Inside Real Estate's Bro Culture

In the wake of the Weinstein scandal, the male-dominated development and commercial worlds could come under new pressure to change frat-boy ways

Bro vs. bravado
Jay Solomon, the creative director of Sugar Hill Capital Partners, a private equity fund with roughly 60 employees, said commercial real estate’s bro culture has largely been a byproduct of the ratio of men to women but some firms have made a concerted effort to change that.

Still, he noted that even he, at times, has “felt uncomfortable” with the behavior of some figures in the industry, though he declined to elaborate or provide specific examples.

“The general culture in commercial real estate is very aggressive,” said Jane Roundell, a managing principal at Cresa New York, part of an international firm with more than 900 employees.

“That is not a reflection of the business being male to me, it is just the nature of the industry. The nature of the industry is very competitive, and it’s a difficult job,” she added. “If you are working on straight commissions, that has its own challenges. You are negotiating all the time. I read things about how it’s a boys’ club, and I guess it is. But it is a club that I attend and I know many other women attend.”

Roundell, who’s worked in real estate since 1985, said she has had to learn how to “focus on the big picture,” not let people intimidate her and “just keep going.”

“I have had some interesting deals where the broker on the other side was aggressive to the point that he was yelling at me on the phone,” she recalled. “So I hung up on him. I don’t allow people to treat me that way. Twenty years ago, if someone said something off-color I would ignore it. Whereas now I would probably call them out on it, and I wouldn’t be afraid
to do that.”

Nicole Liebman, a salesperson at the boutique commercial real estate investment and advisory firm Hudson, rejected the characterization of the industry as “bro-ish.” But she acknowledged that working in a male-dominated sector means meeting a lot of people who don’t carry themselves professionally.

“They do it on purpose” to intimidate people and blur the moral lines, she said.

Roundell said that as with any male-dominated industry, it’s common for women to experience casual chauvinism. She noted, for instance, that she often hears male brokers and developers refer to women as “girls.”

“I think it has sort of just been accepted in the industry,” Roundell said. “I don’t think anyone means anything by it. But it is the way they think.”

In residential real estate, where women have traditionally outnumbered men, Corcoran called “bros” a subcategory of a subcategory.“I would say [in residential] there are two clubs: ‘bravado’ and ‘I understand, dear.’ You have the guys that
are as close to you as your local hairdresser, and the women tell them all the things that their husbands won’t listen to,” the real estate mogul and investor on ABC’s “Shark Tank” explained. “But for the other guys, I think the bravado works to their advantage. They are making a lot of noise in front of other people who like to be noisy.

“There are a lot of ‘I’m bigger than you’ personalities in New York,” Corcoran added. “So there is a need for people who can sell to that.”


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