Breaking the glass ceiling: Despite gains, commercial real estate field still dominated by men

Keywords Real Estate
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As a business student at IUPUI in the late 1980s, Jill M. Herron worked part-time as a leasing agent for a commercial real estate company to earn extra money.

She had no idea that her parttime job would turn into a lifetime career.

“I fell into it by accident,” Herron said. “But I found I liked the diversity of the job, the opportunity to meet different types of people and the challenges of meeting a client’s goals.”

Now a vice president in property and asset management for Flaherty & Collin Properties in Indianapolis, Herron directs eight
regional property managers and their employee teams. She is a leader in a field still dominated by men.

And she isn’t alone. Women have made great inroads in the commercial real estate market, according to findings of a recent
comprehensive study of women in the field. The Women in Commercial Real Estate Survey 2005 showed that women now comprise 36 percent of professionals in commercial real estate, up from 32 percent five years ago. In spite of gains, few have positions higher than vice president and even fewer are brokers.

By comparison, women make up more than half of residential brokers, according to the National Association of Realtors.

The study was underwritten by Commercial Real Estate Women, or the CREW Network, a national organization based in Lawrence,
Kan., with about 6,000 members. The group was founded in the early 1990s with about 1,000 members.

“The organization was formed so we could help each other through networking, promoting professional development, and other opportunities,” said Mary Beth Kohart, 36, second vice president and principal of St. Louis-based Colliers Turley Martin Tucker in Indianapolis and outgoing president of the Indi
anapolis Chapter of Commercial Real Estate Women.

Jeffrey D. Fisher, an Indiana University professor in real estate and director of the IU Center for Real Estate Studies in Bloomington, said 10 out of 60 seniors in his real estate program are
women, more than in the past.

“I think this parallels with more women getting into business,” Fisher said. “Organizations like CREW help make more women aware of the opportunities in commercial real estate.”

He said companies that recruit for real estate professionals at IU don’t specify if they want a woman or a man. “They are looking for good people,” he said.

“I don’t recommend any specific area of real estate because it is more important to match someone’s personality with a job,” Fisher said. “For example, a successful

broker is someone who is very people oriented and an appraiser is someone who often is analytical in their thinking.”

Making their mark on the industry

Nationally, women are starting to make a mark in commercial real estate. Last year, women were the top two producers at one of the country’s largest firms.

Tara Stacom, 46, an executive vice president for Cushman & Wakefield Inc. in New York City, was the top-producing broker in the world for the firm. Audrey Cramer, 55,
the firm’s vice chairwoman based in Washington, D.C., came in second.

Indianapolis might not have the same commercial real estate market as New York City, but Kohart says there still is plenty to keep her busy here.

“There is a fair amount of opportunity, but you must find that opportunity,” Kohart said. She has received numerous awards, including the “Rising Star Award” recognizing excellence in sales production for CTMT, and was named as one of Duke Realty Corp.’s “Top 10 Industrial Brokers” in 2002 when she worked for the company.

Kohart said one reason there are so few women in the field is because they have few female role models, therefore women don’t think about careers in commercial real estate. Her father, who ran a commercial real estate office in Fort Wayne, encouraged her to enter commercial appraising.

“I followed his advice,” said Kohart, who graduated from Indiana University in 1992 with a major in finance. “After I graduated, I returned to Fort Wayne and
worked in the field and I came to Indianapolis in ’99.”

Being successful in commercial real estate requires the same skills to succeed in any field, according to Kohart.

“You need to be tenacious, strategic, able to change and adjust, [and have] a commitment to excellence and a good understanding of the industry,” she said. “Commercial real estate companies don’t place want ads for brokers-you have to study the market and decide where you want to go and what you want to do.”

While successful in her chosen career, Kohart says it is important to maintain a balance between family, work and community.

“I try to keep work at work and home at
home,” she said.

Herron, 36, a Louisville native, also found the Indianapolis market strong for commercial real estate.

Success in the field of commercial real estate requires an understanding of what the client wants and educating yourself about the market.

“It has been a male-dominated field,” Herron said, “but that should not stop anyone from wanting to enter it.”

Herron’s goals for the future? “For now I want to continue to help Flaherty & Collins grow and develop, but I would like to be a president or CEO of a commer
cial real estate company in the future.”

Finding a balance between work and home is also important for Herron, who is married and has two daughters, age 9 and 5.

“I have a very supportive home life and my daughters understand that Mommy has to work, and through that they understand hard work,” she said. “But we still have quality family time, and I bring them to my office so they can see where I work and sometimes they travel with me on a long work weekend.”

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