After ages of institutional disadvantages, women today are quickly gaining power in the workplace. Time and again, they’ve proven their worth in academic and professional settings, and in all tiers of business have made clear the importance of female representation — leadership included.
When I began as a secretary in the 1970s, I was among a minority of women in the real estate industry. With hard work and luck, however, I was able to climb the corporate ladder and build a successful business from scratch, forging the way for a new generation of female entrepreneurs.
The environment in which I did that — New York City — has always been a progressive microcosm. Here, where the country’s best-paid family-leave law was just passed, some of the nation’s finest female leaders and entrepreneurs are flourishing, thanks to a combination of ambition and diversity and growing cultural support for equality.
Still, as a born and bred New Yorker, I admit that the rest of the country remains a bit of an enigma to me. In fact, I have come to realize that my own success in the real estate industry may be an outlier. According to a survey of female members of the Urban Land Institute (ULI), a multidisciplinary real estate organization with more than 37,000 members, there exists a deficit of women in our industry’s executive roles.
Women in real estate
My wish is for all women to have the opportunity to advance in the workspace if they have the talent and desire. But, according to ULI’s survey, there is still a clear gender imbalance, especially when it comes to leadership.
The survey found that women make up about 25 percent of ULI members but represent just 14 percent of CEOs. Female leaders are also more likely to be at the helm of smaller firms than larger ones. ULI speculates that this is likely because roadblocks in larger organizations box them out of senior roles, leading them to either start their own businesses or leave for smaller firms where less bureaucracy prevents their advancement.
Fortunately, the women surveyed displayed great optimism about their careers: 70 percent said they felt they were on track in their career advancement, or else were moving even more rapidly ahead than expected.
Supporting women’s career growth
Clearly, women in real estate are ambitious, talented and hungry for advancement: Roughly 68 percent of those surveyed said they aspired to hold executive positions in their companies or own their own business. In New York City, I’ve found, conditions are right to encourage such female success.
But the fact is that many women still face obstacles in seeing their ambitions come to fruition. That is why I believe we need the right support to develop their talent, to carry them forward unhindered by “gender” limitations.
ULI makes some astute suggestions for real estate companies to help women in the industry not just succeed, but earn positions at the top of the totem pole. Here’s what they propose:
One of the most important requests by women surveyed was the provision of visible and challenging assignments to accelerate on-the-job learning. When high-profile assignments and job openings arise, organizations should think and act with an eye toward both talent and diversity, then challenge those with potential.
Giving female employees responsibility and testing their ability to act under pressure opens doors for those that might not be obvious choices, giving them the chance prove their worth and exercise their skills.
Another important factor is an inclusive workplace culture, within which both men and women have the tools to succeed. Inclusivity starts from the top, with leaders taking actions to include women as mentees and to demand the same quality from all, regardless of gender.
Already, many millennial women report being paid and treated as equals with their male counterparts. Since mid-career women are more likely to report their careers stalling, it is imperative that this culture extend to women of all ages.
According to women in the industry, having managers who coach them on the job is more beneficial than formal female leadership programs. Programs as stand-off interventions — while potentially helpful — aren’t considered as important to career growth as internal attitude and mentorship.
For example, a senior-level executive advocating for a woman goes much further than a simple HR training session. Managers should practice objective hiring and mentorship to challenge those with raw skills and ability.
Flexibility for all
The ULI survey found that the women surveyed indicated workplace flexibility as a sign of trust by senior leadership. These women wanted to be trusted with flexible working hours while also being measured on results; in the survey, this goal was even more important than family leave.
Work flexibility allows both women and men to dictate their own schedules, to optimize work time and family time without sacrificing quality in either. As long as these offerings don’t put an undue burden on other colleagues or lower the performance bar, those able to take advantage of it will have ample room to thrive.
Internal mentorship can be crucial in allowing women to hone their leadership skills.. But challenges persist in regards to gender dynamics that may impede coaching’s efficacy: For example, a male superior may feel uncomfortable critiquing or bonding with a female inferior, and vice versa.
Women may want to turn to female superiors, then, for advice. But as long as men occupy leadership roles, they shouldn’t hold back from offering support. Organizations can also offer women the opportunity to form external networks fostering professional relationships with men and women outside their firm. Both outsiders and insiders can become future work connections and provide valuable feedback to working women.
Women in the real estate industry have reason to be both optimistic about and hopeful for the future. Progress comes when culture shifts, equity is sought,and respect is earned; every year, more women are earning advancements due to organic change. I’ve witnessed this first-hand, and am confident that women around the country are capable of the same success.
Is there more to accomplish? Certainly, which is why ULI’s suggestions should be used as guidelines to accelerate the processes.
Overall, the macro trend is one of rising inclusivity and equality. So long as industry leaders continue to push forward and prioritize the elements that help women excel, I believe talented female leaders will emerge to both earn and flourish in executive positions. Take a leaf out of New York City’s book — trust me, it makes a difference.