One CRE company’s success in creating a gender-balanced leadership team has spawned a broader movement.
ONE ONLY HAS to read the latest industry reports or look at the cover of any real estate periodical to see that the commercial real estate industry, like many others, has a gender diversity problem. I’ll be honest; I really didn’t notice it for most of my career.
My wake-up call came a few years ago during Sperry Van Ness’s national conference. Despite the fact that, historically, some of the highest performers in our company have been women and minorities, as I looked at the audience, I realized that I was speaking with a sea of people who look like me. Nearly all were men. Nearly all were white.
That’s when it hit me. I realized that we didn’t need more token women and minorities to fill seats in our audience, but that we did need to be intentional in eliminating bias throughout our company in order to do better business.
Business demographics are changing around the globe. Commercial real estate needs to better represent our changing client base in order to better represent those clients in the market. We need to recruit and develop leaders from 100 percent of the population, not just the 50 percent who are men. This is our industry’s chance to do well while doing good business. It is what we at Sperry Van Ness (SVN) view as our contribution to “conscious capitalism.”
Naysayers will lament that this is an insurmountable task for an industry in which 90 percent of the leadership roles are currently filled by white males. Or they may say that there is no pipeline toward leadership for women and minorities — a common cop-out. But it’s not impossible. In the past three years, we at SVN have diversified not only our executive leadership team, but also our board of directors, with qualified, experienced individuals. This work has brought diversity of thought to our company, which in turn has resulted in record growth and expansion.
In summer 2012, SVN set a goal of achieving diversity and gender balance across the board by 2020. Since then, our C-suite has become balanced, with 50 percent men and 50 percent women. Our statutory board of directors is now 60 percent women. We are also working to provide opportunities, within our agent base, for those who are underrepresented in commercial real estate. We have seen an increase in the number of women and minority agents at some of our larger offices.
Having one or two token women at each level is not enough. We found that we needed enough women in leadership positions so they are empowered to speak out. Women executives at SVN were able to point out that our advertisements were “straight out of 2004,” with no women or minorities represented. They educated us about how subtle things that we subconsciously did gave the impression that women and their opinions weren’t welcome in the industry. I’m still learning from them.
More importantly, we are finding that our focus on gender equality is having a marked trickle-down effect on our franchisees. There, SVN business owners are now hiring more women and minorities, and their own businesses are benefiting.
This experience has led me to co-found 5050x2020, a campaign seeking to establish gender balance in leadership roles by the year 2020. Simply put, we saw the value in having a diverse and talented team, and hope that other organizations will also embrace this concept.
Through 5050x2020, other leaders and companies can pledge that they are “in favor of creating a better world by achieving a healthy gender balance in leadership by 2020.” I would like others to realize that gender-balanced leadership is not only the right thing to do, but also the financially sustainable thing to do.
For more information:
“Awakening the American Dream,” TEDxOrange Coast, November 2013