Minding the Gap

Women in real estate brokerage need to be proactive in advancing their careers and job one is learning to negotiate, starting with their own salaries. So said Tine Essegian, vice president of Terranomics Retail Services in Burlingame, Calif., when she spoke to Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) in Reno a few days ago.

CREW Network surveyed 1,800 members in 18 chapters nationwide to determine the extent of gender disparity in pay and to learn the reasons why.

The final report, "Minding the Gap," disclosed these central findings:

* While management barriers exist, discrimination is not solely to blame.

* A general lack of awareness contributes to the pay gap.

* Women must learn negotiation and risk assessment skills.

Barriers erected by company management hinge not on malice, but on comfort men and women both prefer to manage people of their own gender, the report found. However, because commercial brokerage began as a male-dominated field, the situation continues, as male managers tend to select other men for high-profile work.

The solution, says the report, requires companies to form mixed-gender teams. And even go a step further: proactively seek opportunities to demonstrate women's leadership capabilities.

But money remains the subject nobody wants to talk about.

The elephant in the living room, said CREW co-presenter Anne Stedler, is compensation. "The bottom line is that women will accept less than will men."

That's especially true in the pay range above $150,000, says the study. Women tend to choose salaried positions because a guaranteed wage is safe, whereas a commission-based job involves risk.

And the report says women in commercial real estate receive less pay because they fail to ask and negotiate for more.

The reason? "Women tend to be far more risk adverse and less self-confident than men with respect to both compensation and career choices," says the report. To win the top spots and top money, women must become comfortable managing risk."

Women should embrace commission-only positions, says Essgian, and invest their own money in the company. Then they should develop a niche expertise to add value to the firm.

A company, in turn, can proactively create an inclusive culture via carrot and stick financial rewards for those who succeed and a disciplinary process for those who fail.

Working on commission is one way to level the playing field, says Aiman Noursoultanova, vice president of the investment properties group at CB Richard Ellis in Reno.

Working in teams is another.

The best teams, says Andie Wilson, an associate and principal at Coldwell Banker Commercial Premier Brokers in Carson City, are assembled not only of women and men, but of people with very different characteristics.

"When meeting with clients, we typically find that the client will naturally gravitate to one or the other of us, maybe because they feel more comfortable with a man or a woman, maybe because their style is more laid back or more energetic. Just as we all meet people who we hit it off with or not, so will a client."

Team members can learn from one another.

Women sometimes tend to want to bend or accommodate all parties, even those on the other side of the deal, which is not always beneficial to the client, says Wilson, adding, "The first step toward correcting that tendency is to become aware of it."

A team can also expand expertise, says Angie Smith, a commercial agent with Sperry Van Ness Gold Dust Commercial Properties in Carson City.

"Our company promotes working in teams of two to four, depending on skills needed," Smith says.

Among those skills is the art of negotiation.

"Negotiation skills are built on a foundation of self-confidence and self worth," says Smith.

Achieving the Certified Commercial Investment Member designation is one way to enter negotiations from a position of strength, adds Wilson.

"Education is crucial," she says, and recommends classes such as those on negotiation techniques offered by CREW at its national conventions.

Adds Noursoultanova, "Achieve an advanced degree. Do whatever makes you an expert in your field. Be no less qualified than your male counterparts."

Another way to learn such skills are through chamber of commerce leadership programs, says Smith.

But also important, she adds, is setting clear goals, such as a $1 million benchmark earnings figure and that takes strong negotiation skills.


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