Even in 2022, the gender gap still exists, especially in commercial real estate. Only 36.7% of workers are female, according to a 2020 report from the CREW Network, an organization for women who work in CRE.
Women in the field are not impressed by the statistics. “I am disappointed by the lack of progress for women overall,” Wendy Mann, CEO of the CREW Network told Wealth Management. “Commercial real estate has historically been a predominately male profession, and we have been working for the last 30-plus years to bring more women into the industry and advance them to the top levels of leadership.”
Mann said in a statement that CREW is “calling on executives who can affect change to take this study seriously and take action in their company and in the industry,” to create “a more diverse, equal and inclusive industry. Industry leaders must address these issues as a business imperative — and take action now to make this important investment in our companies, our employees, and the future of our industry to remain a competitive and attractive employer.”
According to a 2021 report from the NAREIM Diversity & Inclusion Survey, an association that gathers data for real estate investment management firms, women and and minority professionals represented 15% of executive management positions, respectively, in real estate investment management. This figure is up 12% from 2016.
“You are not going to flip on a light switch and overnight have a materially more diverse industry, but you are seeing the right steps take place to move in that direction,” said Erin Green, Managing Director at Ferguson Partners, in a statement.
Here are five women in CRE working to pave the path for the future.
Michelle Klingenberg, Senior Vice President at JLL in Cincinnati
Klingenberger follows in her mother’s footsteps by working in CRE, focusing on agency leasing. Today, she is hiring more women and making an effort to mentor women in CRE, too. She started out in 2010, taking a role at JLL’s Corporate Solutions division, which aims to make work environments more human-centric. It’s the same place where her mother, Executive Account Director Kim McGarr, started out. She moved into the company’s brokerage office in 2012 and got her real estate license in 2013. She then worked with a senior office agency broker, David Ottenjohn, to learn more about CRE.
“Agency leasing is definitely my favorite part of commercial real estate,” Kingenberger said. “I love having a tight connection with my owners and working hard to fill their buildings. It feels like more of a team win. Now, I’m building my own team. Britney Aviles joined my team in January, and we’ve started this year out on a good note with some big wins.”
Renee Carroll, a Leasing Manager at Prologis
Carroll, who is based in Nevada, started out in CRE when she was only 19, working as a receptionist at a commercial property management office. She worked her way up to property management, working as an asset manager for KTR Capital Partners. The firm was acquired by Prologis in 2015, where she currently works, spearheading the southern Nevada CRE market. She recently shared her most important tool when negotiating a lease or renewal.
“In order to continue to grow our relationships, building the trust between both parties is essential,” Carroll said. “This will only be achieved through operational excellence and innovation where we can access and share information between markets. Creating the relationship first, before the business, customers know they are the priority. The business will come and be a product of the relationship.”
According to Carroll, the best career advice she ever received is to believe in yourself. “Do not second-guess your experience or knowledge because you ‘think’ someone is smarter, more experienced or has more degrees than you,” she said. “Intuition is real and you should trust it.”
Ofir Shalom, Capital Markets at Lev
Ofir Shalom studied mathematics at university and worked in the financing and banking worlds before joining Lev, a fin-tech startup disrupting the CRE brokerage industry, in 2019. When she first started, there was only one other woman in the company working with her for almost a year. Now there are so many women in the office, she lost count.
“Commercial real estate was never in my career vision, and I always told myself I would never work in the industry,” Shalom said.
She started out working in capital markets, and most recently became a team lead for Lev’s originations division.
“Eventually, as the company grew, my job evolved into what I felt most passionate about: Sales,” Shalom said. “I loved connecting with real estate investors, analyzing deals, advising borrowers on potential financing structures, and managing new and current relationships. Everything ultimately happens for a reason and if you work hard, are motivated, and willing to give your all, you’ll find success in anything you do.”
She works with investors across the country to finance properties through Lev’s large network of lenders, and recently closed multifamily properties in the Lower East Side, NY, New Haven, CT, and a retail center in Pampa, TX. She has financed over $50M of deals.
“I believe that women play a massive role within the CRE industry and have so much to offer with their diverse skill sets,” she added. “We have been making a massive push at Lev to hire more and more women. Every woman in the industry should check out Lev’s career website for positions available or message me on LinkedIn to chat about potential opportunities.”
Lauren Martin, Vice President of Product at AnthemIQ
AnthemIQ is a CRE tech company that helps speed up the efficiency of digital CRE transactions with a forward-thinking platform they call “A marketplace of active searches and real-time collaboration between you and your leasing agents to quickly identify and present options to your client.” Lauren Martin is a key member on the team as the vice president of product at AnthemIQ, where she is “designing an entirely new way of delivering client experience in the world of commercial real estate for the past three and a half years at Elevate Growth Partners, and just over one year officially as AnthemIQ,” as she recently wrote on LinkedIn.
Previously, she worked at a brokerage firm, Elevate Growth Partners in Austin, where she brought her experience in design, marketing, and consumer technology to help speed up transactions. Today, she’s always brainstorming ways to modernize the CRE industry.
Her aim with AnthemIQ is to improve “the way brokers help their clients go from search to signed lease.” She explained in another post that AnthemIQ is “a more open-sourced, crowdsourced approach to marketplace data emerging, so you can now start to leverage tech to really invest in the deliverables that matter most to your client.”
Audra Cunningham, Executive Vice President and Chief Administrator at T. Dallas Smith & Co.
T. Dallas Smith & Company is the largest African American-owned commercial real estate firm in the country. Minorities make up less than 2% of senior-level positions in CRE, and that’s less than 1% when it comes to women of color.
Audra Cunningham is the firm’s first senior level female executive. She has worked at some of the largest firms in the world including JLL, CBRE and Newmark Knight Frank. She has represented law firms, government contractors, non-profits, corporations and healthcare in over 2 million square feet of leasing across the country. She told Bisnow in 2021 that: “The system is not set up for success for us, and many of us who have been able to stay in it past the obstacles have done so as exceptions and not rules.”
She explained: “One of the reasons I believe this is the case is because Black and Brown women are simply not seen as leaders on their own merit. This holds true for people of color in general on a large scale. Many of us may start out with eagerness and ambition to get to the leadership level but the opportunities to advance are rare because they don’t happen equitably; they happen relationally or fraternally based on who you know — your pedigree, where you went to school, what it would mean for the firm to have you on board.”
Who Should We Profile Next?
We have an interview series that features leaders in CRE, and we should love to profile more women. If you know someone, please send us an email or message us on social media.