If the packed room was any indication, ULI’s Women’s Leadership Initiative’s sold-out March 13, 2014 inaugural event, Leading Change: Men + Women = Higher Returns was a smashing success. The diverse audience of men and women highlighted that gender diversity is a business issue, rather than an issue that only impacts women.
Dr. Kellie McElhaney, the Faculty Director of the Center for Responsible Business at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business, kicked off the evening with an engaging presentation focused on the business case for diversity in leadership and how it maximizes shareholder value. Despite the humorous and light-hearted nature of Dr. McElhaney’s presentation, the data was anything but. For example, companies that have diverse leadership perform better in volatile markets, develop more innovative products and services, and deliver as much as 35% higher return on net equity to shareholders. Philanthropic giving is also dramatically increased (from an average of $969,000 to $27.1 million, annually, when at least three women are on the Board). Diversity in leadership also correlates with reduced water waste, greater use of alternative energy, better healthcare for the workforce, and improved talent management, among other benefits. Yet despite the wealth of compelling data, the number of women in leadership positions among Fortune 500 companies has not significantly increased since 1995.
Dr. McElhaney’s remarks were followed by a dynamic discussion among four recognized leaders in the San Francisco Bay Area real estate community. Connie Moore of BRE Properties, Inc. and Alexa Arena of Forest City Enterprises were joined by Rick Dishnica of The Dishnica Company and Victor MacFarlane of MacFarlane Partners.
Ms. Moore drew upon her 37-year career with BRE Properties to highlight how the presence of women in the Board room has changed over time. She commented that the addition of women to the BRE Board was the result of a deliberate choice to facilitate diversity of thought in the decision-making progress. Ms. Moore also observed that the current generation of business leaders, now in their 40’s, is reaching the age where a natural progression should see more women at the helm of publicly-traded companies. Based on experience gained throughout her career, she advises women to “bring your best-looking and most-authentic self to any table or meeting, and do not make gender an issue.”
The “ambition gap” was a significant subject of discussion. Specifically, studies show that women tend to apply for positions only if they meet all of the hiring criteria. Men, on the other hand, will apply for a position if they meet as little as 30% of the required qualifications. All panelists agreed that hiring managers should keep this disparity in mind. Dr. McElhaney commented that one hiring manager at a global law firm with which she consults finds that he judges the capabilities of job candidates by doubling a woman’s estimation of her capabilities, and halving that of a man.
Ms. Arena echoed many of Dr. McElhaney’s sentiments about a perceived lack of confidence among women, and women generally having a lower risk-tolerance than men. She commented that women tend to ask questions and ask for advice from their leaders and mentors; behaviors that can be perceived as a lack of confidence. She also observed that, during reviews, men tend to present themselves in a positive light, and attempt to persuade others that their performance met and exceeded expectations. Women, on the other hand, tend to evaluate their performance in a more realistic and accurate fashion. Women should be confident in their abilities. Ms. Arena has personally found value to bringing her own negotiating style to the table.
Mr. MacFarlane explained that, throughout his career, he has tended to partner with women like Ms. Arena. He commented that women make a point to report to their superiors about problems that may be encountered on a project. He does not perceive such reports as signaling a lack of confidence, however. Mr. MacFarlane commented that managers – men and women – have a duty to report to leadership when problems may be on the horizon. The tendency of men to handle problems alone may prove problematic, and may deny business leaders the opportunity to avert a crisis in the most timely manner possible.
Mr. MacFarlane emphasized that we, as business leaders, must invest in women. He believes that young women often do not seek out the exposure, training, and confidence-building that are necessary for them to achieve. He also emphasized the role of mentors and sponsors to help women succeed in their careers. By the same token, women need to make their presence and their expertise known, by actively participating in their industry. At the end of the day, talent is talent.
Picking up on the comments made by other panelists, Mr. Dishnica shared insight into how men and women can more successfully work together. Better communication is the key. He allocates responsibility to both genders: men have a responsibility to listen to their female counterparts; women have a responsibility to speak.
As cocktails beckoned and the discussion came to a close, it was clear that the conversation was far from over. Fortunately, the ULI Women’s Leadership Initiative, whose mission is to raise the visibility and number of women leaders in ULI and the real estate industry, will continue to explore these themes. For more information about what we are doing in the San Francisco Bay Area, please contact Co-Chairs Jordan McCarthy or Corie Edwards.
Authored by: Corie Edwards, Nikki Lowy, and Jordan McCarthy