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Sticking Together: How Women Can Pave The Way In The CRE Financial Services Sector

running-a-business | Read Time: 4 minutes


Women have spent decades working to move up the ranks of the commercial real estate financial services sector, but they continue to encounter significant barriers.

A 2020 CREW study found that women in this field earn, on average, 24.6% less than their male counterparts. Along with that, only 9% of CRE executive positions are held by women.

One organization that has been taking steps to set women up for success in CRE financing is WSFS Bank, a Delaware-based bank.

Vice President Adrienne Casale said that in addition to having women on its board, WSFS Bank provides support for women who want to move up in their careers and pursue leadership roles.

“It is important to have women on the board and in leadership positions because they can provide a unique viewpoint on what women need to feel supported,” Casale said.

One of these needs, Casale said, is the ability to grow within the organization while being able to make time for priorities outside of work, which WSFS strives to offer.

“The bank has been very supportive of having a work-life balance,” Casale said. “You can feel comfortable maintaining and growing in your position while having the flexibility to be there for your family, whether it be caring for young children or aging parents.”

WSFS Senior Vice President Pamela Arms said that she got into banking by first taking on a role as a commercial real estate appraiser and that in banking, there are many leadership roles available for women. WSFS Bank has also been making strides in creating clear paths from entry-level to C-suite positions.

“I think there’s a lot of upward growth opportunities and hiring within by first identifying high performers and realizing they have a particular set of skills and also the ability to learn more, which helps them move up,” Arms said.

She added that one team at WSFS Bank, which consists of an executive and three staff members, is made up entirely of women.

“Having a team consisting of all women sends a strong signal that if women are in leadership, they are taking part in big decision-making opportunities,” Arms said.

Arms said that women can start building relationships across their organization by facilitating conversations that they may not feel comfortable discussing with their male counterparts. Additionally, if they have ideas they want to implement or hear of lucrative growth opportunities, they can create a line of communication with their network.

“I’ve met with young women in many organizations I’ve worked at who were thinking about having a family and were figuring out how to navigate those conversations,” Arms said. “It’s really important that as women we are supportive of that and help other women with navigating those challenging conversations so that they feel like they can be a parent but also have a career.”

Women can also pursue leadership opportunities and partnerships outside their workplace through participation in professional organizations, such as CREW or the Urban Land Institute’s Women’s Leadership Initiative, Arms said.

“Taking leadership roles within those organizations helps you network and also gets you further engaged within the community,” Arms said. “If nonprofits are looking for board memberships, you can get involved and bring your real estate expertise.”

In her role at WSFS Bank, Arms has also sought out ways to collaborate with women in CRE, including doing three projects with Dana Spain, a managing member of Spain Property Group, which focuses on multifamily construction in Philadelphia.

Spain told WSFS Bank that “with modular construction, not a lot of banks understand our process, when deposits need to be drawn, inspection processes, etc. WSFS has been really malleable working with us within the timelines of our process.”

Arms stressed the importance of helping women who are just starting out in CRE, which starts by connecting with college students.

“It’s about making those connections early on, encouraging women to seek internships and helping them start to build their own network of people who are interested in mentoring them,” Arms said. “You can also make calls on their behalf or try to help them get those first steps in the door. I think it’s important for all of us to step back and see how we can help bring other young women up with us.”

Casale said that having a network of people, especially women, who were supportive of her career path, helped her explore different opportunities within CRE and banking.

“If you can identify people early on in your career — men or women  — that support and encourage you, no matter what your career path is going to be, there will always be opportunities,” Casale said.

This article originally appeared on Bisnow. This article was produced in collaboration between Studio B and WSFS Bank. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.


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