Guest column by Tina Hoye
It is hard to believe, but this year I will mark 25 years working in the commercial real estate industry. When asked to write this article, I thought it would be fun to talk to other women in the industry, veterans and newcomers, and see how much things have changed over that time. Turns out, I was in for a surprise!
Although women have embraced many aspects of real estate (property management or law for example), brokerage work continues to have a very small group of active women. Some statistics for you: In 1972, Minneapolis BOMA (Building Owners and Managers Association) had one female property manager. By 1992, membership had increased to 25 percent, and today 42 percent of regular members are women. MNCAR membership (a group comprised primarily of commercial brokers), on the other hand, includes only 17 percent female members.
In my conversations with both seasoned and younger brokers there were many common threads. Everyone came into real estate by “accident,” not by plan. It might have been an internship or a referral from the family that got people started in this business. One woman had managed an office move and became interested in the real estate industry as a result. Another worked in an employment agency, a real estate firm was her client and she became intrigued with their work.
Regardless of how the brokers came to the industry, they all felt it was a great career. These women felt that they had succeeded in part because of the support of their male colleagues, not in spite of them. The challenging work, flexibility, relative independence and ability to define their own success were all benefits identified for women in the brokerage industry. Being a woman can even be an advantage! You stand out in a crowd of brokers and, hopefully, to your clients.
The general consensus was that women often bring complementary skills to the table, with a different communication style or by being more service-oriented. Over time, even in brokerage, the work has become more team-oriented and service-driven. Women are often part of the client’s decisionmaking team, and they may look for more female representation in their service partners. So why don’t more women choose commercial real estate as a career?
Most people (men and women) are not aware of commercial real estate as a career growing up. There are no easily described role models like police officers, astronauts or presidents of the United States. Perhaps a TV drama is needed in which every week a deal falls apart five times in the course of an hour before finally coming together; that might get the industry some recognition.
There are other barriers to entering the industry, not the least of which is the nature of the compensation. Working for commissions is not for everyone – that is true for men, as well. However, women succeed in residential real estate in large numbers. Women are active in other sales and commission-based industries, too, so that can’t be the sole reason. Perhaps some women are put off by the “cowboy” reputation the industry can have. I believe, however, that a lot of the bravado is superficial. The industry continues to become more professional. The successful brokers are hardworking and respectful.
In the end, it is in all of our best interests to reach out to young women, letting them know what great opportunities are available in commercial real estate brokerage. We should make a point of supporting newcomers to the industry, knowing that the first years are really tough. Partnerships with the local universities — not just the real estate departments, but the entire business school — should be cultivated. Some of the national firms are taking steps in this area, but perhaps it should be addressed industry-wide as well.
Hoye, with more than 20 years of experience in corporate real estate, works with companies on strategic planning, site selection, lease negotiations, financial analysis and related services. Before founding Nelson, Tietz & Hoye in 1993, she worked with a Minneapolis-based corporate real estate service provider.
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