In a continued effort to improve diversity and inclusion in the real estate industry, New York University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate on Thursday held its second annual National Symposium of Women in Real Estate. The event, held at the Westin New York at Times Square, featured all-female panels that touched on the outlook for the construction sector, how women are viewed at commercial real estate firms and more. Here are some highlights from the sessions.
- While the role of women in the industry is changing, there is still a lot to be done. While there may be a perception that women at commercial real estate firms work in support-type roles such as human resources, legal and investor relations, that is not the case—even if women do fill those positions. Robin Henderson, senior director of the private capital group at RXR Realty, said that based on her experience at her firm and the hundreds of the women at the symposium, that view has changed. According to Henderson, RXR is focused on making sure there is a steady flow of capital to deploy, and it’s her job to keep raising those funds; another woman recently hired to manage human resources is similarly viewed as instrumental to the health of the firm, she added. “I am one of the first calls from our investment team, who are looking at these properties and who are looking at these investment opportunities … wanting to get the sense from me, who is probably the closest to the capital, how can we fund this appropriately,” Henderson said. At the same time, Wendy Silverstein, former CEO of New York REIT, who was not a panelist, shared a story that reflected how there is still a perception that women may not be as qualified as men. “Things are getting better, but we have a long way to go,” she said.
- Construction technology will likely advance in baby steps. For the construction industry to embrace technological innovation on a wide scale, it will take owners and developers who are willing to embrace the technology and take a risk, said Linda Chiarelli, vice president of capital projects and facilities at New York University, in response to an audience member’s question. “That’s not always in their DNA,” Chiarelli said. That’s why the industry, also saddled with a labor shortage, has been so slow to change. Chiarelli said a piecemeal effort would be needed for construction technology to grow organically, so others in the industry can see the benefits of such technology and invest in it.
- Sears’ bankruptcy was a good thing. Neha Santiago, a vice president at Goldman Sachs, said the retailer’s bankruptcy was inevitable, and more archaic retailers may need to go bankrupt as the industry is undergoing a sea change. For instance, she says her firm anticipated that e-commerce would impact the retail sector—but not as much as it has. But Goldman Sachs also did not anticipate that online-first brands like Casper and Warby Parker would be moving into retail locations. “I think we’re only in the very early innings of what that evolution looks like,” Santiago said.
- It’s more complex to develop in New York City than China. That’s according to Zhang Xin, CEO of Beijing-based office developer SOHO China, which is in the process of developing two projects in the city. In New York, there are more governmental bodies to go to for approval. “It’s more complicated than China,” she said. Still, to Zhang, the day’s keynote speaker, what matters most is picking the best location to build the best building, one that will be an icon in a city for decades—not getting too bogged down by the day-to-day details. “We need to think about the long-term value,” she said.