There are no more ‘pink ghettos’ but more DE&I progress is needed

Women are no longer confined to support roles in the industry. But they are still to find an equal footing with men.

Fitting for the week of International Women’s Day, PERE’s most-read story this week was about two senior female appointments at a top real estate manager.

As we reported on Tuesday, Greystar made several key changes to its global capital raising team. Among them was the elevation of Jennifer Ciullo, formerly the firm’s managing director of North America investor relations, to senior managing director of global investor relations. The South Carolina-based manager also hired Bianca Solomons, formerly of Alceon Group, as its first managing director of Asia-Pacific investor relations.

Senior female hires and promotions are not the rarity they once were. Indeed, of the 10 honorees on 2022’s real estate Women of Influence list, six had been promoted to their roles as heads of their organizations or platforms over the past year; eight were the first women to serve in their respective roles; and eight oversaw investments at their organizations.

The industry has made notable progress since Harvard Business School senior lecturer Nori Gerardo Lietz published her 2012 white paper Cloistered in the Pink Ghetto. In the paper, Gerardo Lietz examined how women in real estate, private equity and venture capital had been relegated to support roles in departments that included client services, marketing and investor relations, or what she referred to as “pink ghettos.”

She said women were effectively cloistered in these departments given the significantly larger percentages of women in these roles compared with investments. “They do not chart the direction of the firm,” she concluded.

Since then, however, women’s roles have increasingly diversified out of the pink ghetto. Look no further than this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Ivanhoé Cambridge chief executive officer Nathalie Palladitcheff, to see a key example of a woman indeed charting the direction of her firm.

According to Sousou Partners’ 2022 compensation survey, coverage of which will appear in PERE’s April issue, 76 percent of female respondents came from acquisitions and asset management, while the remainder were in capital raising. Moreover, 69 percent were vice-president and above, while 13 percent were at the managing director level.  

But while these numbers are encouraging, women are still being relegated today, although less in support functions than in the more junior rungs of the corporate ladder. Greystar, for example, has made a concerted effort in recent years to increase the number of women in their senior ranks, including promoting Bella Peacock, who leads asset execution for Europe, to senior managing director this year. But the firm’s investment leadership remains dominated by men. Meanwhile, leaders like Palladitcheff are only among a handful of senior women at the helm of their organizations.

Women still only make up 42.5 percent of commercial real estate firms in the US and 39.5 percent in Europe, according to the Global Real Estate DEI Survey from executive search firm Ferguson Partners and seven industry organizations. The exception is Asia-Pacific, where men and women accounted for equal percentages of staff. But even there, the gender disparity becomes apparent when examining where in the hierarchy women are concentrated: while 70 percent of junior employees are women, that percentage drops to 47.5 percent of mid-level employees and 24.6 percent of executive management, the survey showed.

 Nonetheless, when considering Gerardo Lietz’s white paper, it is encouraging that the term ‘pink ghetto’ feels outdated today. That points to the progress the industry has made, even if it took the better part of 10 years. Private real estate still has a lot more work to do to remove the constraints impeding the advancement of women in the industry. But things are moving, albeit slowly, in the right direction.

Don’t forget to send in your nominations for the Women of Influence in Private Markets 2023 list. You have until Wednesday, March 22 to submit, and you can do so by clicking here.