"In commercial real estate, the COVID-19 pandemic presented new challenges for women and stalled their progress in the industry. Yet it also presented new opportunities to change the industry culture and remove persistent workplace barriers.”
Thus began a commentary on the CREW Network’s website, summarizing the findings of its study, A Catalyst for Change: COVID-19’s Impact on Women in Commercial Real Estate. SIOR is proud to have joined CREW Network's CRE Pledge for Action to support the advancement of women in the commercial real estate industry, and is listening closely to what women in the study had to say,
Within that study, the following data points can be pointed out:
- Of those who left their jobs, 78% were forced to leave
- 54% said that they missed out on deals in 2020
- 23% said their compensation decreased
- 38% believe the pandemic stalled progress for women
- 50% said their career priorities have changed
- 74% said their personal priorities have changed
What the survey also revealed were a number of other impacts COVID-19 has had in the CRE workplace, such as:
- 70% of companies created new employee work policies
as a result of the pandemic
- 68% of employees favor flexible work arrangements
- 50% of employees believe their companies will continue
to offer increased work flexibility post-pandemic
- 17% of employees will actively seek to work for a company that has flexible work arrangements
“While half of the CRE professionals surveyed said that their career priorities changed as a result of the pandemic, 9 out of 10 women said their personal priorities changed. Hundreds of survey comments cited the immediate need for better work/life balance, a stronger focus on self-care and mental health, and more flexible work arrangements,” noted the CREW column.
A couple of distinctions should be pointed out. First, CREW did not indicate how many of these women were working mothers—women who faced the greatest challenges during COVID-19—or how many respondents were SIORs—real estate professionals with a number of successful years as their foundation, and the expertise that comes with the SIOR designation. And, as with all such surveys, the findings are global, and situations can differ dramatically from individual to individual.
"The flexibility afforded in the commercial real estate profession made it easier to handle even the toughest challenges."
“I’m sure it was different for everyone, and for some women, if they were caregivers or majority caregivers, they had to adjust to COVID and work with it,” notes Laurie Tylenda, SIOR, associate broker with CBRE | Albany in Albany, N.Y.
For Casey Flannery, SIOR Member Associate, senior associate with Foundry Commercial in Nashville, “This has been my best year ever so far.”
But Kristi Svec Simmons, SIOR, first vice president at CBRE in Austin, Texas, paints a less rosy picture. “Based on feedback from clients and co-workers at that time, it seemed that working mothers felt the extra challenges,” she says. “We found ourselves trying to get ‘zoom school’ for our children ready before our day could even start. When you have two adults and multiple children in the home and everyone is trying to listen to someone on the computer screen, it made for a challenging day. We became the IT department, the nurse, the part-time teacher, the head of the cafeteria, etc.—plus our full-time career. There were many days I felt like I failed.”
But all agreed that the flexibility afforded in the commercial real estate profession made it easier to handle even the toughest challenges.
HOW SIORS ADAPTED
“Nothing was perfect, but establishing the guidelines of a workday helped tremendously,” says Simmons, sharing her COVID-coping strategies. “It was easy to get off-track when everyone was in a corner of the house working; I tried to schedule my meetings around their breaks—so when the children had a break, so did I.”
She remembers one specific break when she took the kids to the Westlake High track to get some exercise. “We ended up throwing the ball with Sam Ehlinger (UT/NFL quarterback). It was a memorable school day! It was also a challenge to stop your day. During the height of COVID, it felt like your days would just go into the night. Within a few months, we had to put a stop to that; it was not healthy for anyone in the family.”
Simmons asserts that the childcare role definitely played a bit more heavily on women.
“I would laugh, because even though my husband and I were both working from home, there were many times the kids did not want to ‘bother Daddy,’ even though we were both on a call!” she shares.
“My daughter was in college, so I didn’t have a young child to take care of,” adds Tylenda. “Certainly, I talked with her more frequently and made sure she was okay on a daily basis, but by no means would I compare it to someone taking care of young children and their education.” For her individually, however, she didn’t feel things were tougher for her as a woman, “Because I was at the point where things still worked well for me. I can’t think of instances where it impacted me differently because I was a woman.”
“On the brokerage side of the business, it’s a pretty flexible job; you’re always in and out of the office,” says Flannery. “But childcare fell back on women typically—even more so with home schooling, driving kids around, getting dinner, and becoming teachers in the pandemic. I feel those women in CRE have the flexibility to do so and can be great in business and as a mother. The pandemic in general has increased flexibility for all jobs.” That flexibility, she adds, does not apply to other real estate-related positions, such as property managers or accountants.
One positive impact of the pandemic, she continues, is that “people have been able to re-evaluate how they work and who they work with, and what their future work looks like.” For herself, she is making a change and moving to a different sector and a different market. “I’m moving from the office sector in Memphis to industrial in Nashville. I think it’s just a natural next step in my age range and bracket,” she says.
CHANGES THAT HAVE PAID OFF
Of the changes they made during the pandemic, have any of them proven to be valuable strategies they will continue using now that the pandemic is edging toward an end of sorts?
“Certainly, there is the ability to utilize a lot more of the technology we learned during COVID, and that will continue to elevate the level of service we can provide to our clients,” says Tylenda.
“Giving people grace and having flexibility,” adds Simmons. “I learned very quickly that the clients and people I was dealing with during the pandemic had a lot on their plate. Some had difficult home situations, but they would never tell you that. So, I have been practicing this whole-heartedly going forward. I find it makes you a happier person, and I highly recommend it!”
In other words, she continues, she feels the changes brought about through COVID-19 have helped put more balance in her life. “I find myself putting more importance on staying fit and being present,” she shares. “COVID has allowed us to all be a bit more flexible. While I LOVE being in the CBRE office, I welcome the opportunity to take a few hours during the week at home to really focus on a lease/presentation.”
And what of the industry overall? Has the pandemic experience changed the prospects for women in CRE? “I think long-term the resulting changes from COVID may actually benefit women more in CRE,” Tylenda asserts. “I think that because of COVID, the workplace in general became that much more flexible. That’s helpful for anyone, but especially for primary caregivers. The increased flexibility will continue to be a plus for every woman. As men do more caregiving or assisting with the home, they have asked for more flexibility in the workplace—which trickles across to all [CRE professionals] and accrues benefits to women.”
She adds that men taking on more roles that have traditionally been held by women “just makes CRE that much more attractive for women. It’s an incredibly flexible work schedule, which is a true gift—to be able to work and balance your home life and all the care that you are giving. And COVID has accelerated the flexibility in CRE—especially with the technology.”
“I feel like we will see more women and more diversity,” adds Flannery. “It’s good to see the change of faces and getting more diversity. I feel it was a trend even before, with the offering of SIOR scholarships for minorities to get into the business, but it has increased these initiatives and I really see that change happening now.”
What’s more, she continues, it’s growing. “I swear I know more female industrial brokers than male industrial brokers,” Flannery says. “That’s pretty interesting to see, as industrial is different than office or retail, where you’re more likely to see a female broker. Having Patricia (Loveall) as SIOR president and SIOR scholarships are putting a new face on the industry.”
This article was sponsored by the SIOR Foundation - Promoting and sponsoring initiatives that educate, enhance, and expand the commercial real estate community. The SIOR Foundation is a 501(c)(3) not-forprofit organization. All contributions are tax deductible to the extent of the law.
Casey Flannery, SIOR Member Associate
Kristi Svec Simmons, SIOR
Laurie Tylenda, SIOR