Fewer women at ICSC for Wells Fargo, Walmart and other firms

First-ever gender analysis of RECon attendees illustrates wide gaps

ICSC in Las Vegas (credit: Adam Pincus)
ICSC in Las Vegas (credit: Adam Pincus)

Attendees of the International Council of Shopping Centers’ annual RECon may notice at least one key difference between the convention floor and the world outside. Inside, the percentage of women drops by about half.

Women represent only about 25 percent of the registered attendees at the world’s largest retail real estate convention, held each year at the Las Vegas Convention Center. That is according to a first-time analysis by The Real Deal of registered attendees over the past three years. The number is nearly unchanged for each of the past three years. ICSC estimates 37,000 people are attending the conference this year.

Possible reasons for wide gender disparities varied. Some noted that the late-night partying, trips to strip clubs, and overall ambience of Las Vegas presented a difficult environment.

“Vegas is not an easy place to travel to [as a woman],” said Adelaide Polsinelli, an longtime attendee and a broker with Eastern Consolidated.

One landlord-representative leasing broker, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said attendance is often given to top producers, and gender is not a factor.

The gender divide at the convention is representative of a larger issue throughout the real estate industry. TRD took a closer look earlier this year at the widening gender gap in commercial brokerages and development firms, where men are largely dominant.

While the overall ratio of women at ICSC is consistent over three years, major public companies like Walmart and Wells Fargo and the brokerage firm KW Commercial have seen the percentage of women at ICSC decline during the same time period.

And for others, like Bank of America Merrill Lynch and food giant Aldi, the percentage of women has not been higher than 10 percent in any of the past three years.

Wells Fargo and several other firms disputed that ICSC attendance figures should be interpreted as the firm’s commitment to diversity.

“Gender diversity is extremely important for Wells Fargo, including in our commercial real estate group. In fact, about half of the CRE team members are women,” company spokesperson Beth Richek said in an emailed statement.

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“It’s completely unfair and would be inaccurate to use our attendance at a single conference as a basis for assessing our commitment to gender diversity.

RELATED: Coverage of ICSC 2018

TRD analyzed all individuals who were registered with a company as of May 17 on the ICSC attendee list, We then identified their gender based on assumptions based on first names. About 2 percent of the individuals had names that were not clearly associated with a gender. We then took a closer look at firms that had at least 10 people registered, to look at trends from 2016 through 2018.

Some of the large corporations that sent more than 10 people sent no women at all, including Wells Fargo Bank (no woman among 13 attendees), PNC Bank (15 attendees) and the national construction-related firm Bohler Engineering, whose entire group of 30 people, are all men. That, even as the firm has a proactive Women in Engineering program, intended to increase the number of women in the field the company describes as, “a historically male-dominated industry.”

Representatives for PNC, Bank of America and Aldi could not be reached for comment.

Bohler’s chief legal counsel, Jane Leopold-Leventhal, said the firm not only has an aggressive program to hire and retain women, but also has a number of women in upper management.

In addition, about a quarter of the approximately 45 to 50 people Bohler brings to Vegas are women, and they work on networking and business development outside of the convention hall.

“Bohler is very proud of its continuous efforts to support the development of females in this field and truly believe we are at the forefront of our industry in doing so,” Leopold-Leventhal said.

Brokerage firms see enormous gender ranges in attendance. About 92 precent of KW Commercial’s attendees are men, and about 87 percent of Marcus & Millichap’s attendees are men. But the proportion of men at most of the large commercial brokerages averages between 60 and 80 percent.

Gina Relva, a spokesperson for Marcus & Millichap, said in an email, “I can’t say offhand whether that number is accurate, but what I can say is women and men are encouraged to attend.”

Yoryi De La Rosa contributed research.