Minorities and women only represent 1.3 percent of the $69 trillion in global financial assets under management across mutual funds, hedge funds, real estate, and private equity, developer Don Peebles said at The Real Deal’s Miami Real Estate Showcase & Forum.
As moderator for “The Diversity Dilemma” panel at the event on Thursday, Peebles, who has corporate offices in New York City, Washington D.C. and Miami, also cited a 10-year study by Commercial Real Estate Women that female real estate professionals earned significantly less than their male counterparts, with the biggest pay gap in the brokerage field where women earn 33.8% less than men.
Armed with that data, Peebles engaged panelists John Gomes, Peggy Olin and Melissa Rose on what can be done to give minorities and women more opportunities to climb the real estate development corporate ladder. “We have an industry that is underrepresented when it comes to people of color and women,” Peebles said while addressing the panel. “Women and minorities have far less access to capital. Is that the cause of the problem? Have you experienced a double standard?”
Gomes, co-founder of Douglas Elliman’s The Eklund|Gomes Team, replied affirmatively. “Of course,” he said. “I sell mainly to wealthy white people. That goes back to the lack of capital. There are not enough minorities that are buying real estate. And that doesn’t create more opportunities to sell.”
Gomes said he constantly worries that he can’t connect with clients because he is a minority working with a white, blue-eyed business partner, Fredrik Eklund, who is one of the most recognized faces in New York City’s brokerage community. “When we would go into listings together, I would often feel the cold shoulder,” he said. “Maybe this person doesn’t like me because I am a minority. I have to work harder in some situations.”
Gomes added he’s lucky that Eklund is aware of the underlying tension and the two men often have frank discussions about race and real estate.
Olin, CEO of One World Properties, said she’s fortunate her firm is based in a place like South Florida, where diversity is an asset. But, she noted the real estate industry could use more women in positions of power. “When you are looking at sales and marketing of a development, there are not many women with their own firms,” she said. “As an immigrant from South America, how do you battle? You can’t go to the New York real estate market and compete.”
Olin recounted how nine years ago, when she was interviewing for a job with Starwood Capital Group, she walked into a room full of men. “I was fortunate to be considered to run the sales and marketing for the entire country,” Olin said. “I was the only woman executive on the team. It was an incredible opportunity to speak up and have my voice heard.”
Rose, a managing director at Ackman-Ziff, said the absence of minorities and women in leadership positions at major real estate firms is a leading cause of the disparity, in addition to lack of access to capital. “One thing that is really challenging is mentorship,” she said. “I don’t have many women that do exactly what I do.”
Rose said getting involved with CREW is one way she and other women in leadership positions can help others succeed. “It is fantastic to have an organization that advances women in an industry where they are under-represented,” she said. “For me, there are tremendous obstacles, but ultimately those have been part of my success. If you use it as ammunition, it can be incredibly effective.”