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Four Takeaways from the First National Women in Real Estate Symposium

Here are four takeaways from the event that address the role of women in the industry and ways to make it more diverse.

Real estate is often characterized as a male-dominated industry, especially at the executive level. The First National Women in Real Estate Symposium, hosted by New York University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate on Oct. 20, took a step toward changing that. The day-long symposium in New York City tackled a range of industry topics—from the future of cities to multifamily sector outlooks—and featured all-female panels of real estate leaders and experts. Here are fouor takeaways from the event that address the role of women in the industry and ways to make it more diverse.

  1. Most women in real estate think it is harder to raise capital. Fifty-eight percent of women who work in the industry believe that it is more difficult for women-led funds to obtain capital than their male counterparts, according to a recent report on women in investing by KPMG and NYU, which was presented at the symposium by Yesenia Scheker-Izquierdo, a partner at KPMG. Women lead 6 percent of real-estate funds represented in the survey, and 14 percent of the women surveyed were CEOs, according to the study.
  2. The key to diverse boards is authenticity. It usually is not a positive situation when a board contacts Ferguson Partners, which provides expert recruitment services to several industries, including real estate, looking to add a woman to their board of directors just because of her gender, says Radhika Papandreou, co-head of the global hospitality practice at the firm. This will lead a prospective board member to question if she is being contacted for her skills or because of her gender. Meanwhile, the board may also not have bought into the appointment. “It’s not fun for anybody,” says Papandreou. Rather, company leaders should actively and authentically seek diverse members because of the benefits of having a diverse board. “If it’s authentic, you get more of it,” Papandreou says. Only 17 percent of women in real estate sit on public/private corporate boards, according to the KPMG report.
  3. Women should be open to working with search agencies. Increasingly, boards that are looking for women leaders turn to search firms for assistance, because of their natural networks. Getting to know the search firms that recruit for boards is important, and the firms can help connect people, Papandreou says.
  4. “Don’t ever be afraid to ask.” In a discussion about her rise in the real estate industry, Wendy Silverstein, president and CEO of New York REIT, a publicly-traded REIT that specializes in office and retail properties, says it is often not as natural for women to self-promote their accomplishments or knowledge. However, confidence is a trait that can be learned, Silverstein says. Her key piece of advice for women is to keep honing their crafts, to know their worth and not to be afraid to seek out opportunities.
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