This Nearly All-Woman Team Is Making History in the Bay Area
Despite widespread gender inequality across the commercial real estate (CRE) industry, a team of powerful women is building up a record-breaking project in the Bay Area. From developers to community engagement professionals, women are almost single-handedly steering this $1 billion megaproject, a rare win for female CRE professionals everywhere.
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 37.0% within the last 15 years. The disparity is even more apparent in C-suites, where women hold only 9.0% of positions. At the highest levels of leadership, there is also a fixed salary gap of 10.2%, and a commission and bonus gap of 55.9% between genders. With a tumultuous history of exclusion, it’s safe to say that the commercial real estate industry has much work to do in the pursuit of equality.
How Women Are Fighting Back
The $1 billion 5M commercial development, featuring a 25-story office building and over 800 homes, is one shining example of progress. Development Director Swathi Bonda calls the project a “consistent through line of women's leadership, from the point of starting entitlements, up until now.” Bonda recognized the initiative as a stepping stone in the industry’s push for diversity. “If you think about the 5M project team itself... Even though individual team members have fluctuated over time, there’s always been a consistent women’s presence really driving and shaping the project," she said.
The team consists of women from all facets of CRE, including “Brookfield Properties Community Engagement Manager Juslyn Manalo; Alma Jauregui, associate principal at House & Robertson Architects, the executive architect for the office portion; and Sitelab urban studio principal Laura Crescimano, whose firm designed the master plan for the project.” Together, their leadership could make history.
Advice for Women in Commercial Real Estate
While the industry stats may seem bleak, members of the team had some sage advice for women in CRE and beyond. First and foremost, develop a community you can trust and within which you can feel comfortable. "Surrounding yourself with that network of people has been such an eye-opener, and it gives you that community to push forward and change things," Jauregui said.
Manolo, who manages community engagement, emphasized working closely with diverse local communities. “My experience with... the 5M team has really shown how development could be different as far as engaging with the local community," she said. Bonda echoed inviting others to the table for a nuanced and inclusive conversation. "As opposed to like a ‘who, what, where, when, how,’ we also have this idea of ‘who else’... who else can we extend opportunity to through this project to be able to make this a platform of change?" Bonda said.
Finally, the team emphasized supporting and uplifting one another and the women who will come after them. “I think so many of us individually are used to walking into a room and having us be the only person like us, and I think with that, you really try to find ways to be able to open the door and to be able to build a connection for other people who feel that same way," Bonda said. "You really empathize with people who feel sidelined by development or feel like they’re not necessarily at the outset welcome in the room." Crescimano agreed, stating that “it takes proactivity. We each do something as individuals to invite others in and to look beyond people that are just like us."