Recently, I visited the American History Museum in Washington, D.C. and viewed the exhibit dedicated to the Suffragettes. These determined women held signs that said “Equality for Women.” “Equal Pay for Equal Work.” “Women Have a Right to Vote.” The movement began mobilizing at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, the first gathering for women’s rights.
The movement of more than a million women who marched in New York City in 1917, and many others across the U.S., ultimately granted women the right to vote. They marched, they protested, they filed lawsuits and then went on hunger strikes to make their point. The final establishment of the national legal right to vote occurred in 1920 with addition of the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
First, I am struck by similarities in the Suffragettes’ messages and our messages today about equality for women in the workforce and equal pay for equal work. In many ways, the early suffragettes made amazing progress—yet today, we are still battling age-old bias and standards.
Earlier this year, a Lean In survey found that in light of recent social movements, twice as many male managers now feel uncomfortable working alone with a woman. Coupled with this very recent Bloomberg article, this does not bode well for women nor does it bode well for business. The article reported that male leaders on Wall Street are adopting controversial strategies and advising one another to avoid interactions with women colleagues. This reportedly includes not having dinners with female colleagues, avoiding one-on-one meetings, and not hiring women.
How have we come so far, only to regress to this? How are women to fully engage in economic, professional and personal success when they are not treated as an equal partner with equal opportunities in the workplace?
Clearly, this approach will negate much of the progress women have made in the workplace in the past century. It is a huge step backward in our path to gender equity. Now more than ever, we need men working with—and sponsoring and mentoring—women.
In the 2015 CREW Network Benchmark Study Report, women in commercial real estate ranked the lack of mentorship within their company as the #1 barrier to success. Sponsorship and relationship building are critical to career advancement, and employees who interact regularly with senior leaders are more likely to ask for and receive promotions, stay at their companies, and aspire to be leaders.
Women in commercial real estate are often excluded from social and networking events like golf outings, fishing or ski trips, sporting events or happy hours. There were a substantial number of comments and stories related to exclusion from male-only social events in our 2016 white paper, Closing the Gap: Addressing Gender Bias and Other Barriers for Women in Commercial Real Estate. This exclusion denies women the opportunity to build critical relationships with clients, staff and business partners.
I urge all male leaders to take a step forward for gender equity and inclusion in commercial real estate by taking these steps:
Make sure that your company culture is inclusive. Be transparent about policies and practices that ensure a welcome and comfortable workplace.
Step up and show your support for women. Don’t let fear be a barrier.
Establish formal mentorship and sponsorship programs and encourage informal interactions between the women and men in your organization — it’s these personal connections that lead to relationships that can propel careers.
Volunteer to sponsor or mentor a woman in the industry. Ensure that mentor and sponsorship activities include building relationships with high-profile/high-value clients. This may be over business lunches, golf outings, etc., and women need to be invited.
As I reflect on the progress we have made and the distance we still have to go, I also think about Louise McKinney. She was a member of the “Famous Five” or “Valiant Five.” They were five women in Calgary who petitioned the Canadian government in 1867 so that women would be recognized as “persons” and eligible to be appointed to the Senate. They finally achieved this goal in 1928. I leave you with a quote from McKinney:
“The purpose of a woman’s life is the same as the purpose of a man’s life: that she may make the best possible contribution to the generation in which is living.”
more CREW View
Wendy Mann is the chief executive officer of Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) Network and president of the CREW Network Foundation.