For female entrepreneurs to ascend the ladder of leadership, more support is needed within the industry, according to panelists at the recent Chicago Association of REALTORS®’ commercial forum. The discussion was part of the annual “Successful Women in Commercial Real Estate” series, which aims to highlight women as thought leaders and provide mentoring opportunities for aspiring professionals in the commercial field.
“Women need to collaborate and boost each other up to succeed in any industry, but especially in high-demand commercial real estate,” said Chicago association CEO Ginger Downs. “Diverse companies with more women statistically perform better. We need to promote mentorship and look at what initiatives can make an impact, like slashing the wage gap and increasing the number of women executives.” Here are some of the most important takeaways from the discussion.
- The human touch is paramount in real estate. “Disruption has been coming for more than 10 years now and still hasn’t happened,” said Constance Freedman, founder and managing partner of real estate venture capital fund Moderne Ventures. “People still want a person as an advisor or consultant.” Karin Kraai, senior managing director at commercial real estate firm Newmark Knight Frank, added that technology disruption has largely eluded the commercial space because “brokers don’t want to be disrupted.”
- Technology must meet your needs. “Question a technology provider if they will not entertain integration with other applications essential to business,” said Emily Line, vice president of commercial services at REALTORS Property Resource®. “Strong providers recognize the value in open architecture, allowing an overall easier workflow through the connection of services needed to efficiently conduct business. If they won’t share with you, they are not your friend.”
- Quality of life at work matters. Real estate companies are shifting their culture not only to attract younger talent but also to improve satisfaction among current agents and staff. “Millennials will soon be the largest demographic in the workforce, so it’s important to consider what they are looking for in a workplace and find spaces to make those dreams a reality,” Downs said. “Because so many of us live tech-heavy, fast-paced lives, we need our workplaces to be innovative and efficient.”
- Effect change by becoming part of it. “One of the most effective ways for women to establish themselves in the male-dominated tech space is by embracing opportunities to test technology offerings,” Line said. “Don’t just use a commercial real estate technology—give feedback. Become an active user.” Freedman added that getting involved in such a way also helps you build relationships with startups and companies.
- Commercial clients demand smart tech, too. There is a movement toward smart buildings in smart cities. “Buildings are becoming greener and offering more smart tech options for tenants,” Kraai said. “We are seeing a definite desire on the part of tenants and firms to have a smaller footprint.” Office buildings that can automatically adjust the space for employees are more desirable than traditional spaces, where a company must pay extra fees to turn an entire floor back on for an after-hours work session, for example.
- Women must make their presence known. In order for women to become local real estate authorities, they have to “go to the events and make the effort to get to know people,” Freedman said. “Make the calls to connect with mentors; show up and ask questions.” Though women are obvious assets to their companies, they walk a fine line in commercial real estate, Kraai added. She noted that at least 20 percent of key positions at the top 20 tech firms in the nation are held by women. “We have to be confident but not too assertive. The key is to let people know us. To be human.”
—Jacob Knabb, National Association of REALTORS®