A View from the Female Side of Commercial Real Estate [Why It’s Tough to be an Only]

The following is an adapted excerpt from the recently published book, The SVN® Difference: Creating a Culture of Trust in Commercial Real Estate, by Diane K. Danielson.

In 2012, Kevin Maggiacomo, CEO and President of SVN International Corp., (www.svn.com) a commercial real estate franchisor with over 200 offices, hired me to serve as the company’s first Chief Platform Officer. I was responsible for more fully building out the company’s platform of tools, training and resources. In 2014, I was promoted to Chief Operating Officer and became one of the few women in the C-Suite in a national or international commercial real estate firm.

What’s it like to be a woman in the commercial real estate industry today? It’s probably very similar to being a woman in venture capital, technology or science. You are often the only woman in the room, and that can be isolating. And yes, when you are the only woman in a male-dominated environment, it can lead to some unprofessional situations. This is something I addressed in a recent column about the #MeToo movement.

However, being an “only” can also be a great advantage. In my early years in commercial real estate almost everyone remembered me because I stood out. But it was clear that in certain situations my gender made some people uncomfortable, and then there were those who felt strongly that women did not even belong in the room. Fortunately, I grew up competing with and against the boys in sports so being the only female in the room and having to prove my right to be there was pretty much standard fare for me. This is why SVN has been such a remarkable place to work.

While the industry might still have biases, the amount of productivity that happens at SVN offices due to the lack of bias is unparalleled.

I do believe that our president’s commitment to gender-balance goes beyond recruiting and has added value to leadership decisions at SVN. Having gender balance in a company setting allows you to break through unintentional barriers to progress. For example, look at your company’s marketing collateral; if there is no gender or ethnic diversity represented, some of the best candidates and even clients, will infer that your company does not want to work with them. And that is something your management team might not pick up on if they all look like the people in your marketing collateral.

Diversity also helps with creative problem solving. When you bring people with different experiences to sit at the table and debate issues, you have a better chance at finding the best solutions. With diversity on the management team, you are less likely to have a company run by yes-men, or in the cases where the leadership is all women, yes-women.

A lot has been written about why women lack equality in the workplace. Everyone has a theory: there’s a confidence gap; women don’t ask—or when they do, they get penalized; they don’t apply for positions unless they are fully qualified; and we even have studies that show women are lied to more than men in negotiations. These are all part of the same problem.

If you pare it down, the underlying factor is that women rarely get the benefit of the doubt in a business situation.

Today’s leaders need to change their frame of reference on how they judge performance. Eliminate gender-based doubts and focus on results, skills, and raw talent when deciding who should tackle that tough assignment or get that promotion. In other words, don’t create performance obstacles that only exist in your own perception. Outdated stereotypes are a huge detriment to everybody in the workplace. If she’s as qualified as the next guy, then give her the same benefit of the doubt as you would him.

Right now, the brokerage and investment areas of commercial real estate are only about 20 percent female (not including administrative and marketing support); and the percentage gets much lower the further up the ladder one goes. (See CREW Network’s Women in Commercial Real Estate: 2015 for more details) While there are more women in property management, the disparity where the large dollars are made means that any change is going to be slow. It will take deliberate efforts in recruiting to make a difference in the industry. However, once we get more diversity in the pipeline, sales is a results-oriented business, so it should eliminate the biases.

My prediction is that the commercial real estate industry will be slow to change in the next five years, but if we put intentionality into our recruiting efforts, SVN offices can be leaders for change. In fact, we have a built-in advantage. The SVN shared fee, plus our open and transparent approach to marketing properties, creates a structured, common sense environment for advisors and clients. (Clients, colleagues and competitors are all invited to listen in on any of our SVN | Live property broadcasts to see how we market properties openly. Or read the SVN® Core Covenants to learn what we require of our advisors.)

It’s really not that hard to be inclusive. Women, people of color and others new to the CRE industry simply want to know the rules of the game.

We don’t want to change the rules. Nor do we want special treatment. We just want to make sure the game is fair and not rigged against us.

This is what we try to do at SVN. The more we get our SVN Difference message of inclusion, fairness, and the trust that it creates, out into to the world, the more we will be able to recruit talented women and men as both advisors and clients to our offices and the industry as a whole.


Diane Danielson serves as the company’s Chief Operating Officer overseeing operations and brand development and is involved with the overall strategic growth of the firm. Diane is a former attorney, accomplished speaker, published author, and widely recognized advocate for diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Prior to joining SVN, she ran a digital media consultancy and held VP positions in business development, corporate strategy and marketing at several of the major commercial real estate firms in the Northeast. Read full bio.



For more information on The SVN Difference: Creating a Culture of Trust in Commercial Real Estate by Diane K. Danielson, CLICK HERE.

To learn more about SVN’s culture, CLICK HERE.