When Rosemarie Fair first entered the world of commercial real estate in the early 1980s, it was still a largely male-dominated profession and she felt the biting sting of disrespect.
“When you’re in property management as a female and you’re developing a Downtown mixed-use project, when you walked into a construction site the contractors and subcontractors just assumed here comes the owner’s wife, or the secretary,” said Fair, owner of One Source Commercial Inc. “The old adage back then was you had to work twice as hard to be thought of half as much and back then it was absolutely true. I had to start below zero and prove myself. And I did, and I was successful.”
But the influx of women into the local commercial real estate scene, including several in high-profile leadership positions, and shifts in attitudes and beliefs have helped to even the playing field in the industry, according to interviews with several women involved in commercial real estate.
“What has changed tremendously is there are a number of women in commercial real estate,” Fair said. “Now, I don’t sense a struggle.”
Today, performance – getting a tenant a better deal on a lease, efficiently solving property management problems or helping turn a profit on an investment – matters more than gender, according to Fair and others.
“When you’re in commercial real estate, or self-employed, you make or break your next meal,” Fair said. “I’m sure there are still disparities in the corporate sector with women but I certainly don’t find it in my world in commercial real estate.”
Tanis Hackmeyer of Hackmeyer Properties and president of the Memphis Area Association of Realtors Commercial Council said the biggest hurdle she faced in commercial real estate was establishing herself when she entered the profession, not any sort of gender-based obstacles.
“I’d say that the biggest obstacle was making a name for myself,” Hackmeyer said. “The commercial real estate community in Memphis is fairly small. It’s a tight-knit community and I believe the new people in the market have to prove themselves. The news travels fast, whether you do it right or wrong.”
Women occupy several prominent positions in the local commercial real estate industry. The top two leadership positions at the Commercial Council are occupied by women – Hackmeyer as president and Catherine Anderson as vice president. Katie Shotts serves as MAAR communications and Commercial Council director. Mary Sharp is the chief operating officer of CB Richard Ellis Memphis.
Sharp and other women are currently in the process of dissolving the local chapter of Commercial Real Estate Women, which was founded in 2007 and sought to provide networking opportunities and bring more women into the field of commercial real estate.
“Unfortunately, this strong core of women are committed and involved in so many other things they feel they cannot continue to lead the growth of the organization to what it should be,” Sharp said. “Based on those constraints, we reluctantly decided to disband.”
Fair was the first woman to win the Broker of the Year Award for investment sales at the Pinnacle Awards and the first woman in the state to acquire both Certified Commercial Investment Member and Certified Property Manager designations.
Fair said commercial real estate organizations like CCIM help provide women with important educational and networking opportunities.
“The designations are truly important,” Fair said. “The tools and networking opportunities within those organizations are invaluable.”