“They hate the successful women,” Ms. Consolo concurred. To survive, the women interviewed for this article agreed, requires a skin as thick as an elephant’s, and the knowledge that some men will simply prefer to work with other men. “There can be off-color jokes,” Ms. DaSilva said. “As opposed to always being a strident feminist about it, you have to always pick your fights.”
ALL THESE TURNOFFS aside, the successful women of commercial real estate marvel at the paucity of women in the business, despite recent attitude shifts.
With good reason. Commercial real estate offers a rich lifestyle, the thrill of the chase and fulfillment of the deal, and the chance to affect this country’s most important city in a tangible, touchable way. Indeed, such are the benefits of a career in real estate that the absence of women can’t possibly be entirely pinned on the boys’ club and its baboonlike image. Certainly, the newspaper world and the legal world, among others, used to teem with cigar chompers, too.
Myriad theories abound.
“I think it’s a question of the women having the will,” suggested Patricia Goldstein, the senior executive vice president and head of credit policy for Emigrant Bank. That is, the will to tread into traditionally male-dominated territories, to deal with numbers and nitty-gritty financing issues. Others point to the inherent riskiness of a business that’s commission-based.
And still others suggest that women would rather take up a career that allows for more time to care for their families.
“This is a business where you need to give it all, 20 hours a day,” said Susan Kurland, executive vice president for brokerage services at CBRE. “There’s no way you could, quote unquote, dabble.”
“A lot of women get to about VP, they choose to have kids, and we lose a lot of them,” Ms. Stacom added. “It’s not an easy career to balance with children.”
Not for women anyway. Men seem to handle it just fine. Perhaps if more women chose husbands willing to share child-rearing responsibilities, perhaps if there were more men so willing, the real estate world would look different today. Which brings us to a larger issue, one that pervades pretty much every industry to varying degrees.
Linda Hirshman, the fiery retired Brandeis University professor who excoriates the “opting out” trend among educated women, considered the phenomenon in a controversial article called “Homeward Bound” published in The American Prospect in 2005.
“[W]hile the public world has changed, albeit imperfectly, to accommodate women among the elite, private lives have hardly budged. The real glass ceiling is at home,” she wrote. Indeed, figuring a way around that ceiling appears to be a prerequisite for a woman to survive in commercial real estate.
“I had three sons while I was working,” said Joanne Podell, a top broker at Cushman & Wakefield. “I worked full time. I never took off time. My kids grew up to be great citizens. They’re all professionals. Women can work and at the same time bring up children. I don’t see that as an issue.”
Nor does Ms. DaSilva, who has three teenage daughters and, while birthing and raising them, took off only 18 months of work.
Just imagine if more women had their fortitude, their backbone. As Dr. Hirshman concluded about the women she researched who did opt out, “If these women were sticking it out in the business, law and academic worlds, now, 30 years after feminism started filling the selective schools with women, the elite workplaces should be proportionately female.”
Which would be good for younger women in their stead. But also for the pioneers themselves. Leslie Himmel, a partner in Himmel and Meringoff and one of the few women landlords in the city (aside from, of course, those born into one of the real estate dynasties), gushes about her job.
“When the kids were young, I really felt like I was working all the time,” she said. “But now I’m just so grateful that I have my real estate. It’s so much fun.”
Indeed, Ms. Himmel even contends that her femininity, rather than a hindrance, was actually an asset. “I believe that being a woman has actually helped my career,” she said. “When I walk into a room filled with men, I am definitely noticed.
“The difficulty of being a woman in real estate is that sometimes you walk into a room and people do not understand your stature,” Ms. Himmel continued, stressing the importance of cultivating an acute sense of humor. “I have been asked, ‘Where is your boss?’ My response is, ‘I am the boss.’”