Women make their mark on commercial real estate, but pay still skewed
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
More women are entering the male-dominated commercial real estate market and making their mark, but many are still earning less than male counterparts, a new study shows.
More women are finding opportunities in the commercial market, with 43% represented today versus 36% in 2005 — an increase of 7 percentage points, according to a study recently released by the national group Commercial Real Estate Women, or CREW.
This study is a follow-up to the first study done looking at men and women in commercial real estate, which the organization conducted in 2005.
The new study found an increase in women in this market with less than five years of experience and women with 20-plus years of experience.
Carol Brooks, co-founder and president of Coral Gables-based Continental Real Estate Cos., said years ago many women didn't feel they could enter into real estate, leaving many to first hold administrative roles.
At her company, she said one of the female retailer leasing agents was first an executive assistant and the woman who heads the Central Florida operations started as a manager's assistant.
"It doesn't necessarily occur to all women that real estate is an appropriate career choice because it has the stigma that it is a male-dominated field," Ms. Brooks said. "Once they enter, they see a natural progression."
Ms. Brooks runs the day-to-day operations at Continental, which oversees a leasing and management portfolio of 11.4 million square feet of retail, office and multi-family throughout the state.
Despite the growth in numbers, women are still overall earning less than men, the study shows, although some today have jumped to higher salary brackets.
For example, more women are now earning $100,000 to $250,000 per year, but they are fewer than men.
About 11% of women in the study earn salaries at the $250,000 level, an uptick compared to 8% surveyed in 2005, while the percentage of men in the same compensation category dropped to 31% in 2010 from 34% in 2005.
Because salary information is often confidential, it's difficult for studies to really gauge if the salaries women are earning match their positions in comparison to their male counterparts, said attorney Suzanne Amaducci-Adams, president of CREW Miami until December.
"Men typically are more heavily compensated in commission, while women want a more structured salary," she said.
The study also shows that the total of women and men in top-level positions, such as president, chief executive officer and chief financial officer, has fallen, which could stem from the challenges to this market segment in recent years.
For women, there was a decline of 4 percentage points, from 13% in 2005 to 9% this year, and for men, 10 percentage points, from 32% to 22% over the period, the report shows. Also, men still report a bigger chunk of their overall earnings from compensations such as bonuses and stock options.
But since the weakened commercial market has led to fewer commission-based transactions, Ms. Amaducci-Adams said, the drop in men's compensation could be a result of the market's downturn.
"That's why a study in another five years will be important because the real estate industry will be in a better place than it is today," she said.
Other women in leadership positions have also paved the way, Ms. Brooks said, noting industry leaders like Donna Abood, chief executive officer of Colliers International South Florida, and Barbara Liberatore Black, founding principal of CresaPartners in Miami.
"Around our city, you see other women who are in leadership roles and mentoring the talent that is behind us and desensitizing this good-old-boys mentality," she said.
Although, Ms. Brooks said she personally didn't feel discrimination as a woman when growing her company, she thinks her upbringing set a solid foundation.
Ms. Brooks is the daughter of Melvin Greenberg, a founder of international law firm Greenberg Traurig.
She said her father surrounded himself with strong women and she was raised to be a professional in whatever field she chose.
A bigger emphasis on real estate-tailored curricula in universities could make more women aware of the opportunities available in the commercial market.
For example, Ms. Brooks said, today when the company searches for new managers it gets as many women as men applying, but for sales and leasing positions "I can't remember ever getting a woman."
More education programs focused on real estate could help get more women into the field, she said, because it would prepare them and expose them to possible professions in commercial.
Ms. Amaducci-Adams, partner at law firm Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod, said CREW is doing its part to expose high school and college students to real estate-related careers.
At the high school level, the group has a mentoring and career awareness program for at-risk women to make them aware of future opportunities in the industry.
The organization also has a partnership with Florida International University — and has created a second with the University of Miami — to educate college students on possible careers within commercial real estate, Ms. Amaducci-Adams said, including specialties such as finance, construction and hospitality.
"Many more women are in construction supervising the work today," she said. "Ten years ago, you wouldn't have that."
Through these educational partnerships, younger women meet and learn of women in top-level positions in real estate who can serve as role models.
"You have true women leaders in the business today that you didn't have before," she said. "You can use them as a role model and you can believe that it can happen."