The Real Deal Miami

Women’s network president paves way for female commercial brokers

By Jennifer LeClaire | October 21, 2008 02:14PM

There are many women in South Florida residential real estate, but successful crossings of the bridge to commercial properties are infrequent and difficult.

The Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) Network conducts surveys reporting that men outnumber women nearly three to one at commercial realty firms. Less than 25 percent of those women earn $150,000 or more, compared to 60 percent of their male counterparts.

Gayle Bainbridge, president of CREW’s Miami Chapter, has worked hard to change those realities over her past year on the job.

Bainbridge, co-founder and executive vice president of Miami commercial property insurance firm Global Risk LLC, launched an initiative called “Make the Ask” during her 2008 CREW presidency. Her goal: to give women the confidence to step out on a limb, say what they want — the “make the ask” of the title, and close more deals.

The Real Deal magazine caught up with Bainbridge to discuss women in commercial real estate, and the skills they need to succeed.

TRD: With Governor Sarah Palin selected for vice president and Hillary Clinton garnering much of the Democratic vote during the primaries, it’s a high visibility year for women. What’s it like being a woman in commercial real estate, a male-dominated industry?

Gayle Bainbridge: It absolutely is a male-dominated industry. Although many women have come into the marketplace, that has not changed. But certainly, as women get to the forefront of the political arena or even the business arena, it has a positive effect for women in commercial real estate. Any time women break through that glass ceiling, it’s a huge step forward for women everywhere. It shows women can certainly go toe-to-toe with our male counterparts, and it raises awareness of the fact that women are just as capable as men in these areas.

TRD: CREW studies show that more women are entering commercial real estate, but women still lag in terms of power and compensation. What gives?

Gayle Bainbridge: When you look at the study’s figures, it’s clear that women still have to do something. That was one of the things that led me to introduce the “Make the Ask” campaign in our local CREW Miami Chapter. Although some women are very assertive and have no problem making the ask, there’s a vast majority of women who are not quite as assertive. Those women need to realize the have permission to be assertive in the business arena. It’s okay to ask, and it’s okay to get rejected.

TRD: Nobody likes rejection. Do you feel women have less tolerance for it?

Gayle Bainbridge: I think so. Historically, the commercial real estate business has been a network of good old boys, so women were rejected at some level. But more women are coming into the field. As women see more successful women at the top of our field, it’s certainly going to help them and give them the encouragement to dream higher and to take more risks.

TRD: Tell me more about the Make the Ask program. What does that mean, practically speaking?

Gayle Bainbridge: It’s a regional awareness and educational campaign that we established to focus on inspiring assertiveness among women. It’s a campaign to encourage deal flow, helping women, as well as men, develop the confidence to take the risks, to make the ask. If you think about it, women are taught that bragging is not a good thing. But for a man, bragging is part of his normal business day. Women have to learn to say, “I am good at this.”

A big part of any business is not just about networking, not just about showing up, but getting the opportunity to do business with one another. Through “Make the Ask” we not only encourage members to make relationships with people, but to take those relationships to the next level. We teach them not to be afraid to ask, “Who does your property management? Who writes your insurance?” That’s the next level, and there’s no reason not to ask.

TRD: How much participation do you get in this initiative?

Gayle Bainbridge: Everyone gets the message at our meetings. We host two meetings a month. We have an e-mail blast that goes out weekly. We have a quarterly newsletter, so they are getting bombarded with this message. We are finding that more members are coming back to us to report on the success they have had “making the ask.” Every December, we host a board installation luncheon that recognizes the deals of the year. This year, we have a lot more people vying for the deal of the year. Our members are getting the message. They are making the ask, and they are getting the deals.

TRD: Do you feel it’s harder for a woman to close a deal than a man because of stereotypes? Or is it more because women are less assertive and less confident than their male counterparts?

Gayle Bainbridge: Maybe neither. I think it goes back to women being less likely to take on risk than a man. Women are typically more comfortable in stable careers, but it depends on the woman. Senator Clinton and Governor Palin are strong-willed women that can match up against strong-willed men. There’s just no question about it.

I don’t think our DNA controls whether we are willing or able to do in business. There are some norms and stereotypes that exist. But if we are on a level playing field, I don’t think we are disadvantaged to closing a deal. We may have to work a little bit harder to get to a point where we are in a position to close it, but when we have earned that respect we can close. Certainly, as more and more women get to the top of their fields, the gender gap will close and they’ll be at that table and will be able to close the deal just as easily as a man will.

TRD: What about today? Are there exceptions to the women-make-less-and-have-less-power rule? And if so, what makes them exceptions?

Gayle Bainbridge: Absolutely! When I think of the women in our chapter who have earned positions and compensation equal to men, they are intelligent women, highly organized, very efficient and they are all risk-takers with self-confidence.

TRD: Do you consider yourself a risk-taker? And what does it mean to you to be a risk-taker?

Gayle Bainbridge: In some areas, absolutely I am. Being a risk-taker is dreaming big, taking chances in the face of odds, being willing to work harder than the next person.

When I started in the commercial insurance industry, there were very few women selling commercial insurance. Women tend to want to be in a stable work environment where they are earning a salary but I have excelled in this industry and so have a handful of my associates. I just recently opened my own insurance agency after decades of being in insurance. When I started this agency, I knew I had it in me to succeed. The economy is struggling but still, the agency is doing great after three months.

TRD: Is the down market hurting women more than men?

Gayle Bainbridge: I don’t think so. The economy is blind to gender and everybody is taking a hit at this point. Historically, I would have to say that because women are more adept at building and strengthening relationships, those of them that are already in a position of power in their career are probably in a better position to weather the storm.

TRD: What can women do to close the so-called power gap and the compensation gap?

Gayle Bainbridge: It gets back to women being encouraged to take the risk, whether it’s starting a new business, negotiating on behalf of a client, or developing new business relationships. As women show their ability in the business marketplace, the power gap will evaporate. We see it more and more. You don’t think twice if you see a woman president of the bank. You don’t think twice if you see a woman who is the managing partner of a law firm. The numbers certainly aren’t 50-50 at this point, but it’s more common. And women who have taken the risk and established themselves in their industries certainly become good role models for other women.

TRD: So then what next for CREW? I know you are passing the torch to the next chapter president, Danet Linares.

Gayle Bainbridge: It’s been a really good year. We had budgeted for 18 new members in CREW Miami. We have reached 33. We’ll continue to host programs that are meaningful to our members. Danet has told me her year is going to be “Make the Deal.” So she is going the next step beyond making the ask. Don’t just ask for it – close it!