A Long Way to Go

CREW's latest benchmark study finds diversity, equity and inclusion progress stalled

By Wendy Mann, CAE

For all the ink spilled over the importance of diversity, it seems that the commercial real estate industry still remains behind the curve. Earlier this year, the Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) Network released its 2020 Benchmark Study measuring progress for women over the past five years and benchmarking diversity in commercial real estate. The research, conducted by the MIT Center for Real Estate, indicates that collective efforts to achieve parity in the industry are far from complete. In fact, very little progress has been made since CREW Network‘s first study 15 years ago.

A total of 2,930 global industry professionals across all commercial real estate sectors participated in the study in early 2020, a 34 percent overall increase from 2015. The findings offer actionable insights that can guide companies looking to promote greater diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

Good News, Bad News

The study findings did include some bright spots. It saw a 5.4 percent increase in women respondents 39 years old and younger, indicating a growing generation of young and emerging women professionals in the industry. In addition, more women occupy brokerage positions than ever before (29 percent), a 6 percent increase from 2015. What’s more, in a few measures, women in the property management arena fare better than many of their counterparts in other disciplines.

However, the industry continues to see a lack of progress in critical areas. For instance, women occupy only 37 percent of the commercial real estate industry, and this percentage has not changed much over the past 15 years. Further, only 16 percent of respondents reported that 25 percent or more of the professionals in their workplace are Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC). However, more than half of respondents reported a cultural shift regarding DEI—due mostly to mandates from leadership and external pressures from the industry. And, women still hold 9 percent of C-suite positions, and the fixed salary gap between genders is 10 percent.

Money Talks

Consistent with the past three studies, the 2020 study finds a substantial compensation gap between women and men. Overall, the difference in total average earnings (salaries, bonuses and commission combined) across genders in 2020 is 34 percent—a nearly 11 percent increase from 2015.

The average fixed base salary in commercial real estate in 2020 is $112,290 (USD) for men and $100,802 for women. The 10.2 percent salary gap means that, on average, women make 90 cents for every dollar that men earn in fixed salaries. For Black, Asian and Hispanic/Latinx women, the salary gap is wider. Black women make 85 cents, Asian women make 86 cents and Hispanic/Latinx women make 80 cents for every dollar that men earn.

With regard to commissions and bonuses, the gender gap is much wider across all sectors. White women earn 51 percent less, Black women earn 71 percent less, Asian women earn 73 percent less and Hispanic/Latinx women earn 74 percent less than their male counterparts.

The average entry-level compensation in commercial real estate is $62,828 for women and $70,294 for men. This 9 percent gap is wider than in 2015 when entry-level compensation was nearly level. As in previous studies, the overall compensation gap (with bonuses and commissions) is the widest in the C-suite at 33 percent, a 3 percent increase from the 2015 study.

Some factors may be related to gender bias in hiring or disparities in commission-sharing arrangements. In other words, women may not be getting access to high-profile clients or the most profitable projects and deals.

Few Cracks in the Ceiling

Twenty-two percent of male respondents occupy the C-suite (a 5 percent increase from 2015) versus 9 percent of women, the same number from both the 2010 and 2015 studies. In senior vice president, managing director and partner-level positions, the percentage of women decreased in the past five years from 27 percent to 22 percent, while the percentage of women at the senior level remained the same at 33 percent. The study saw a greater proportion of women at the entry- and mid-levels (1 and 5 percent increases, respectively).

Forty-three percent of men and 32 percent of women aspire to reach the C-suite. Women’s career satisfaction and perceptions of success decreased across all industry specializations in 2020, while men’s perception of success has continued to increase since 2010. Similarly, the percentage of women who reported being very satisfied with the level of success achieved in their careers had remained relatively stable in the prior three studies, but has decreased in 2020.

When it comes to property management, in particular, men in the study represented 18 percent of the C-suite, while women represented only 7 percent. How do these numbers translate to property management as a whole?

Property Management Deep Dive

Property managers were well-represented in the 2020 study, with 11 percent of respondents indicating property management as their primary specialization. Fifteen percent of property managers identified as BIPOC. Industry experience was equal between men and women, with an average of 18 years.

Property management leads the way in several areas of the benchmark study. For example, women occupy 48 percent of property management positions, 11 percentage points higher than the 37 percent industry average. Twenty-one percent of property management professionals consider their workplaces to be diverse (25 percent or more are BIPOC), which is 5 percentage points higher than the 16 percent industry average. The average fixed base salary in property management is $109,536 (USD) for men and $105,545 for women—a 3.6 percent gap, which is well below the 10.2 percent industry average. But, women average $39,377 in commission and bonuses annually, while men report $74,981.

Action Leads to Change

To state the obvious, commercial real estate has historically been a predominately male profession. CREW Network’s various research initiatives exploring such issues as diversity, pay parity, unconscious bias and more show that the industry is finally starting to recognize the business benefits of diversity based on gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation. As more companies prioritize recruiting, retaining and advancing women, the needle will move, resulting in faster progress.

While the lack of progress for women in commercial real estate is disappointing, the extreme disparity in compensation for women of color in this industry is especially concerning. The industry has to do better, and it starts by recognizing that women of color face unique and often systemic barriers.

The research reinforces the fact that the industry must take intentional action to recruit, retain and advance diverse talent. Companies that prioritize diversity are outperforming others, including greater earnings, better governance, greater innovation and more opportunity. To increase DEI in commercial real estate, CREW Network is calling on industry leaders to understand the issues presented in this benchmark study and take action to resolve them as a business imperative, such as:

  1. Greater DEI starts at the very top of your organization. Leaders and stakeholders must be invested and involved.
  2. Be honest about unconscious bias in your hiring, promoting, assignment of challenging projects and inclusion in high-profile client relationship development. Acknowledge that BIPOC face a different set of barriers to advancement than women, especially white women. Hire an external consultant to recognize gaps, barriers and unconscious bias; take action to overcome it; and put accountability measures in place.
  3. Conduct employee pay-equity tests regularly to identify disparities in compensation by gender and race. It is only through fact-based analysis of all forms of compensation that employers can truly know if, and where, pay gaps exist.
  4. Intentionally recruit a diverse workforce. Partner with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and organizations, such as CREW Network, the Real Estate Executive Council (REEC) and the Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA), to seek out diverse talent.
  5. Partner with industry associations, such as CREW Network and BOMA International, to help drive the conversation forward. Their initiatives help create a more diverse talent pipeline and support critical research. They also develop enriching industry education and provide leadership development and advancement opportunities for women, BIPOC and other historically underrepresented groups.

Gender parity and greater diversity, equity and inclusion are important investments for companies, employees and the future of our industry to remain a competitive and attractive career choice. Don’t be left behind.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Wendy Mann is CEO of CREW Network, a global business network and the leading producer of research on gender and diversity in the industry.