International Women's Day: Gender Balance as a Business Issue

Friday, March 8, 2019

On International Women's Day 2019, HFF Senior Director Kerry Hawkins and Analyst Madeline Joyce from HFF's Boston office discuss how this year's IWD theme of #BalanceforBetter helps the workplace.

On January 3, 2019, history was made when 127 women swore in to their elected positions in the U.S. Congress. While this historic moment should be celebrated, it is worth noting that these 127 women make up only 23.7 percent of Congress’ 535 members. Women face even smaller margins in the corporate world, where currently a mere 6.4 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are female — an all-time high. A study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics found that companies increasing their number of women at the C-Suite level to 30 percent resulted in a 15 percent increase in profitability at a typical firm. Now more than ever, the empowerment of workplace equality has emerged as not only a gender issue but as a best business practice as well.

A Business Issue

In Katzenbach and Smith’s The Discipline of Teams, an important question is posed integral to the success of any organization:  “What makes the difference between a team that performs and one that doesn’t?” In other words, what is the key that transforms a group of individuals into a collaborative and efficient team? Katzenbach and Smith define four components that are necessary to making a team function:

  • Common commitment
  • Performance goals
  • Mutual accountability
  • Complementary skills

Could it be that businesses lacking diversity are stifling team attainment of complementary skills and ultimately a company’s full potential? Statistics have shown that companies with gender diversity yield higher results regarding company performance. Could it be that diversity and the integration of different methodologies and mindsets promote a more successful team dynamic? Teams where individuals approach problems with different perspectives will inevitably problem solve in more collaborative and creative ways.

The business of commercial real estate necessitates a basic skillset:  analytical competency, proficiency in complex cash flows and fundamental market knowledge. However, what differentiates the good practitioners versus the prolific business generators is a high level of Emotional Intelligence (EQ). Defined as the capacity to be aware of, control and express one's emotions, while simultaneously managing interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically, people with high EQ are often leaders in their fields and, consistently, outperform those with higher “credentials.” Why? Because they can see another’s point of view, genuinely empathize with others, engage in active listening and build sustainable and meaningful relationships. They put "team" before "self" and attract diversity by their very nature to include and mentor others. Time and time again, women test higher than men in EQ, yet that statistic is not represented in the workplace. Since EQ reflects such a crucial attribute of a successful leader, one would expect to find more women in leadership roles. Commercial real estate and brokerage in particular is heavily dependent on relationship building. At the end of the day it’s not a widget-building business, it’s a people business.

Bravery Not Perfection

Women consistently earn more degrees at the bachelors, graduate and doctorate level than men and outperform in the classroom, but for every 100 men promoted to manager, only 79 women are promoted. An underlying factor must be the reason for this disparity. Reshma Saujani, lawyer, politician and founder of Girls Who Code argues that the disparity begins in how as a society we raise our children.

“Most girls are taught to avoid failure and risk. To smile pretty, play it safe, get all A’s. Boys, on the other hand, are taught to play rough, swing high, crawl to the top of the monkey bars and then jump off head first… we’re raising our girls to be perfect, and we’re raising our boys to be brave.” – Reshma Saujani

Leading the Next Generation

In October 2018, the state of California passed a law requiring any company headquartered there to fill a minimum of one seat on its board of directors with a woman by the end of 2019. Any company with more than five board members must fill, at minimum, two seats with women. It is mind-boggling that a law was necessary to incorporate a practice that is clearly profitable for business. While we recognize that commercial real estate is a field where we are still far behind in gender equality, it's often for lack of applicants. At HFF, that’s not the case when our executives get to choose their colleagues, such as with our board of directors. HFF doesn’t have one female on its board; it has three. By choice. Because diversity is good for business.

How do we move forward? How do we enable the next generation of leaders to not only strive for but to achieve a balanced and diverse workplace? Cara J. Nelson of DLA Piper, as incoming CREW Boston President in 2017, wrote an open letter to the Boston commercial real estate community remarking that “men need to notice when there are no women in the room.”  And that starts at the top. HFF Co-Founder and Executive Managing Director John P. Fowler acknowledged this long ago and set out to mandate the culture at HFF. And it’s working.

Outside of commercial real estate we need to set the tone with children. In the Boston Public Elementary School that Kerry’s children attend, every schoolwide morning meeting begins with a basic mantra:  Be kind. Be respectful. Be responsible. Be inclusive.

It’s that simple.

About Kerry Hawkins

Kerry Hawkins is a senior director in HFF's Boston office. She has more than 18 years of experience in commercial real estate.  She specializes in office investment advisory throughout the greater Boston area. Since joining HFF in 2018, she has been involved in more than $680 million in sales assignments.

Through the years, Ms. Hawkins has been acknowledged by the industry with the Women of FIRE Award (Banker and Tradesman), the CREW Professional Service Award, the NAIOP National Developing Leader Award and the Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 Award.  She is on the Executive Committee for NAIOP, the Board of Directors of CREW Boston, a member of the Commercial Brokers Association (CBA) and serves as the Treasurer for the Board of Directors of the Good Shepherd School.


About Madeline Joyce

Madeline Joyce is an analyst in the Boston office of HFF. She has more than four years of experience in real estate and is primarily responsible for performing financial and market analysis, preparing offering documents and coordinating the due diligence process for the office’s production team.

Ms. Joyce joined the firm in September 2018.  She is also currently working toward her MBA at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business.  Prior to joining HFF, Madeline worked at WinnCompanies as a property manager for a multifamily portfolio of low- and mixed-income LIHTC properties in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Prior to that, she interned at The HYM Investment Group with the development team and worked on several different development projects, including Boston’s upcoming Bulfinch Crossing.

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