susan LaFleur, Stantec Architecture & Design
  • Nancy Lash, Greenberg Traurig
  • Cristina Lumpkin, Bilzin Sumberg
  • Jodi Macken, Macken Cos.
  • Marti Mang, City National Bank
  • Mika Mattingly, Colliers International
  • Abby Melone, Capital Analytics
  • Robin Haines Merrill, Upper Room Art Gallery
  • Traci Miller, Miller Construction Co.
  • Ramola Motwani, Merrimac Ventures
  • Shari Neissani, RedSky Capital
  • Lisa Neumayer, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.
  • Beverly Raphael, RCC Associates
  • Ana Maria Rodriguez, City of Doral
  • Stephanie Rodriguez, Duke Realty
  • Donna Shalala, University of Miami
  • Barbara Sharief, Broward County
  • Nicole Shiman, EDENS
  • Jackie Soffer, Turnberry Associates
  • Laurinda Spear, Arquitectonica
  • Tiffany Troxler, Sea Level Solutions Center
  • Mayi de la Vega, ONE Sotheby’s International Realty
  • Deb Watson, National Black MBA Association
  • Enid Weisman, Aventura