There are many organizations related to the commercial real estate industry, but one is much unlike the rest. CREW Network, the Commercial Real Estate Women Network, has been bringing women together over the past 33 years.
For Women’s History Month in March, it’s worth looking back at how this network of women in CRE came to be.
It all started in 1989 when realtors Anne Hanyak and Linda Hollemon brought together women across the country for the National Network of Commercial Real Estate Women, which then evolved into their global CREW Network. It started as a network of 1,100 women in 11 chapters across the country, from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C.
Today it has over 12,000 members and aims to help women get into CRE and advance their careers in the industry. According to the CREW Network’s research, women occupy 36.7% of jobs in the CRE industry, and that statistic hasn’t changed much over the past 15 years.
Women in CRE still earn less than men. In 2020 women made 10.2% less than men in CRE. Women hold only 9% of C-suite positions in CRE. On average women earn 56% less on commissions and bonuses than men. While white women earn 51% less from commission and bonuses than men, Black women earn 71% less, Asian women earn 73% less, and Hispanic or Latina women earn 74% less than their male counterparts.
“We had mostly great experiences (working in commercial real estate), but we were still shut out of the conversation,” said Alison Dekok, the CREW board president in West Michigan, in a recent interview. “Commercial real estate is very much a male dominated industry. You must draw from the expertise from this collective body of women and learn from their experiences and find opportunities for mentorship.”
As part of the network’s career outreach program, they’re committed to bringing more women into CRE, whether its brokerage or law, finance, or architecture. They host an annual CRE Career Day every April and are a founding partner in an organization called CORE (Career Opportunities in Real Estate).
This network was co-founded by two rock stars in CRE. Hanyak comes from the legal world. She was a commercial real estate attorney at a law firm in Phoenix, where she became a Hiring Partner, the first in the company’s history. She was also the former president of an organization called the Arizona Commercial Real Estate Women. From 1991 to 2006, she was the CEO of the Paradigm Group, a consulting and training company offering programs related to leadership development, legal skills, negotiating and communication.
Hollemon was the organization’s first president. She retired in 2007 and continued to work with CREW over the years. She passed away in 2020, so the organization honored her with The Linda Hollemon Scholarship Endowment.
The duo co-founded the organization around the same time other professional organizations were popping up in major U.S. cities. But with CRE being a male-dominated field— then and now —it makes sense they came together in the late 1980s and 1990s to bring together women in the industry to network, develop contacts, learn from each other and encourage each other to succeed in CRE.
Before the CREW Network was founded, there were professional organizations for lawyers, brokers and accountants, but one for women in CRE didn’t exist. It was a trailblazing move. No wonder it’s still going strong today.
The CREW Network recently hosted their winter leadership summit in Tampa Bay, Fl., and have a regular roster of events. Offerings range from new member meet and greets to Zoom webinars that feature women leaders in CRE. Events are local and international, everywhere from San Antonio, TX., to Paris, France.
They also have a series of recognition programs, including the Impact Awards, which recognizes women in CRE. There is the Entrepreneurial Spirit Award, the annual Rising Star award and the CREW Catalyst Award, which honors senior-level executive industry leaders who show their commitment to diversity and inclusion in CRE.
For example, the organization recently released an industry brief on electric cars. Owners of parking facilities, or properties of commercial real estate that have parking lots may make the move to retrofit more parking lots with car chargers, even though the industry is skeptical.
The CREW Network also announced they have partnered with the CB Richard Ellis, a real estate services firm, as their first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Program Partner.
The goal, according to CREW Network CEO Wendy Mann, is to “advance women in the industry through gender parity and greater diversity and inclusion in commercial real estate,” she said in a statement.
Since it launched last fall, over 60 CEOs working in CRE have committed to the Pledge for Action to help advance women and encourage greater DEI in CRE.
“Together, we can create more equitable workplaces and career paths for established and emerging talent,” said La Tonya Woodson, CBRE Global Director for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.
It’s part of the CREW Network’s core mission to support and advance women in CRE.
“We’re trying to break down barriers for women,” said Doris Drain, the Vice President of the CREW Board in West Michigan, in a recent interview. “Part of that is bringing awareness to how these are terrific careers that women can pursue.”