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women_top_levelA new report from the Urban Land Institute (ULI), Women in Leadership in the Real Estate and Land Use Industry, recommends strategies to help women advance to executive-level positions within the real estate industry and overcome the still-existent challenge of gender inequality.

The research, published by the ULI Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI), is based on survey responses from 1,234 female ULI members (19 percent of the institute’s female members) and focus groups of women at different levels of their real estate careers. It shows that only 14 percent of companies are currently led by a female chief executive officer. Furthermore, of the limited number of women holding the top position within their organization, 93 percent ran small companies with less than 100 employees. The survey findings run in stark contrast to the ambitions of women working within the sector, with 62 percent of respondents to the survey aspiring to hold C-level leadership positions at some point in their career.

The survey also found that, frustrated with the attempts to break through the glass ceiling in larger organizations, many women are setting up their own businesses in order to find the challenges and opportunities they are seeking. This is demonstrated by the fact that approximately one-quarter of female real estate chief executive officers in the survey were practicing as sole proprietors.

The report, which was discussed today at ULI’s Fall Meeting in San Francisco, highlights six case studies of firms with innovative programs to encourage the advancement of women: City of Dallas, EDENS, Forest City Ratner, Gensler, Prologis, and Pursley Friese Torgrimson.

The WLI research is among the first to look at the role and opportunities for women across the whole spectrum of organizations in the real estate sector, with many previous surveys being limited to larger businesses drawing upon data from S&P 500 firms.

“This survey is a great roadmap of strategies that work,” says WLI Chair Wendy Rowden, President of the 42nd Street Development Corporation in New York City. “There are a number of concrete steps that organizations can take to enable women to rise to senior positions. These include accelerating learning through job assignments, creating the right culture, and adopting a talent mindset. And it all starts with the person in the corner office being committed to making this happen.”

The research makes six clear, practical recommendations that individual organizations can adopt that, in time, will improve gender balance across the real estate industry:

  1. Accelerate Learning through Job Assignments – Organizations should think and act with an eye toward diversity when deciding who should lead high profile assignments and fill open positions. Coaching should be provided to those who take on new roles to promote learning. Companies should seek a diverse pool of talent to sponsor and mentor.
  2. Create the Culture – The research demonstrates women who place a high priority on an inclusive culture also value strong internal and external networks, objective promotion, and hiring policies/practices.
  3. Adopt a Talent Mindset – Regularly engage in talent conversations to identify a diverse pool of high- potential employees and agree on strategies to mentor and challenge.
  4. Offer Workplace Flexibility for Men and Women – Flexible hours are seen as a proxy for a trusting environment. Provide family leave for men and women and a culture that supports both genders in being involved in their lives outside of work. This is especially important for Gen X and millennial employees.
  5. Make Mentoring and Sponsorship of Women a Priority – One benefit of robust internal networks is receiving both mentorship (a sounding board and advice from someone who is not the direct supervisor) and sponsorship (advocating on the woman’s behalf to other senior leaders or in arenas where she cannot represent herself).
  6. Invest in Training to Drive Change – Support success on challenging work assignments by providing relevant training that includes men and women. Leverage training and development activities to create a strong network of relationships within the organization that carries the inclusive culture.

For more information, click here.