Many people, industries and submarkets are collectively eager to shift the conversation away from COVID-19. But, what happens if you were undeniably impacted to the point where it significantly set your personal progress back? This is the precise scenario women in commercial real estate have found themselves. In fact, according to CREW Network’s research report, “A Catalyst for Change: COVID-19’s Impact on Women in Commercial Real Estate,” the wait to reach gender parity — which was 99.5 years prior to the pandemic — increased to 135.6 years.

For a demographic of people who were already struggling with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), the pandemic not only further disrupted advancement for women, it brought to light simply how much improvement in these areas is still needed. For the women of AZCREW — as part of the larger CREW Network — the pandemic also presented an opportunity. It provided an invitation for the leaders and members of CREW to do what they do best: unite, collaborate, problem-solve and execute positive change. For CREW this means conducting comprehensive research and establishing solutions based on what their findings unearth.

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“Industry research is one of CREW Network’s four pillars, alongside business networking, leadership development and career outreach — all critical focus areas for women’s advancement,” says Wendy Mann, CREW Network CEO. “With the support of CREW Network Foundation, we are the world’s leading producer of research on gender and diversity, equity and inclusion in commercial real estate.”

Adds Heather Skinner, president of AZCREW, “Not only does CREW Network do the research and provide data to companies and leaders in the industry, but they also provide thought leadership and a data-driven plan to achieve lasting progress.”

Data discovery: deep-rooted disparities 

Prior to the 2021 CREW Network COVID study, the organization’s previous research has long uncovered disparities in gender, diversity, equity and inclusion.

“Our 2020 CREW Network benchmark study data indicated that collective efforts to achieve parity and greater diversity were far from complete,” says Mann. “In fact, very little progress has been made in the last 15 years.”

The benchmark’s findings were thorough and illuminating. First, the report demonstrated that commercial real estate continues to be a male-dominated industry, with 36.7% of women holding occupations within the market — a percentage that has remained largely unchanged for over a decade. Additionally, women continue to earn less than men with a fixed salary gap of 10.2% between genders and an alarming commission and bonus gap of 55.9%. In terms of diversity and workplace culture, combined with disproportionate minority compensation, progress has been largely woeful.

Pledge for Action

In response to CREW Network’s findings, Mann notes that, “It was time to take immediate, industry-wide action.” The result: A six-part CREW Network CRE Pledge for Action. In an effort to improve DEI and support the advancement of women and “individuals in underrepresented groups including but not limited to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability, religion and age,” the Pledge for Action invites industry CEO’s to sign the credo which contains the following goals:

• “Partner with CREW Network to support our mission to transform the industry by advancing women and begin your efforts now to make change.

• Close the compensation gap in our industry by conducting a pay equity study in your company.

• Increase inclusion in your company through senior executive sponsorship of women and/or other individuals in underrepresented groups within the company.

• Advance women to your company’s top roles to achieve gender diversity in leadership.

• Increase diversity in your company and in the industry through intentional recruiting and hiring of individuals from diverse backgrounds.

• Implement accountability strategies in your company to measure progress.”

According to Mann, upwards of 90 CEOs have signed the CREW Network pledge since Sept. 30, 2021. Greater Phoenix Economic Council (GPEC) President and CEO Chris Camacho is one local leader who has signed. Additionally, a number of AZCREW annual sponsors have signed: CBRE, Cushman & Wakefield, NAI Global, Ryan and Sonoran.

“As a public-private partnership, GPEC has a unique understanding of the power of a concerted effort toward a common goal. Our model of regional economic development is dependent upon intentional cooperation and in our experience, it’s a very powerful approach to positive progress,” Camacho explains. “Similarly, CREW Network is made up of industry leaders from across the globe with a common goal: to provide better opportunities for women and other underrepresented groups to succeed in the commercial real estate industry.”

Camacho further notes that supporting women in commercial real estate and the advancement of DEI efforts strengthens everyone. “By signing this pledge we’re able to take a regional, national and international leadership position among our CRE partners and peers toward this universal goal,” he says.

In terms of reach, CREW Network currently has “12,000 members worldwide in more than 75 major markets,” with a growing global reach that includes chapters in the United Kingdom, France and Mexico City.

Progress is piecemeal  

As the CREW Network Pledge for Action continues to amass more signatures, there is progress to share in the advancement of women. For example, CREW’s benchmark study revealed, “more women occupy brokerage positions than ever before (29%); a 6% increase from 2015.” And, “More women (32%) are aspiring to the C-suite, a 4% increase from 2015.”

It’s also important to illuminate how organizations like CREW Network encourage and support solidarity and inclusion of women in commercial real estate in and of themselves. And thus, play a significant part in improving the landscape, especially for upcoming generations.

“We’re pushing to make the industry more inclusive and diverse because it needs to be,” Skinner stresses. “The future holds challenging, complex problems. These can only become opportunities when all voices are welcomed and have a seat at the table.”

Adds Barbi Reuter, CREW Network president and CEO for Cushman & Wakefield | PICOR, “It is not enough to say we are inclusive and that all belong at CREW; we must be intentional. Every leader and member within CREW must embrace the commitment to create a belonging culture for all,” she says. “A culture of inclusion and belonging inspires engagement, breaks down barriers and accelerates growth and collaboration for our chapters, members and partners. We believe diverse voices enrich our business connections and drive innovation, and it is critical to our collective growth and success as an organization.”

And, as far as inclusion within CREW goes, Skinner has extensive experiences of being welcomed, accepted and encouraged throughout her time with AZCREW and several other chapters.

“My CREW story of belonging starts with being relocated five times for work; some of those moves were quite challenging for personal and professional reasons. No matter where I’ve lived, CREW members have always had my back. This is more than an industry networking group. It really is a family and a support system.”