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Miami, CREW and Hillary Clinton Too!

By: Carolina Morgan

When we applied to the research assistant position for the CREW Network research project, Jung Mi and I had no idea that the job came with a very special perk: attending their annual conference in Miami. On top of the five-star accommodations, an excellent conference program, and the incredible networking opportunity, the highlight was the keynote speaker.  “…And you get to see Hillary Clinton!”, said the acceptance email from the CRE.



The Women in Commercial Real Estate (CREW) Network is a major professional association with chapters all over the country dedicated to promoting women in the industry and advancing the industry by empowering its members. Research is at the core of their mission. They regularly produce original data-driven reports on the situation of women in real estate and use the results to shape their activities and conferences. These reports, particularly their five-year benchmarking studies, are the only comprehensive studies of the gender condition in this highly imbalanced industry, and provide a critical look at the inequalities that exist. Not only are these gaps exposed, but CREW then develops robust personal and professional development programs to close them.

This year, CREW and the MIT Center for Real Estate (CRE) are working together to write the 2015 Benchmarking Study. The survey will go out to some 15 major professional real state organizations in the coming months, and the CRE research team (Jung Mi, Haley Jordahl and I, led by Albert Saiz) will mine, analyze and write about the results during the Spring 2015 semester. The final report will be widely distributed and launched at next years’ CREW conference. CREW plans to heavily advertise the report, so the CRE will get a lot of visibility as part of this very important project.

In preparation for the upcoming release of the survey, we sat down to understand what the previous surveys had found, and how our new study can provide new insights through more advanced statistical analysis than CREW has ever used before. The 2010 study came at a critical moment, just after the financial crisis that rocked the industry. The survey showed that women had actually fared better than men in terms of job retention, and that the differences in compensation, while still present, had shrunk. Five years later, we have the challenge of distilling which of these trends where cyclical and which were structural. The previous report raised important questions about women in leadership, mentorship, career expectations, and compensation strategies. Since then, CREW’s white papers have addressed many of these issues, but there is much more to learn. We are excited to have the opportunity to explore these topics. And the CREW leaders are confident in the quality and relevance of what we’ll produce together.

So, there we are in Miami, Jung Mi, Lisa Thoma and I, in a huge palm-themed hotel and conference center, waiting in line with some 1000 other women, to get into the hall where Hilary is going to speak. Everyone is excited and anxious. We finally get in and sit at round tables where we are served a steak lunch. Judith Nitsch, CREW’S current president, introduces award winners and the network’s new leaders while we eat. The anticipation is building up. At the end of the ceremony, before introducing Hillary Clinton, she mentioned the CRE and the work we’ll do together. And then it’s time for the moment everyone was waiting for.

I got chills when she finally walked on stage. It wasn’t just the “star” factor. It hit me that I was in the presence of one of the most powerful women in the world who, regardless of politics and controversies, is a role model for all she’s done and experienced. And she was there to share that with us. Plus, I was taking Gloria Schuck’s Leadership in Real Estate class at the time, where I was one of only two female students (and the only one from CRE). She embodied so much of what we had talked about in class – confidence, influence, vulnerability, and learning from failure – that I was able to see her not as the media caricature we’re all used to but as a woman with incredible accomplishments.

Clinton was a great speaker. She told personal and professional stories, both equally compelling. But what struck me the most about her speech was the theme of data and research as an empowerment tool for the cause of women. Having fought for equality for an entire career and talked to women from around the world and all walks of life, she’d come to the conclusion that numbers, data make the most powerful arguments for the importance of promoting the economic development of women. She repeatedly commended CREW for its research efforts and highlighted how key those reports are. It felt like she was talking directly to Jung Mi and me. If I needed any more motivation for the work ahead of us, that was it. We left Miami feeling like we were part of the solution. We don’t take that responsibility lightly. We look forward to putting together an influential report that will serve the women of the industry and the industry as a whole.