When I was in high school, I remember wanting to enroll in an electronics course as an elective. My father was an amateur radio operator, retired electrician, and I had some interest in learning a little about the field. When I tried to register for the course, I was told no. The reason? No females allowed. Besides, the guidance counselor said, all they really do in there is goof off and tell dirty jokes, and I was too bright to bother with that class. Being the rule-follower I was, I shrugged it off and registered for something else. (Probably that foods and nutrition class that led me to my first career in the female-dominated world of dietetics.) Listen to me, fellas. I didn’t go to high school in the sixties. I’m still in my thirties. This was the mid to late nineties. I remember the “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby” cigarette ads. Clearly however, even by 1997, we had not come a long enough way.

I only thought of this incident because recently I had the pleasure of attending a continuing education seminar on commercial property management that was led by a (gasp!) female. Not just any female either, but a female CCIM who runs her own small firm in Atlanta. That is incredibly rare in the field of commercial real estate. While the majority of Realtors are female (63%), they are the minority in the commercial realm. Women are an even smaller minority to receive the highest designation you can earn in the field of commercial real estate, the CCIM (Certified Commercial Investment Member). According to the CCIM Institute, only 13% of CCIMs are female.

According to 2017 data, within the National Association of Realtors (NAR), women make up the following:

  • 56% of all licensed brokers
  • 66% of sales agent licensees
  • 63% of full time agents
  • 69% of part time agents
  • 27% of commercial agents
  • 9% of C-suite (CEO, COO, CFO, etc) commercial real estate executives

There are obvious reasons, of course, as to why women make up the majority of part time agents, mostly due to the flexibility afforded for family life. I have two small children myself, and the career change has allowed me to maintain a work/life balance that I didn’t have when I was commuting and working 50+ hours a week, while also getting me out of sweatpants and hoodies for a few days when I go to the office now (ha!).

By sheer numbers, women dominate the residential real estate market. The preference to go commercial or residential is usually dependent on one’s goals and personality. Commercial real estate can be a very prickly business, whereas I tend to describe residential as “warm and fuzzy.” Commercial is strictly business, and you can’t take anything personally. I love this excerpt from the article by Patricia K. Lemmons entitled “Hitting Their Stride: Women in Commercial Real Estate” (published in CIRE magazine):

Peroff [Linda Peroff, CCIM] recalls an incident during her early days at Cohen-Esrey when negotiations turned ugly. She asked her associate at the firm how he could stay on speaking terms with his opponent after such a fierce exchange. “My associate looked at me like I was crazy,” she remembered. “Men have such great ability to wrestle a deal down to the mat, then dust themselves off and keep right on going. You’ve got business on the one hand and social relationships on the other. Women have a harder time separating all of that and, perhaps as a result, we work harder to keep all negotiations amicable. Women are gentler negotiators, and I do not believe that means less successful. I don’t think you always have to play hardball to win. In a truly successful negotiation, there shouldn’t be a loser.”

Women who are now just beginning careers in commercial real estate truly had pioneers before them paving the way. When Letty Bierschenk, CCIM, began her career in 1970, women weren’t hired in the field of CRE unless it was a clerical position. She recalls having to demand recognition for what she was doing, as well as the pay and title to match. Goldie B. Wolfe Miller, founder of The Goldie Initiative, wasn’t even allowed to walk through the front door of the League Club of Chicago to accept a top producer award in the 1980s–she was asked to enter through the side since women were not allowed as members.

Despite the glass ceiling (and brick walls!) that have existed for women in the field, women have natural qualities that are conducive to succeeding in commercial real estate. We’re good listeners and good negotiators. We’re perceptive, intuitive, and proactive. We tend to be detail-oriented and good at research. The world of commercial real estate has certainly benefited from a growing number of female agents, brokers, and leaders. This is supported by  professional groups such as the CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women) Network, which not only provide networking opportunities, but works to advance gender equality in the field.

As with any male-dominated career path, there remains work to be done. It’s still true that the “good old boys system” is alive, to some extent. Deals still get done on the golf course or at the bar, but more and more women are gaining the respect that they deserve and setting pace in the industry.  For further reading and resources, check out CREW’s website at https://crewnetwork.org. Learn more about The Goldie Initiative at www.goldieinitiative.org.

Jessica Griffin, Sperry Commercial Global Affiliates – Griffin Partners