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Women in the Building Business – NY Times

Leslie in Shop at CMF in Long Island City, NY

 

In the male-dominated real estate universe, the hard hat can be a hard hat to wear. It is no longer exactly groundbreaking for women to work on construction sites, to develop or design retail and commercial spaces, or to fill those spaces with tenants.

 

By Joanne Kaufman,
The Sunday New York Times
March 3, 2019

In the male-dominated real estate universe, the hard hat can be a hard hat to wear. It is no longer exactly groundbreaking for women to work on construction sites, to develop or design retail and commercial spaces, or to fill those spaces with tenants.

It is no longer exactly groundbreaking for women to work on construction sites, to develop or design retail and commercial spaces, or to fill those spaces with tenants. Women, for example, occupy 43 percent of commercial real estate positions industrywide, according to data from CREW Network, a networking organization for women in commercial real estate. And more women than ever now fill senior vice president, managing director and partner slots in commercial real estate businesses.

Still, women who work in male-dominated sectors of the industry sometimes discover that a hard hat is a hard hat to wear. They tell of being locked out of deals, of being condescended to, of having to prove their skills and then prove them again. “None of us are looking for a handout. We’re just looking for a level playing field,” said MaryAnne Gilmartin, the chief executive of the development company L&L MAG, which she co-founded in early 2018 after 23 years at Forest City New York, the last five as chief executive.

“Where I feel concerned,” she added, “is that the #metoo backlash will mean that women won’t get opportunities because the men doing the hiring don’t want to open themselves up to confusion or claims about their behavior.” But Ms. Gilmartin said she also sees cause for optimism: “As women become more common in the real estate workplace and move up the ladder, we’re in a position to influence who makes up the team.” She is also hopeful because “there’s pressure on the all-male lineup to diversify,” she said. “This is an industry that changes because it has to, not because it wants to.

The failure to address the women issue will cost them money and opportunities, so companies will do what they have to do.” Here are a few women who endured workplace slights because they were in places dominated by men, but who thrived nonetheless and now run their own corners of the real estate world.

Industrial Supplies

Leslie Baltes began climbing the shelves of the industrial supply company Carter, Milchman & Frank when she was a child. Ms. Baltes is now 46 and the president of the Long Island City-based company — and she’s still climbing the shelves.

But while her grandfather Herman Milchman was one of the founders of the company, and her mother and father took over the business in the 1980s, Ms. Baltes chose a different path — accounting. Half a dozen years ago, when her parents wanted to retire and pass the baton to her, Ms. Baltes’s response was quick and to the point: No way. “I don’t know how they got me,” she said. She now supervises a staff of 40, and almost half of them women. “I’m all about girl power,” Ms. Baltes said.

Not everyone got the memo. When she started at the company and would order her drivers to get going with deliveries, “they looked at me like I had two heads,” Ms. Baltes said. “I had to be tough.” Then there was a lunch with, among others, the general contracting team for a large developer. Ms. Baltes had been asked to prepare a quote for some equipment and was told “the guys wanted to meet me,” she said. A casual lunch was set up, and over burgers, Ms. Baltes got a grilling.

“Were you a manicurist or a hairdresser before you got this gig?” the men asked. “And who did you have to sleep with to get it?” “I said, ‘You guys are idiots. A manicurist? Look how bad my nails are. Look how bad my roots are,’” she recalled. “I made a joke. I said that my grandfather slept with my grandmother.”

But sometimes being a woman is a bit of an advantage. “When my competitors and I are talking about our products, and there are 12 men and one me, and when I make my follow-up phone call, potential customers will remember me,” Ms. Baltes said. “And that’s important.”

Granted, there is still a level of “you are the owner?” “But it’s getting better,” she said. “Every time I go to a job site, I see more women, and there’s an ease about it that wasn’t there five years ago.” She continued: “There’s a way to go. But now, even if men are, thinking negative things, they don’t say them anymore.”