CREW Vancouver advances women in commercial real estate

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      Little has changed by way of women’s representation in commercial real estate.

      Men continue to dominate this industry that encompasses everything from multifamily residential development to office, retail, industrial, mixed-use, hospitality, and other properties.

      But women like Ashley Willard Bauman are among those who have broken into this field.

      Right out of business school in 2000, Bauman devoted her professional life to a career in commercial real estate.

      She has worked in Canada and other countries, including the U.S., France, Australia, and China.

      Here at home, Bauman lent her expertise in business strategy to projects like the masterplanned communities of Wesbrook Village at UBC and Tsawwassen Springs in Delta.

      “I think the ability to really create amazing next communities that serve diverse populations in the future is a big driver for people getting into this industry,” Bauman told the Straight in a phone interview.

      She described commercial real estate as fast-paced, strategic, and analytical. “It attracts people who are eager to be business professionals,” Bauman said.

      For about seven years, she has been involved with a nonprofit, Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW), dedicated to accelerating the careers of women in commercial real estate (CRE).

      It’s called CREW Vancouver, and Bauman is currently in her second term as president. The organization is part of a bigger CREW Network, which counts about 12,000 members worldwide.

      Last fall, the Kansas-based association released a report titled “2020 CREW Network Benchmark Study: Gender and Diversity in Commercial Real Estate”.

      The study noted that women in the U.S., U.K., and Canada occupy only 36.7 percent of the commercial real estate industry.

      It pointed out that this percentage has not changed much during the past 15 years. Also, women continue to be less likely to hold top positions at their companies. According to the study, only nine percent of executive jobs in the industry are occupied by women.

      Moreover, women continue to earn less than men. The study revealed that in 2020, the gap in fixed salaries between men and women was 10.2 percent.

      When it came to commissions and bonuses, it was a “staggering” 55.9 percent. The difference in total average earnings—which combines salaries, commissions, and bonuses—was 34 percent in 2020. According to the study, the gap had worsened from 11 percent in 2015.

      Bauman told the Straight that in her 21 years in the industry, she has seen more women breaking into commercial real estate. However, there is still much work to be done.

      “If you don’t see lots of women in these roles, then it’s a perception barrier,” Bauman said.

      According to her, she was lucky to work with leaders in the industry who have encouraged her. Bauman mentioned Mary Aubrey as one who she looks up to. Aubrey is the director of asset management of the real estate division of Nicola Wealth, a wealth management and investment firm.

      She also cites Jocelyne Legal, the managing director for office leasing with Cushman & Wakefield, among those she admires.

      In 2017, Bauman joined the executive team of the company of well-known Vancouver realtor Bob Rennie. She worked with Rennie for two years before leaving to establish her own consulting company, Beyond the Buildings.

      “I loved working there, and Bob has been a mentor,” she said about Rennie.

      According to Bauman, the so-called impostor syndrome can also hold back women from advancing their careers. It’s a phenomenon wherein a person feels inadequate.

      “Women tend to believe they always have to learn more and achieve more until they are ready for a role,” she explained.

      As an organization, CREW Vancouver provides mentorship to new professionals. On its website, the group notes that based on a CREW Network study, women supported by a mentor increased their chances of securing a mid- or top-level management position by 56 percent.

      Bauman also related that her organization has started a scholarship at the UBC Sauder School of Business with the support of the Conwest Group.

      Joanne Chua led the initiative for the scholarship. She works as investment manager with Grosvenor Americas. She is also the director of education and outreach with CREW Vancouver.

      According to Chua, the scholarship honours the memory of the late Lee Hester, a commercial real estate broker and an ally in CREW Vancouver’s work to empower women in the industry.

      Chua related that UBC will award the first scholarships to two students this spring.

      The Vancouver group also contributes to the scholarship program of the CREW Network Foundation. This year’s theme for the foundation’s scholarship is “The Future of CRE is Female”.

      “What I like about the theme is that it starts young,” Bauman said. “I think a lot of females going through high school and university, they do not necessarily think of [commercial] real estate as an option.”