Fall 2004. My first week as a CBRE commercial real estate broker. “Welcome to the trenches,” a senior broker loudly shouted as he made his way past “The Pit,” which included my small space among the other junior brokers’ cubicles. A previous internship led me to joining the prestigious firm almost immediately after graduating college, because I loved the entrepreneurial nature of commercial real estate brokerage and the crackling office energy.
This was capitalism at its finest — a commission-based job — and my cockiness and drive would serve me well. At the time, there were only a small handful of female commercial brokers in the tristate area. At my office in New Jersey, only 6 out of 90 brokers were women and the only other female junior broker, besides myself, left the firm.
There were some advantages to being one of the only women in the industry. When it came to cold calling on potential clients, which I particularly loved, it was easier to get my foot in the door. However, once that foot was inside the prospect’s office, my intentions were taken less seriously than my senior male counterparts. Looking back at those encounters through a more experienced, evolved lens, I attribute more of those early difficulties to being too young and inexperienced rather than strictly a gender issue.
Eleven years at CBRE flew by and with each new title and recognition from my colleagues, came an even stronger reputation as a capable broker. Those achievements were my own, but not without a personal recognition of the advantages afforded me by being from a successful real estate family and the financial safety net that protected me in case the potential wild income swings of a commission-only job landed the wrong way.
While the financial net was never needed, other forms of support propelled my career, including a strong array of wonderful mentors and partners, one of whom took on the sole responsibility of wining and dining clients after my return from maternity leave, while I prioritized being home for bedtime.
With that said, there were moments of blatant sexism and inappropriate behavior, but the fair treatment I often received far outweighed the uncomfortable situations I endured. Ultimately, commission is gender neutral and I think I was judged by my performance in all respects and few other outside factors or stereotypes.
A 2020 Commercial Real Estate Women Network’s (CREW) National Survey found only 29% of commercial brokers are women, and while that figure is up 6% since 2015, the number is still way too low. The New York City regional number is certainly less than 29%, and even lower in Westchester and Fairfield counties where the number of men dominate the business.
Since this is a predominantly commission-only career path, and there is no visible bias in this form of compensation across genders or races, the number of female commercial real estate brokers should be considerably higher and yet, this remains an elusive goal.
Historically, the main issue was prospecting, especially within office and industrial brokerage. Most decision makers were male and given this is a relationship business, bonding between clients and brokers often meant participating in activities such as fishing, hunting and golf. Women were not excluded, but in many instances, their presence was unwelcomed, which proved a hindrance to making those important personal connections outside the office.
Yet, I remain optimistic about the future of women in commercial real estate. There is a sea change that is gradual, but present among the C-Suite. More and more women are getting to that level and getting to other positions of authority. Further, companies and institutions are being highly deliberate about choosing vendors (a classification CRE brokerage would fall into) that are diverse in some capacity. While CRE brokerage is still a game of relationship building, the access to those relationships is in the process of shifting dramatically.
In 2015, I made the shift from transactional brokerage to running a brokerage company closer to home in Westchester County. Being a female, especially under 40, in a leadership position has been proven more challenging than anything I have faced before. However, being surrounded by a phenomenal, supportive staff and brokerage team that is both gender and racially diverse, has meant I can construct an office environment based upon mutual respect and unbridled camaraderie.
The RM Friedland trenches look a little different than the trenches I started in nearly 20 years ago.
Sarah Jones-Maturo is president of RM Friedland, the largest privately held commercial real estate company in Westchester. She can be contacted at email@example.com.