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VOL. 127 | NO. 62 | Thursday, March 29, 2012

CREW Leader: Women in RE Still Face Challenges

By Sarah Baker

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While women have made significant strides and hold positions of significant responsibility in the business world – including in the commercial real estate industry – they are stuck.

That’s the message Lori Kilberg, partner with Hartman Simons & Wood LLP in Atlanta, presented to the Memphis chapter of Commercial Real Estate Women Tuesday, March 27.

“They call it the marzipan layer,” Kilberg said. “I love this terminology. Only women could come up with this – that very talented, rich layer that’s just underneath the C-suite level. They may be in middle and upper management, people that essentially run the show or do all of the legwork but are not the ones that are maybe (making) all the global decisions.”

The CREW Network has 8,000 members across 74 markets in the U.S. Its mission statement is to influence the CRE industry by advancing the achievements of women.

The organization’s Memphis chapter was founded in 2007 and is currently the only one in Tennessee that’s affiliated with national CREW.

One of the ongoing support roles that national CREW provides to the Memphis chapter is research. CREW Network claims to be the only association conducting research on women in real estate.

In 2011, CREW Network undertook a research project resulting in a whitepaper called “Success and Satisfaction of Women in Commercial Real Estate.” Kilberg, along with national 2012 CREW President E. Diane Butler of Butler Burgher Group came to Memphis Tuesday to share the results of those findings and how to better attract and retain women in the CRE industry.

“I think as women, we don’t do a very good job of telling our story,” Butler said. “We keep things close to the vest.”

However, more women are entering CRE as a career; 43 percent of women in the CRE industry entered in 2010 versus 36 percent joining the industry in 2005.

“That is a huge number,” Kilberg said. “What this means is we’re reaching out to the younger population, women are coming in as their first career into CRE and they’re better-educated so they’re prepared for it – and it’s helping close the compensation gap at least on that level.”

Many companies are recognizing that there are women with tremendous talent who, for whatever reason, are not ascending the ranks proportionate to their talents.

“Women are generally now better-educated than their male peers,” Kilberg said. “Several studies have found the correlation between significant numbers of women at the top of a company and the success of that company in the marketplace.”

Yet statistically, women hold only a small percentage of corporate management roles at Fortune 500 companies.

“They may turn down promotions, seek opportunities outside their firms or leave the corporate world altogether because the factors have convinced them that the odds of getting ahead in their companies are too daunting,” Kilberg said. “Why are they leaving? Lack of role models. People tend to hire and advance people like themselves. When men are in control, they feel more comfortable promoting men because they see things in them that they value.”

Kilberg said the work/family balance dilemma also comes into play, as well as not having a sponsor in upper management to push women through the ranks.

Perhaps that’s why women respondents in 2010 showed a significant dissatisfaction with their status in their corporations as well as their compensation levels. What’s more, the greatest factor of dissatisfaction for women was the level of decision-making potential, which, of course, leads to higher-level jobs and higher earnings.

The wage factor between men and women is narrowing but still present. More women now are in the $100,000- to $250,000-per-year salary category but still fewer than men, Kilberg said.

There’s light at the end of the tunnel. U.S. Census data show women in 2009 earned 82.8 percent of the median weekly wage of men, which is the highest level ever recorded, up from 76.1 percent a decade earlier.

“It’s a substantial improvement, but we’re not quite there yet,” Kilberg said. “I don’t see 100 percent there yet and it absolutely needs to be 100 percent.”

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