Posted about 1 month ago

Improving Gender Equality in Commercial Real Estate (Part I)

I’m in a unique position. I have a master’s degree in social work (MSW) and am currently working on a degree in real estate. When I was studying social work, I was one of usually two or three men in a classroom of about 30 students, as men are traditionally outnumbered in social work by their female counterparts.

Since then, I’ve experienced a role reversal. In my current Master’s of Science in Real Estate (MSRE) program, there are on average about three women in a class of 20-30 men. Contrary to social work, in Commercial Real Estate, women are typically outnumbered by their male counterparts.

In this two-part series, we’ll first take a look at the presence of men in social work. Next, we’ll explore some of the reasons why women are outnumbered in commercial real estate and how we can help attract more women into the industry.

Historic Roots

According to the National Association of Social Workers, 83% of social workers across educational levels and 85% of masters level social workers are women. Stereotypes have and continue to exist that suggest that women are inherently more natural caregivers than men, and that when it comes to displaying empathy for others, a key trait in many social work careers, that men are at a distinct disadvantage.

While this doesn’t mean that men can’t be empathic, many boys grow up being socialized to believe that sensitivity and caring for others is not something worth aspiring to. When boys are taught not to develop or value such skills, we end up with adult men who lack such skills.

Additionally, social work as a profession is historically tied to advocating for the rights and well-being of traditionally underrepresented and disadvantaged groups. This fact helps explain why we tend to see not only more women, but more people of color, more people with handicaps, and more diverse populations overall in social work. Those groups with privilege, including men, historically haven’t had as much of a need to advocate for themselves.

For example, prior to the passage of the 19th amendment in 1919 and its ratification a year later, women were not allowed to vote in the United States. The suffrage movement was a conscious effort aimed at working towards granting women this right. Men, who already had the right to vote, didn’t need to organize in the same manner. The organization of groups such as those behind civil rights, suffrage, and other important causes helped to make social work what it is today.

Institutional Forces Continue Today

Stereotypes persist and many people today still question the ability of a man to show empathy towards those in vulnerable situations. This leads many clients, patients, and other people to prefer to work with a woman. Still, others associate men with many of the more violent and offensive crimes in our society. Even if this is statistically true, it does not take away from the ability of other men to show concern for victims and survivors.

I’ve experienced this on a personal level. As an undergraduate college student, I once took a summer job as a camp counselor. Of the dozen or so counselors there were only two males, yet there were an equal number of girls and boys (children) in the program.

One of the activities that the children engaged in was swimming. This meant that they would need to get changed in and out of a bathing suit. Female counselors were permitted to go into a locker room behind a closed door, where both girls and boys would then get changed.

But as a male counselor, I was forbidden from being in a locker room alone with any children. As a result, my group had to use a public bathroom. I was even required to stand at the entrance holding the door open while the children got changed.

Sadly, because men are assumed to be more likely to abuse children, while the female counselors were trusted to be alone with these children, I was not. I had to stand in a public place while embarrassed little children had their privacy compromised, being made to get changed in clear view of anyone walking by, all in an effort to “protect” them from a male counselor.

Salaries Suggest that Social Workers are Not Valued

We’re all aware that from a strictly financial standpoint, certain professions are valued more highly than others. For example, doctors and surgeons who are required to obtain several years of higher education and who work daily to save lives are generally, and deservedly, paid well. On the other hand, custodians are often taken for granted and generally are not paid very well.

One could make the argument that the reason that custodians are not paid as well as doctors is that it has to do with the necessary skill sets. Custodians can generally learn the skills they need on the job and mistakes are easily corrected. Doctors and surgeons must practice and train for years, and mistakes can literally be deadly.

Clinical social workers are an interesting case. They can help people with mental illness, save marriages that seem destined for divorce, and often prevent suicides. They work with abused children, mentally ill adults, couples in domestic violence situations, and medically ill individual. They work with survivors of violent crimes and other traumatic events, as well as more “mundane” issues such as job loss and coping with the passing of a loved one.

Training to be a clinical social worker typically entails earning a master’s degree. Typically, a higher educational degree means a higher salary. Still the average social worker only makes $40,000/year or $48,000/year if they have a master’s degree. Social workers are good at advocating for others, but often neglect to advocate for themselves, particularly when it comes to their salaries.

Social work is a passion career and not one that people generally enter for its financial benefits. While both women and men alike would prefer to be paid well, the lower average salaries for social workers, is just another disincentive for men. Even in the 21st century, many men often feel a responsibility to provide for their families, and as a result simply cannot afford to be social workers.

Men as Role Models

I used to work at an agency specializing in sexual abuse. I worked with both survivors and perpetrators; some were male, and some were female. One case stands out in my memory. I was assigned to work with a 12-year-old girl who had been abused by her mother and several of her mother’s boyfriends. The foster family was adamant that this young girl would not feel comfortable working with me and that she should be re-assigned to a female therapist. The agency I worked with stood by me, and I was subsequently given the opportunity to work with this young survivor.

Having been through so much, this young girl was assigned not only to me as her therapist, but also to an educational consultant, a foster care worker, a case manager, a psychiatrist, and a worker from the Department of Social Services. Every one of the other workers assigned to her was a woman.

As it turned out however, I was the only person that this young girl trusted and the only person that she would talk to. My female colleagues felt like they were getting nowhere and got frustrated by the fact that their young client would sit in their office refusing to speak. On the other hand, I was making steady progress, and had a client that was actually looking forward to our sessions together.

I gave her something that not one of my female colleagues could. I helped her to start trusting men again. Instead of growing up potentially fearing all men, she saw in a me a person who could be trusted to look out for her well-being. She began to realize in our sessions that simply because she had encountered some bad men in her past, that it wasn’t necessary to write off all men as inherently evil.

Welcoming men into social work and other supportive roles allows them to act as role models for both young girls and young boys, dispelling myths and stereotypes about what all men are like.

Whether a father has a son, a daughter, or both, his role is an essential one. He is in a unique position to demonstrate to his daughter how the boys and men in her life should treat her, and to show his son how to treat the girls and women in his life. With many fathers missing in homes today, it becomes necessary for men in society at large to fill that void. Whether it’s an uncle, a neighbor, a friend, or even a professional, men have a responsibility to serve as positive role models.

What it Was Like in School

As mentioned earlier, I was one of usually two or three men in the classroom when earning my MSW degree. From time to time, one of the women would ask me what it was like to be outnumbered. Honestly, it felt comfortable. I’ve always been comfortable with women and have usually had more female friends than male friends at any given time.

That being said, when we talked about male privilege in class, it quickly became more apparent that I was in the minority. Male privilege is the idea that men are granted certain advantages for no reason other than the fact that they’re male. For example, men are generally paid better than women in the workforce, even when equally qualified and capable.

It also hit me when we talked about male on female abuse. One day, we took a break in the middle of a class and it just so happened that the three men in the class remained in the room while all of the women stepped outside. We had been talking about sexual assault and domestic violence, and the men (myself included) began to talk about a sense of guilt that we all felt. Even without ever directly striking a woman personally, we each felt a sense of responsibility for our gender as a whole. We assumed a feeling of guilt as men for the actions of other men.

This uneasy feeling was a reminder to each of us that, as men, we have a responsibility to fight back against the negative reputation that some people are giving men as a whole. We have a responsibility to show the world that men are caring, loving, supportive, and sensitive. We also have a responsibility to other men to prove that being compassionate doesn’t make you weak… but rather, is makes you stronger. Masculinity shouldn’t be defined by physical strength, but the strength and courage that it takes to break with stereotypes and to be leaders in such a way that we build up those around us.

In Part II, we’ll move our discussion from men and social work to women and commercial real estate.