In today’s Four on Friday, we talk with Gail Ayers, CEO of CREW Network and president of the CREW Network Foundation, the industry's premier business networking organization dedicated to advancing the achievements of women in commercial real estate. Gail shares her insights on CREW Network’s goals and priorities for the coming year, the challenges women face in commercial real estate and her most recent travel adventure.
Tell us about your duties as CEO of CREW Network and president of the CREW Network Foundation.
Ayers: It’s my job to oversee the overall communications and operations of CREW Network, particularly the creation and implementation of our annual strategic plan with our board and volunteer committees. Within that scope, I focus much of my time on leadership development, program design, strategic planning, relationship building and governance activities so that we can continue to enhance and grow the Network.
Resource development is also a critical task at CREW because we want to offer substantial educational services to members in the form of our leadership summits and conventions. We serve as the go-to organization for the industry when it comes to quality networking and professional development, and we also place a strong emphasis on mentoring and sponsorship of women at all stages of their careers.
A large part of my role is listening and gathering feedback from others, whether by participating in industry groups, meeting with chapter leaders and committee members, or working with our volunteer board to discuss and coordinate CREW activities. Each day, I set aside at least two hours early in the morning to stay grounded with what our members want. I think it’s very important to listen as you plan.
What are the CREW Network's goals and priorities for 2015?
Ayers: This year we will be conducting our third benchmark study, which will show us how well women are doing in commercial real estate. We conduct the report every five years, and it’s the most extensive research that looks at compensation and career satisfaction – differentiated by gender – in the CRE industry. For the 2015 report, we’ve partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and we’re excited to work with this exceptional institution. We’ve also partnered with MIT to develop a leadership certificate program for our members that will use our programming as the foundation of its curriculum. In addition to those two initiatives, we are looking at ways we can assist executive search firms in locating talent for board and C-suite positions.
Where do you think women in commercial real estate have made the most progress, and what remains their biggest challenge?
Ayers: Salary equity is always a concern, but we’ve seen improvements in this area. Networking at the highest levels and gaining access to rainmakers are still hard entry points for most women, and of course, the top executive positions in the industry are still largely held by men. We think women will break through these final barriers as more companies realize the benefits that come from greater diversity in the composition of their executive management teams and boards.
How do you like to spend your time away from the office?
Ayers: I traveled to Iran in the spring and enjoyed reading about the ancient Persian culture and history. I also love to design gardens and consider land art and design my great pleasure.