What are the factors leading to current and future career success for women in commercial real estate?

March 23, 2021
Written by: by Ginny Gibson, Professor Emerita, Henley Business School, Reading University
In the second round table exploring the UK data from the  2020 CREW Benchmark Study on Gender & Diversity in Commercial Real Estate, twelve CREW UK members and in some cases mentors on the CREW UK Connects Mentorship programme , came together to explore the influences to current and future career success for women working in the real estate sector. 
 
The top five factors (shown on the right) compare those relating to the current and future success.  In terms of current success, respondents highlighted that they felt they had worked harder and/or smarter than anyone else. 

Top 5 Significant Factors Leading to Success:
CURRENT FUTURE
Opportunities to develop leadership and networking skills Relationship with internal senior executive mentor
Working smarter than anyone else Business development/revenue generation
Working harder than anyone else Professional networking
Business networking activities Business referrals from peers
Right time/place selection of employer Effective negation skills

Although this did not resonate with all of the women around the table, many described points in their career where they certainly felt that pressure.  Sometimes it was right at the start of their career, particularly where they worked in a highly male dominated area, while others had felt like this as they progressed to a more senior position.  Again, there was some debate about whether this was an expectation or something that we thrust upon ourselves…our desire to excel at all we do…something that had we discussed at the first-round table! 

Looking at the factors leading to future advancement, relationships appear to be key; both inside the organisation and how one builds their broader professional network. 

The group provided good examples of how they had built stronger relationships internally, for instance by getting involved in projects or groups beyond their core role which gave them wider exposure. The most senior women in the group described how they had developed a culture of openness and introduced internal mentoring schemes to give women access to more senior executives beyond their core teams.  These were seen to be positive strategies.

In terms of the building an external network, most women around the table worked in professional service firms and therefore met potential contacts through their work with clients.  Nurturing these relationships and building long term rapport were key to extending their network and of course securing business referrals.  Most of the group also interacted with their professional organisations to build their network, however also identified the value of a group like CREW UK which brought together individuals from all facets of the commercial real estate sector thus extending both the depth and breadth of their network.  Overall, there was unanimous agreement that, as real estate is a people business, networks are essential to progression.

An area that was NOT given as a significant factor was the impact of company diversity schemes, despite almost 60% of respondents indicating that their company had one. No one was particularly surprised, and we started to speculate potential reasons.   However, as this is the topic for the final CREW UK DEI round table, we drew our conversation to a close reflecting on what had been an insightful, interesting, and open discussion which we considered important not only to us, but to the commercial real estate industry at large!