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Building opportunities: CREW Careers offers girls a glimpse into the diverse world of commercial real estate

April 14, 2008

While one college basketball team just completed its journey to a national championship, CREW Network's women hope they're on a similar winning path-a path to scoring parity in the male-dominated field of commercial real estate.

The Commercial Real Estate Women Network is a national member organization dedicated to the advancement of women in commercial real estate. It has 66 chapters, including one in Indianapolis.

In 2005, CREW Network completed the industry's first comprehensive study of the status of women in commercial real estate. The findings documented that gender-based disparities exist in compensation levels, number of management positions held and numbers of women working in the field.

As one way to meet the challenge, CREW's national foundation introduced "CREW Careers: Building Opportunities," a program that teaches teen girls about the wide variety of jobs available within c o m m e r c i a l real estate. It is also a way to increase the visibility of women in the profession.

IndyCREW l a u n c h e d CREW Careers in March, one of 28 chapters participating this year. Local co-chairwoman Andie Friedman was inspired to help start the program after seeing a video at CREW's national convention in 2006.

The Indianapolis program will mimic what recently happened in Charlotte, N.C., where the CREW chapter had teens participate in a challenge called "This Old Building."

The chapter identified a former bank headquarters building in uptown Charlotte that had been vacant for four years. Chapter members, who work in diverse professions within commercial real estate, presented a number of different development options for the site.

"The girls gleaned information from each presentation and when they broke into groups, they created their own development ideas," said Nancy Olah, a Charlotte attorney who is national co-chairwoman for CREW Careers.

That's exactly what IndyCREW has in mind for the 48 girls participating from KIPP Indianapolis College Preparatory School, a charter school on East 30th Street. The eighth-graders attended a pre-program scavenger hunt on March 14 that involved touring several construction and renovation sites.

On April 18, the girls will meet with local women real estate professionals at the former Coca-Cola Bottling Plant on Massachusetts Avenue. They will then break into groups and present their redevelopment ideas for the property to a panel of Indianapolis business leaders.

Friedman, the local chairwoman and a director in the real estate services group of local accounting firm Katz Sapper & Miller, says the program has goals beyond commercial real estate. Besides increasing gender and ethnic diversity in the industry, the program should help boost the number of young women entering college, she says.

"We want the girls to be aware of possibilities available to them within the field of commercial real estate," she said. "But even if girls aren't interested in real estate, we want to show them what they can do with a college degree. That's Kipp's goal-to see that all of the students attend college-so that's what makes this such a great partnership."

It's also an opportunity to showcase the accessibility of real estate careers, Charlotte's Olah says. "I always tell the girls at the beginning of our program that unlike a lot of 'glamour' professions-TV, media, sports or fashion-we have lots of good, high-paying jobs with skills you can learn."

Commercial real estate jobs are found in a variety of fields that don't always have "real estate" attached to their names. Attorneys, accountants, engineers, environmentalists and bankers can all concentrate on real estate. Architects, interior designers and traffic engineers also work in the field.

Olah says CREW members are committed to making a difference in the lives of the girls and in the profession.

"We can change the face of commercial real estate within the next generation if we can get more high school and collegeage women ... exposed to these careers. They don't have to be a teacher, nurse or secretary. They have good options for well-paying jobs."
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