Women in CRE: An interview with Lori Kilberg and Gail Ayers

On December 3, CREW Atlanta hosted a fireside chat with Lori Kilberg, national president of CREW Network, moderated by Susana Chavez, CREW Atlanta president. Gail Ayers, CEO of CREW Network, was scheduled to join the conversation, but was unable to attend due to illness.

In conjunction with the event, CREW Atlanta interviewed Lori and Gail to learn more about their perspectives on women in commercial real estate today. 

Q: How would you describe the state of the industry for women in commercial real estate?

Gail: Commercial real estate is a natural fit for high-achieving women who enjoy the competitive work environment. The specialties range from architects, attorneys, finance experts, developers and brokers. Our research shows women are very satisfied with their career choices and enjoy the emphasis on the quality of work they can be recognized and rewarded for as they progress.

The 2015 CREW Network Benchmark study, sponsored by CBRE, shows that women are still earning approximately 20 percent less than their male counterparts with similar years of experience and qualifications. Again, we know that women tend to hesitate on salary negotiations, which could play a role in this lag. With women making up more than 30 percent of the CRE work force, it is time they own their value and negotiate.

Also, it is critical that women move around inside their companies to pick up a broad range of skills, including financial leadership. Learning to understand the complexity of the business’ functions gives women an opportunity to move up more readily. Often, women are reluctant to try something outside of their comfort zone, which leaves them with only one expertise and limits their mobility for promotions when [they are offered] within companies. Companies that encourage women to try new areas tend to have more women ready to promote when the positions are available within the company.

Commercial real estate is an extraordinary career for women and our results show women are happy with the work—but equity is a different story. The research will be available from CREW Network by the end of the year. Look for the announcement and share the results with your companies.

Q: As 2015 comes to a close, what should CREW members around the nation look forward to from CREW Network in 2016?

Lori: There is always so much going on at CREW Network and 2016 will be the busiest year yet. One of the things we always struggle with is providing the highest quality programming and initiatives that directly support our mission to advance the achievements of women and positively influence the commercial real estate industry. Our industry research (be on the lookout for our 2015 Benchmark Report measuring compensation and career satisfaction by gender in CRE) sets the stage for that programming. In 2016, in addition to our three leadership summit meetings (in San Antonio, Detroit, and New York) and our annual convention in New York City, we will roll out our Certificate in Leadership Program, with three full days of eight hour workshops led by distinguished faculty members from Emory, Harvard and MIT. They will include mentoring, a leadership book club, and our three leadership summit meetings. You can also expect exciting news about our international initiative soon! Finally, we are in the process of updating our CREW Network Playbook Series, one of our best chapter resources, and making them more user-friendly. In conjunction with all of that, we are updating our technology to accommodate all of our members’ increased usage of CREWbiz.

Q: Speaking directly to CREW members, what can we do as individuals to advance the CREW mission in our own communities and organizations?

Lori: As CREW members, we must do whatever we can to give women business and leadership opportunities. Simply put, we can give business to other women. As Gail Evans often says, make sure women are on the list of interviewees for job opportunities and for business opportunities. For those of us in leadership positions, we can mentor, sponsor and advocate for other women in our companies and organizations. We must lead by example, and make sure that our companies understand the value of diversity, and the positive economic and social impact that diversity brings to the organization.

Q: You’ve both accomplished so much in your careers and on behalf of CREW. Can you share some of your personal goals for the new year?

Lori: My personal goals involve taking all that I have learned as a partner in my law firm, and as leader in CREW, and expand that more deeply in my community to increase opportunities for women and girls living in poverty. That’s my “lofty” goal. As an avid reader, I will continue to participate in book clubs, and read whatever and whenever I can, including leading next year’s Leadership Book Club for the CREW Certificate in Leadership program. My other goals involve spending as much time as possible with my new (first!) grandchild, and traveling with my incredibly supportive (and long-suffering) husband! Looking forward to 2016!

Gail: This will be a very busy year for CREW Network. CREW occupies so much of my personal time. I enjoy seeing the progress and building a worldwide network that really helps women excel in the commercial real estate industry. Changing systems to provide an impact for people is a personal joy for me.  As you know, this is a very busy year. We are launching a new Certificate of Leadership in Commercial Real Estate in partnership with excellent universities and instructors.  Personally, I hope this will make an impact for the women who are poised to take the next leap in their career. We are using our research to inform the decisions about the curriculum and reading lists, and the mentoring program promises to be a serious endeavor. I am leading this program so it gives me great satisfaction to put my PhD to good use as we think about the opportunities to eliminate gaps in women’s learning. This is definitely a unique program and we are booked completely. If you would like to join the waiting list please contact julier@crewnetwork.org and she will make sure you are registered.

You will see us developing the international agenda for CREW Network this year and building a network that allows you to connect with prospective buyers, sellers and investors in other countries.  Soon the CREW Network convention will be an international market place for talented women. The future for women in this industry is very bright.

Personally, I am looking forward to reading more about sharp leadership programs that cut to the chase and hone in on the decision making skills that are so critical for success today. Helping good companies remove the gender barriers is something I really believe can be done, but it takes a strategic effort from the top. My new husband, Armin, and I plan more travel, and my three grandchildren and son, Blair, are always at the top of the list. Someday I would like a dog, but there’s no time for that this year!

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Author: CREW Atlanta

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