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Pacific Coast Business Times: More tri-county women finding a home in CRE

March 08, 2019
Santa Barbara, California – Published 3/8/2019
By Annabelle Blair
Ashley Gallagher
Ashley Gallagher, a broker at Radius Commercial Real Estate, said she hopes there will be a “new wave of heels in the dirt.”

Field is traditionally male dominated, but that’s changing

Linda Hagelis, senior vice president of Radius Hagelis Retail Advisors, said she was often the only woman at conferences and events when she started out in CRE in the early ’90s.

The commercial real estate industry in the Tri-Counties has been a traditionally male-dominant field, but over the last couple decades that has slowly changed as more women put cracks in the glass ceiling.

Regional numbers aren’t necessarily on par with national ones — 29 percent of CRE brokers in the U.S. in 2015 were women, according to a Commercial Real Estate Women Network survey.

On the Central Coast, the numbers have shifted from close to zero a few decades ago to more than a dozen women today.

“Things don’t change overnight,” said Pam Scott, president of GPS Commercial Real Estate Services in Santa Barbara.

She said that while the number of women brokers is low, women in other areas of the business such as financing, law, property management and lease negotiations have increased.

“Historically, it’s been men who’ve been our clients,” Scott said, but more women are entering the business as property owners, often through inheriting a family business, estate or property. As clientele becomes more diverse, a need for training and education in real estate savvy will likely arise, she said.

As more women enter the property ownership side of the field, hopefully industry brokers will grow as well. This will add diverse skills and perspectives, said women brokers in the Tri-Counties.

However, they agreed that the field is ultimately what you make of it, regardless of gender. It’s tough and challenging with both high risk and high reward.

The number of women-owned businesses has increased, said Melinda Walsh, vice president of Daum Commercial Real Estate, and it makes sense for women CRE brokers to match this uptick.

“It really just comes down to personality and how you work,” Walsh said.

It’s also hard to pinpoint why the number of women in residential real estate is much higher than the number in CRE, said veteran tri-county women brokers.

Although “there’s no one answer,” said Clarice Clarke, president of Lee & Associates’ Central Coast office, “some barriers and perceptions today are different than when I entered the business.”

A CRE broker helps people make business choices versus domestic ones, she said. The career’s appeal lies in its challenge of being varied, interesting and complex across industrial, retail, office and land specialties.

Not to mention its high stakes, which are a bit like “jumping off a cliff every day,” said Sheryl Mazirow, president of Mazirow Commercial.

The business operates on a strictly-commission basis, she explained, which means creating your own financial security. Women may shy away from that kind of lifestyle when the field is already so highly dominated by men, she said. Some choose to go in-house and work with a firm after a few years in the field.

“But the women who are in brokerage — they tend to be superstars,” Mazirow said.

Linda Hagelis, senior vice president of Radius Hagelis Retail Advisors, said she was often the only woman at conferences and events when she started out in CRE in the early ’90s.

As a retail broker she recognized she was a minority, but she also realized she was more aware of popular trends for shopping and dining. This knowledge, along with hard work and perseverance, shaped her career, including a part in putting together The Collection at RiverPark in Oxnard.

Hagelis started a Commercial Real Estate Women chapter in Ventura County about 15 years ago after she noticed women were traveling to the Los Angeles chapter. The meetings were mostly informal lunches that included women across the industry.

“I think today there are more opportunities for younger new brokers to team up with a veteran broker,” Hagelis said, noting that regardless of gender having a mentorship support system when starting out in the field is valuable.

A couple decades ago, women like Hagelis were pioneers in the field. For the women who have entered CRE more recently, a field typically known as the “good old boys club” is changing, they said.

The social climate is part of the reason for this, said Ashley Gallagher, a broker at Radius Commercial Real Estate. Although cultural doubt surrounding women in the business still seems to linger at times, she said “sitting on the sidelines” isn’t an option for her.

“Brokers, owners and tenants will always see my age and my gender first,” Gallagher said. “My job is to make them know I am that ‘velvet hammer,’ as a client of mine calls me. It’s a small group of women who work and find success in CRE; but I hope that changes and we can find a new wave of heels in the dirt.”

Natalie Wagner, a broker associate with The Shopping Center Group in Santa Barbara, said she was mentored by Clarke early on in the business. Wagner grew up around real estate investing and was drawn to the business and analytical aspects of the job.

Learning from other women in the field who are good at their craft has been “priceless” she said, and although men are typically more assertive than women, there are still many women who are excelling in the business.

“In this field, I try and treat everyone equally, and I feel like I receive the same treatment,” she said.

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