How to Break the Glass Ceiling

Panelists at the IREM Global Summit share best practices for mitigating bias and advancing diversity.
Panelists and others gather following diversity discussion at IREM Global Summit.

Cultivating talent is an industry-wide mission for the property management profession and all of commercial real estate. At the Institute of Real Estate Management’s Global Summit last week in San Francisco, an international panel of rising leaders shared best practices and strategies for advancing that goal through diversity.

Signs of progress for women in real estate stand side by side with persistent contradictions. Women entrepreneurs enjoy a rising profile; nearly one-third of all privately held firms are owned by women. On the educational front, women bring more to the table; they hold more undergraduate degrees than men and earn 50 percent more graduate degrees than their male counterparts. Women’s workplace priorities are led by flexibility and quality of life, according to national studies; compensation ranks third.


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The speakers also recounted the qualities that women in business tend to bring to the table. “The more diversity, the better your product is going to be, the better your bottom line is going to be,” noted Anne Loehr, executive vice president at the Center for Human Capital Innovation and the panel’s moderator.

Search for Equality

Yet inequalities persist:

  • Woman-owned enterprises are the fastest-growing small business in the U.S., yet women are paid less than men for comparable work.
  • Women hold 53 percent of entry-level jobs but only 26 percent of senior management roles.
  • And at Fortune 500 companies, only 3 percent of senior executive positions are held by women. 

A connecting thread is the pervasive and often unconscious bias that continues to pervade the structure of American business. Studies famously show that identical resumes with male and “white-sounding” names are more likely to receive a favorable response than names that appear to be female or associated with a person of color.

An established body of research shows that women are often considered to be less capable than men, receive less credit for success and are judged more harshly for mistakes. For starters, a revealing exercise recommended by Loehr is the Harvard implicit bias test.

As panelists recounted from experience, women who reach the upper echelons of business are by no means immune from bias. “When I became president of this real estate company, I received a lot of harassment,” recounted Kuniko Osaki, CEO of Han-A Chiken Corp., a realtor and property management company based in Fukuoka City, Japan. It took Osaki five years, but eventually she reached the same compensation level as her male predecessor.

Take the Measure

Loehr urged the audience to quantify diversity and inclusion performance: “If you treasure it, you measure it.” Particularly telling indicators include the percentage of women that are recruited, promoted, in leadership roles, participate in career development and have sponsors at the company. Tactics that help mitigate bias in recruiting range from automated resume screening, requiring a diverse slate of candidates.   

Speakers also suggested ways that men can contribute to the advancement of women in business. Loehr encouraged the audience to raise advocacy to a new level, which she summed up as, “I’m going to sponsor this person, I’m going to champion this person and I need everyone to hear from this person.”

It is also crucial to remember that many men are threatened by capable, ambitious female colleagues. “I would like us to be aware that we are working on ego, pride and attitude,” said Nandi Malindi, an asset manager at Dijalo Property Group, a service provider headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa. “Let women speak and listen to them.