Are things getting better for women in real estate boardrooms and offices? The answer, according to the city’s top female executives, is yes — though some say that change is not happening fast enough.
“I think throughout my career, everyone’s always looking at the male with the gray hair in the room,” said Jodi Stein, the vice president of Acquisitions and Development at real estate firm Lighstone.
“I’ve learned that once you’re comfortable with yourself and confident in what you’re saying, if you speak up, you’ll be heard. You have to prove yourself, but if you know what you’re talking about and learned the craft, people will listen to you when you speak.”
Stein, a lawyer who has represented clients such as Related Companies, Extell Development and Slate, has a success story that is becoming the norm as a growing population of female executives enter leadership roles.
She started as an associate for Wachtel & Masyr, specializing in land use. Now, she’s in charge of Lightstone’s $2 billion development platform in the city.
While a loud voice stands as the only requirement for women to have a say in their company’s decisions, gaining entry into the boardroom remains a complicated matter.
According to women’s workplace inclusion non-profit Catalyst, there are only 20 female CEOs at S&P 500 companies. This represents just four percent of the total number of chief executives in the index.
Women are also a minority when it comes to board membership. Female executives only hold just 19.2 percent of board seats in the index. Participation jumps slightly when it comes to executive or senior level positions, which stands at 25.1 percent. Most female executives are at the mid-level and manager level, with 36.8 percent of S&P 500 companies employing women in such positions.
From a narrower view, the numbers get a lot worse for women. According to a 2013 report from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, commercial real estate is predominantly white and male.
The study claims that 77.6 percent of senior executive positions in commercial real estate are held by white men. Women, on the other hand, only hold one percent of the 13,773 executive-level positions available. This amounted to a total of just 140 jobs.
“I think real estate especially, has always been a bit of a man’s game,” said Laura Pomerantz, the vice chairman and head of strategic accounts for Cushman & Wakefield.
“There have always been more men in real estate than women, and I think one of the most important skills that a professional has to have in the business is sensitivity, good listening skills, good networking, and maintaining relationships, and I find women are really good at that.”
This is starting to change. According to Lisa Keill, the international director for the tenant representation group at JLL, the real estate industry is starting to break out of its “man’s game” mold.
“We definitely see more women on the clients’ side, more of my clients are women. We definitely see more women in senior positions on the service side, whether it’s brokerage, architecture or construction. I’m pleased to say that I see a lot more women both as my clients as well as service providers,” she said.
Her comments align with a recent report from the CREW Network. From 2006 to 2015, the number of women in certain segments of the real estate grew. The highest increase was in the development sector, with the percentage of women jumping from 23 percent to 38 percent.
While the female headcount in the real estate industry continues to grow, Keill said that the expansion is happening at a pace that is not satisfactory.
“I would like it to be faster. But it’s hard to affect that in that way, I guess. It just takes time and maybe it’s a generational thing. But I’m happy that it’s going in the right direction,” she said.
Participation may be growing in the real estate industry, however, just like in many corners of corporate America, women are still marginalized when it comes to wages.
According to a brief from the Council of Economic Advisers issued in April of last year, women earned 78 cents for every dollar that a man made.
The figures align with the CREW report. According to the study, women consistently earn less than their male counterparts, with the biggest gap being in the brokerage industry at 33.8 percent.
This figure gets worse when compensation packages are included in the equation. According to the report, the gap also exists when it comes to employer-sponsored benefits such as health insurance, retirement, training opportunities, paid family or sick leave and flexible work hours. For instance, only 55 percent of college-educated women have access to a pension plan, compared to 61 percent for their male counterparts. Overall, women are also less likely to be offered paid leave or a health insurance plan by their employer.
Nonetheless, there are a lot of positive signs for women in real estate. The federal government has intervened to bridge the gap.
Last January, President Barack Obama announced the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which requires companies to report employee wages according to gender, race and ethnicity, making it easier for employees to challenge discriminatory pay.
Women reported the same level of satisfaction with their jobs compared to men.
According to the CREW report, 59 percent of women said that they were satisfied with their career progression. This puts them at the same level as men. The figure for men decreased from 61 percent in 2005.
LEAD PHOTO: New York’s leading ladies of real estate gathered to debate the market during Real Estate Weekly’s 5th annual Women’s Forum, held in partnership with EisnerAmper, at the Bar Building on May 11. They included: Belinda Schwartz, Greta Guggenheim, Alisa Mall, Laura Rapaport, Sara Rubenstein, Sara Queen. Middle l-r: Kathleen McCarthy, Lindsay Ornstein, Toby Moskowitz, Laura Pomerantz, Jodi Stein, Bottom l-r: Snezana Anderson, Christl Engle, Lisa Keill, Lisa Knee, Linda O’Flanagan