Networking group provides opportunities for women in the male-dominated CRE industry

Bbefore forming the West Michigan chapter of the Commercial Real Estate Women’s Network (CREW), its founding members realized that most of their business leads came from networking with other women.

“We’ve had mostly good experiences (working in commercial real estate), but we were always left out of the conversation,” said Alison Dekok, CREW West Michigan board chair and head of global accounts at Haworth Inc. “Commercial real estate is a male-dominated industry.”

Alison Dekok and Doris Drain

Women make up just 36.7% of the commercial real estate sector, a percentage that “hasn’t changed much in the last 15 years”, according to a 2020 benchmarking study by the CREW Network, which surveyed nearly 3,000 industry professionals.

The fixed salary gap between women and men in 2020 remained wide at 10.2%, with a commission and bonus gap of 55.9%, according to the study.

Dekok said networking is essential for women working in commercial real estate.

“You need to tap into the expertise of this collective body of women and learn from their experiences and find opportunities for mentorship,” she said.

Having a network of other women in a range of industry positions has been a beneficial tool for CREW Network members to advance their careers and get advice, especially during the pandemic, Dekok said. In his role at Haworth, Dekok works with various global accounts and navigates complex real estate strategies and purchase agreements.

“CREW really opened up this network to me globally,” Dekok said. “A few years ago I used one of my connections through CREW and was led to a great opportunity that otherwise wouldn’t have existed.”

The West Michigan CREW Chapter has 44 members and celebrated its third anniversary in November 2021. The Chapter is part of a global organization that focuses on bringing women of different professions together in the commercial real estate industry. The global organization was founded in 1989 and has approximately 12,000 members across all of its chapters.

West Michigan CREW Board Vice Chair Doris Drain has been contacted by people because of her involvement with the organization. Drain is the Vice President of Commercial Loans at Grand Rapids Township United Bank of Michigan, where she has worked for 33 years.

“Even for a seasoned veteran like me, it’s always been a great opportunity to meet new people and learn about different roles in the industry,” Drain said. “It was fun to be on the pitch and help grow the organization.”

The CREW Network also has a foundation that annually awards 30 college scholarships to women pursuing careers in commercial real estate. Locally, officials from the organization have been doing outreach at local colleges and universities, Dekok said.

“We’re trying to break down barriers for women,” Drain said. “Part of that is creating awareness that these are great careers for women to pursue. More and more women are being encouraged to pursue careers in STEM, and that’s also what our foundation aims to do: to let young women working towards their degrees know that they have support and that it’s a viable career. . »

Throughout the pandemic, CREW management has been working to help members adapt to different ways of doing business through educational virtual events, Drain said.

“The pandemic has definitely had an impact on the group, and we’ve all had challenges in different ways,” Dekok said. “We saw a lot of colleagues lose their jobs, but many of them were able to connect and find new opportunities through the group.”

DEI focus

In addition to being male-dominated, the commercial real estate industry is also predominantly white. Of 2,930 industry professionals surveyed by CREW’s global network in early 2020, only 13% of respondents identified as Black, Indigenous or People of Color (BIPOC). In the study, only 16% said that at least 25% of employees in their workplace are BIPOC.

The average fixed base salary in commercial real estate in 2020 was $112,290 for men and $100,802 for women, according to the benchmark 2020 CREW study. That 10.2% pay gap is widening for black, Asian, and Hispanic/Latin women: white women earned 90 cents for every dollar earned by men, black women earned 85 cents, Asian women earned 86 cents, and Hispanic/Latin women earned 80 cents.

The CREW Network has made a “tremendous effort” to welcome members from diverse backgrounds and industries into commercial real estate, Drain said.

“We need each other, we learn from each other and we all need to be part of it,” Drain said.

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