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Powerful MN Women in Real Estate: “Don't Call Us 'Girls’”
March 1, 2021

Powerful MN Women in Real Estate: “Don't Call Us 'Girls’”

by The CE Shop Team

Prominent Women in MN Commercial Real Estate Reflect and Offer Advice

In September 2020, some of the most powerful women in Minnesota real estate gathered to share advice, reflections, and insight on the industry at the Minnesota Women in Real Estate Summit. The event focused on commercial real estate (CRE) and detailed the progress these women have made as well as the remaining work to be done in the fight for gender equality. Despite men holding most of the commercial real estate positions across the state, a growing number of women are trailblazing careers and leadership positions within the industry. Here are some of the most impactful takeaways and advice from a powerful panel of female leaders.

History of Women in Commercial Real Estate

While women now make up the majority of residential real estate agents nationwide, commercial real estate remains largely male-dominated. As of September 2020, women comprised only 36.7% of the entire CRE industry. Furthermore, this figure has not exceeded 37% within the last 15 years. With a tumultuous history of exclusion, the commercial real estate industry has much work to do in the pursuit of equality. “There are barriers for women in real estate,” said Sonja Dusil, senior vice president at CBRE. “But there are opportunities for women, too. How do you break through those barriers? My belief is that it is about advocating for yourself and those people around you whom you believe in. It sounds easy and simple. But, of course, it isn’t.”

The Daunting Numbers Women in Commercial Real Estate Face

Anne Olson, chief operating officer at IRET, offered even more troubling statistics. As of September 2020, only 26% of S&P 500 board seats were held by women, despite 38 consecutive years of women outnumbering men when it comes to college graduation rates. Olson also highlighted the stagnant 36.7% of jobs awarded to women within commercial real estate and clarified that women are even further underrepresented in leadership positions within the industry. “There are not enough women or people of color when it comes to the highest executive levels,” Olson said. “Are we moving the needle? Yes. But we are doing it slowly. It would take 23 years to achieve parity at the pace we are on right now.”

Advice for Women in Commercial Real Estate

While the numbers may seem bleak, these leaders offered some sage advice to attendees. Mary Burnton, managing director at Newmark Knight Frank, suggested women look to those who came before them. When paying tribute to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Burnton stressed that “she was a pioneer. She was fearless. She was resistant.” Women today, in commercial real estate and beyond, can achieve more than they ever thought possible by exhibiting these same traits. Burnton also suggested cultivating a willingness to take risks, fighting against a lifetime of socialization for some women. “Girls are socialized to be less risky,” she said. “Study after study proves that. It’s how we are raised. Little girls are told to be careful on the playground. Little boys? We think it’s great when they show off and take risks on the playground. Little girls are taught not to question authority. When a boy does it, we think it’s awesome.”

Dusil also stressed the importance of a concrete career plan, highlighting two- or three-year goals for women in commercial real estate. “Make that plan and write it down,” Dusil said. “It won’t go the way you want it to 100%. But at least you are being thoughtful. I have been in this business for more than 20 years now. I regret not being more thoughtful of where I wanted to go in the industry.” Dusil also recommended seeking out a trusted mentor or, if you’re an experienced CRE professional, a mentee. “Your mentor doesn’t have to be a woman. I have a mentee who is a man and a mentor who is a man. I have several women mentees. I’ve found that I gain as much from my mentees as I do from my mentors,” Dusil said.

Finally, Burnton offered a little advice that anyone and everyone can use: Don’t call your female peers, or any professional woman for that matter, a “girl”. “A friend taught me the importance of calling women ‘women’ and not addressing them as ‘girls,’” Burnton said. “Once you are 18, you are no longer a girl. You are a woman. We are respected as women, not as girls. We are not calling the men in the office ‘boys.’ I implore you to use the word ‘women’ and not ‘girls.’” Language matters, and, if we’re trying to get more women into commercial real estate, it makes sense to start by referring to them as such.

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