Women make small advances in commercial firms

, Daily Business Review

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Constance Moore, chief executive officer of apartment owner BRE Properties Inc., remembers it was almost all men in the office when she started with the company after graduating from college in 1977.

For her first job, as an investment analyst, she asked a tailor to make her traditional business suits because when she made presentations to the board, she didn't want them to view her as simply young and female — like their granddaughters.

"I didn't want to be a novelty," Moore, 57, said in a telephone interview. Now, while there are "certainly a lot more" women working in commercial real estate, it's "not as many as you'd like after 35 years."

Moore has little company. After a year in which two women were named to lead U.S. real estate investment trusts, their gender is still under-represented in the top ranks at commercial-property firms, said Ada Healey, who heads the real estate arm of billionaire Paul Allen's Vulcan Inc. When one of the two, Marguerite Nader, takes over as CEO of Equity Lifestyle Properties Inc. next month, five of the 157 companies in REIT indexes compiled by Bloomberg will be run by women.

In the five years through 2010, the share of commercial real estate professionals who are women climbed to 43 percent from 36 percent, according to a survey by CREW Network, an advocacy group. Only 9 percent of female respondents said they held the positions of president, chief executive, chief financial officer or chief operating officer, while 22 percent of male respondents had those jobs. Three times as many men reported earning at least $250,000 in 2010.

Male-Dominated

Among Fortune 500 companies, females held 14 percent of executive officer positions in 2012, according to Catalyst, a nonprofit researcher studying women and business.

"At its core, real estate is a construction business," Healey, who is based in Seattle, said in an interview. "Construction has traditionally been more male-dominated."

Historically, real estate was a family enterprise that sons often joined while daughters typically didn't, according to Rosemary Scanlon, dean of New York University's Schack Institute of Real Estate.

The gender gap is shrinking at the school, suggesting that more women will be in position to enter the field and advance, she said. About 30 percent of the program's graduate students are women, up from a decade ago when Schack was "struggling to reach 10 percent" female students, Scanlon said.

"This is an industry that's growing up," she said. "They feel now they can carve out a good role for themselves in the future."

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