Atlanta commercial real estate leaders and watchers are seeing a movement of more women getting into the industry’s retail sector and in female veterans of the field mentoring its up-and-coming stars.
“I believe women working in commercial real estate, particularly in the retail sector, is a natural fit,” said Monetha Cobb, managing director, Franklin Street Real Estate Services, via email correspondence.
“According to Boston Consulting Group, women drive 70 percent of total consumer spending, and the global incomes of women are predicted to reach $18 trillion by 2018, according to global professional services firm EY,” Cobb said. “Because retail development is much less homogeneous than in years past, I believe women definitely bring a consumer-based perspective to developing and leasing strategies for retail projects.”
“We understand, we shop, we have a better perspective perhaps on how to create a shopping center in a way that gives it more appeal to the shoppers and to help figure out ways to draw shoppers in,” said Lori Kilberg, a partner at Hartman Simons & Wood LLP in the practice area of commercial real estate. She is also CREW Network’s immediate past president.
Karen Gibler, associate professor in the Department of Real estate at Georgia State University’s J. Mack Robinson College of Business, has taught for 25 years and has seen women’s interest in the field grow. She said in 2015, 50 percent of the graduates in the school’s Master of Science in Real Estate program were female.
“That’s larger than we have experience in previous decades,” Gibler said. “It shows we have more females that are moving into mid-level manager positions, more leadership positions, where they require an advanced degree.”
Although the gap is narrowing, there are still some notable disparities between men and women in the field. According to CREW Network’s 2015 Benchmark Study Report on Women in Commercial Real Estate, median total annual compensation, which includes bonuses, compensation and profit sharing, came to $150,000 for men and $115,000 for women in commercial real estate.
“This income gap of 23.3 percent demonstrates that North America still has a long way to go to achieve gender wage parity,” the report said.
It also found that there are still more men than women in C-suite positions – 17 percent of men surveyed compared to 9 percent of women.
“While consistent with the previous study results, the relative difference is shrinking,” the study said. “Women in the commercial real estate are closer to the C-suite than ever. More senior-level or higher roles were filled by women, with the exception of brokerage/sales/leasing, in 2015.”
Tonya Creekmore, principal of Retail Advisory Services at Avision Young, is seeing progress.
“In general I do see more women in C-suite level positions,” she said. “It wasn’t easy for owmen to excel 15 to 20 years ago because the pool of talent was smaller, but I think all of htat has changed.”
Current trends in the retail sector are challenging men and women in the industry to think creatively to draw customers in, away from their laptops and mobile devices.
“I think retail is definitely going through an evolution and a revolution,” Kilberg said, adding that one of the big buzzwords these days is “omni channeling,” which involves creating a seamless customer shopping experience, whether in the store or over the Internet.
“The other big trend is experiential retail: How do you get people from behind their computers to physically go to the stores? Here is a great opportunity for landlords and retailers to create an experience at the shopping center,” Kilberg said. “There are so many way to do it. There’s another buzzword for that: creative place making. That’s what can’t do when you’re at your computer. A lot of landlords are looking at bringing the cultural events, bringing wine and cheese tasting, performance art. Think of Atlantic Station. Think about what’s happening at Avalon. There are different things to draw people to the shopping center.”
The sector must be willing to try new approaches, because today’s retail can’t afford to be one-size-fits-all.
“There is still a lot of uncertainty around bricks-and-mortar retailers as e-commerce continues to evolve what should a retail store look and feel like. There is a variation among size, layout, and product type by market, Cobb said. “Additionally, there is continued demand from consumers for a retailer to be memorable through the creation of an experience when you shop there, whether it’s online or in-store. The way in which today’s consumers want to spend their time and money has led shopping centers to become a gathering place and more of an entertainment destination versus just a shopping experience.”
Guidance and mentorship
The commercial real estate industry in Atlanta is also seeing more seasoned female executives taking on mentoring roles.
“I don’t see an increase in mentors entering the commercial real estate realm, but there are more senior women in the industry who are offering their guidance and mentorship because the industry is at a point where it contains women with tenure,” Cobb said. “I also believe Gen Y, who greatly benefited from having mentors, is likely to pay it forward. I see the benefit of helping women playing an increasing role in commercial real estate, and several organizations are creating amazing initiatives, like CREW’s mentorship program, to help create mentorship opportunities for women.”
Some have also noted more of an exchange between both genders in mentor-mentee relationships.
“What I’m seeing with students and alumni and my connections in the industry is maybe we’ve reached a critical mass,” Gibler said. “Maybe there’s been a shift int he social fabric in terms of what’s been considered acceptable. Men can be mentors to women and women can be mentors to men. I can definitely say during my career, opportunities for women have definitely improved. Support and mentoring from both men and women in the industry has seen the greatest improvement.”
Creekmore said she’s been fortunate to have mentors of both genders in her career. That could be the norm for others, particularly young college graduates coming to the industry without gender bias. “I’m hoping as they go forward it will help the parity issue,” she said.