2019 Women of Influence Luncheon Recap

Over 85 CREW members and guests attended the 2019 Women of Influence Luncheon at the renovated Center Club on January 8th. Following a warm welcome and 2019 preview by CREWBaltimore President Nikkia Fitch of RS&F, moderator Karen Pecoraro (ATC Group Services) facilitated a panel-format discussion around pay inequality and other barriers to female advancement in the CRE industry. This central theme was inspired by the 2018 CREW Network White Paper titled Achieving Pay Parity in Commercial Real Estate (read here).

Panelists Christine Espenshade (JLL), Michele Cohen (Miles & Stockbridge), Laura Penza (Penza Bailey Architects) and Ruth Hoang (Howard Hughes Development) shared tips, challenges and anecdotes about their careers and successes in commercial real estate. Two points of advice repeatedly emerged throughout the discussion.

First, speak up for yourself. “No one will be a better advocate for you than you” said Ruth Hoang. Michele Cohen added that coworkers and supervisors are not “mind readers” and should not be expected to just make things happen on your behalf. Instead, women need to make their case when asking for a raise or promotion. “Track, catalogue, capture your accomplishments” Karen Pecoraro advised. That makes it much easier to recount your contributions when annual review time rolls around, since trying to recall a year’s worth of deals or sales can be difficult. The panel also recommended staying current on reports and publications that provide compensation data for your profession, noting that location can play a big role.

When asked how to avoid the pay gap over the course of a career, advice from the panel varied. “Stay flexible and leave yourself some latitude to do new things” offered Ruth Hoang, referring to the ways in which her willingness to work in new markets and with new clients spurred her progress at Howard Hughes. “Be willing to reinvent yourself” said Christine Espenshade, “especially if you’ve left the workforce for a period of time.” The panel agreed on the importance of staying relevant and connected through networking events and organizations such as CREW.

As a regular participant in annual compensation reviews at Miles and Stockbridge, Michele Cohen noted “our male counterparts self-advocate better more often.” Hoang then stressed the importance of asking for a raise each year and to not settle for a 2-3% cost of living increase, which accentuates the gap. “Be mindful of the math” she added.

The second word of advice from the panel: create your own work/life “harmony”. From choosing your life partner to third-party help, the group emphasized the importance of a support network and agreed that the term “work/life balance” can be misleading. “As women, we think we are the only ones who can handle the pediatrician appointment or stay home with a sick child” Christine Espenshade joked, then added “we are inclined to take on the lion’s share of the duties at home.” In reality, we can all use a little help from the outside to make our home life and career as fulfilling as possible. “Find your thing, find your power, and make it work,” said Laura Penza.