Ritchie: A word on women in commercial real estate – San José Spotlight – San José Spotlight

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The commercial real estate brokerage industry on the whole has been an inclusionary catastrophe, and is still vastly dominated by a basic white male upper-middle-class demographic across the U.S. The one saving grace on this score is held almost entirely by women, as the count on people of color of any shade including pink is embarrassingly low.

Bear in mind there may not be a more difficult commission-based career to break into anywhere, and lately it is a bit like Hollywood nepotism with the “children-of” filling top seats. The price of admission — a real estate license — is undoubtedly the lowest cost of entry for what can be spectacular earnings for those at the top.

I have quipped that the California real estate sales license should come in the same envelope as your driver’s license. Thus the steeper the cliff, the easier and harder the fall. That might also be why a wild number of the top commercial real estate (CRE) brokers in the land were either top college or even professional athletes, mostly football players. I am certain not many women regret missing all those concussions.

If you slice into each of the major urban markets however, there are consistently a handful of women at the top. But a very small handful. Each city has its legendary female leaders in CRE: Mary Ann Tighe in New York, Meredith O’Connor in Chicago, Darla Longo in Los Angeles, Kazuko Morgan in San Francisco and our own Pat Cisneros and Julie Mercik in San Jose. And lately the giant CRE firms have been much more deliberate in placing women at the top in management roles, including Kirsten Grado at JLL and Liz Hart at Newmark locally.

Minority or openly gay CRE brokers are the rarest breed, but San Jose has held top spots for more than almost any other market. When I brokered the real estate sale of the legendary bathhouse The Water Garden on The Alameda in the darkest depths of COVID I just couldn’t resist asking the assembled groups of clearly straight golfing type CRE brokers just before a tour: “Now, have any of you ever been here before?” Got a great group laugh and I swear a couple of flushed cheeks.

Our small private regional commercial firm has proudly had the largest percentage of women and minority brokers of any brokerage in the Bay Area for decades. This traces back to our roots under my late father who in spite of a button-down Yale outer persona was raised as a young Army brat in Honolulu and was the only white kid in his class for years. He hired arguably the first women in CRE in the U.S. in the late 1960s and 70s. Carol Gilbert if you are still out there raise a hand.

We had the first black and Asian/South Asian brokers in San Francisco and Oakland in the 70s and 80s and the first openly gay brokers in SF same time frame. When I came to San Jose from San Francisco in 1987 our office was run by Maggie Bludau, surely the only female leader at the time and a major downtown San Jose pioneer in brokerage.

As possibly the only commercial real estate broker in the free world who doesn’t golf and barely tossed a football around SF’s steep hills growing up (skateboarders all) I have held to the tradition. Women have a very clear set of extra sensory capabilities dealing with the human condition. And given the absurdly high male dominance in the tech world those skills are more sorely needed than ever in Silicon Valley.

So, we raise a martini glass to the women of commercial real estate this Women’s History Month and plan for a future in our industry where the tenor of the service firms looks more like the clients we serve.

San José Spotlight columnist Mark Ritchie is the owner of commercial real estate brokerage firm Ritchie Commercial, and has spent his entire career in commercial real estate. His columns appear every second Wednesday of the month. Contact Mark at [email protected].

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