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No longer an all-men's club

In the 1970s, Rosellen Fleishman worked on the Industrial Development Commission in Baltimore County, forerunner of the region's current economic development agency. She assembled data on the booming county's industrial and office parks, met with brokers and developers and helped get deals done.

When the county administration was about to change, and Fleishman was looking for another job, it took a well-placed woman to get her in the door.

“I would not have gotten my job,” she said, “if the wife of the owner of the firm had not said, ‘It's time for a woman to be in the firm.’”

Six months ago, Karen Marchetti became Fleishman's colleague in commercial real estate and coworker as an associate in the Baltimore office of Dallas-based Trammell Crow Co. after a career in sales and marketing for technology companies. By the time she decided to switch industries, Marchetti found brokerages were clamoring to hire women.

“They were saying, ‘Maybe we've got something here,’” Marchetti said. Indeed they do. Women are increasing their numbers in the industry and gaining higher positions within companies. It's no longer unheard of for a woman to be a partner, chief executive or owner of a firm.

Abby Glassberg, another industry veteran, is a past president of the Maryland chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties (NAIOP), and has remained on its board of directors since her term ended in 1999.

Yet when Glassberg emerged on Baltimore's real estate brokerage scene more than 10 years ago, it was a family connection that helped her get started in an industry that was still dominated by families.

Still, for all the roadblocks that have been thrown their way within the industry, Fleishman and Glassberg, both vice presidents at Trammell Crow, say they never have encountered resistance from their clients.

“The biggest hurdle was not my clients; it was with the other people in my industry — my colleagues,” Fleishman said. “You ask any woman entering a male-dominated field when I did, and she'll have the same war stories to tell.”

The times they are a changin'

While one is less likely to see wholesale discrimination now, there is still some woman-in-a-man's-world angst stirred up by the old-boys' network prevalent in much of the industry — particularly in older, smaller cities like Baltimore. It is hard to overstate the importance of relationships in commercial real estate, where brokers get clients — and build reputations — based upon who they know. While the men have connections through their high schools, colleges and common athletic endeavors that they are able to turn to their professional advantage, women may be less likely to be in a position to capitalize on these networks.

Fleishman said the rise of women through the ranks of business in general has helped her and other women gain ground in commercial real estate.

Joining the CREW

Fleishman also was instrumental in founding the local chapter of the National Network of Commercial Real Estate Women (NNCREW, or CREW for short). The organization opens its doors to women representing an array of professions affiliated with real estate, from development firms and mortgage brokers to lawyers and accountants.

CREW remains an important business development forum for women in the industry. Glassberg said her fellow CREW members are often the fastest to return a call asking for information or the first to pass on a business tip.

As they built their contacts, gained credibility and developed client relationships, women like Fleishman and Glassberg began to command respect from other brokers, developers and property owners.

The women also note that the workplace has become more family-friendly. These days, male brokers have been known to push back meetings because they have to run a child to school, leave the office early to attend a child's sporting event, or even bring a child to an appointment.

But even these gains didn't come quickly. And, according to Fleishman, women actually had to overcompensate when it came to taking family time so they would not be perceived as being unable to keep up in the workplace. “We would never, never have done that until the first man did it,” Fleishman said of taking time out of the work day.

Fleishman, Glassberg and Marchetti all agree the real estate industry is better and more open now. Women continue to bring a broader perspective to commercial real estate negotiations, pushing the industry to evolve.

“Now is the time to be a woman in commercial real estate,” Glassberg said. “And it will only get better.”

Gregory P. Crum is a principal at Trammell Crow Co.

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