CREW’s New President Targets Gender Equality
Building on a three-decade career in health-care real estate, 2020 CREW President Christine Gorham is working to bring equality in the industry sooner than expected.
In times of change, CREW Network’s new president Christine Gorham is aiming to be a tailwind to motivate and educate women in real estate.
When she was little, she wanted to be a cashier or a banker. “I loved playing with Monopoly money,” Gorham said. This passion stayed with her throughout her teenage years, when she recounts planning to become a Wall Street broker and, eventually, through college, as she studied finance. She chose this major because “most people thought it was one of the hardest degree paths” and saw it as a potential competitive edge. At the time, Gorham’s plan was to work for a big company, get promoted and travel abroad.
Christine Gorham is now embracing a double role in the field: Director of development for Caddis Healthcare Real Estate, which she joined at the end of 2017, and 2020 president of the Commercial Real Estate Women Network, now counting more than 12,000 members globally.
Alignment of two worlds
Her first real estate foray happened in the 1980s, working for a residential developer. Her experience back then, in a time when “the financial bottom fell out of the market,” as she recalls, helped her decide that she wanted to work in a recession-resistant field. After a few years focusing on accounting and financial reporting in the medical sector, she joined one of Georgia’s leading health-care providers—Northside Hospital—in its Atlanta office.
“Northside is where my experience in health care and real estate combined. I previously wouldn’t have put the two worlds together, but this was a great alignment of two worlds that I enjoyed and still do,” she said.
Her determination in acquiring new skills and learning as much as possible alongside seasoned attorneys, architects, engineers and contractors helped her grow in real estate. “I was always asking ‘Why?’ to all of their comments as we worked through agreements and projects. Thankfully, most people like to teach you if you are interested in learning,” Gorham said. She also worked on obtaining her salesman and broker licenses, as well as a Certified Commercial Investment Member certification.
Her work philosophy revolves around the concept of adding value in as many ways possible. In fact, it is real estate’s tangible outcome that people can identify with that drew her into the business. She recognizes the importance of understanding the complex layers of the industry, but also underlines the importance of being a people person.
“To be successful in moving anything forward, you need to understand the people and environments—economic, regulatory, cultural etc.—in which you are working. While the bottom line is certainly a main driver, you have to be cognizant of the EQ side to work. When you listen to what people need and collaborate with the entire (diverse) team, you can handle an issue or need in a manner that is helpful, resolute and widely accepted,” she responded when asked about her winning strategy.
Christine’s listening skills stand at the core of long-lasting industry relationships. “Christine listens to her clients and takes the time to understand their goals rather than dictating solutions to them,” Lynne O’Brien, director of corporate real estate with The Coca-Cola Co., said. She met Gorham through CREW Atlanta more than 15 years ago. “Christine and I have worked together on the board of CREW Atlanta and on other CREW initiatives. Christine also provided real estate brokerage and advisory services to Coca-Cola during her tenure with Eastwood Real Estate Services. She did an outstanding job renegotiating a particularly complex lease for us in the Atlanta market,” O’Brien explained.
The bottom line
Being the oldest of four sisters and raised without being told “you can’t, because you’re a girl” has led her to a genuine interest in the differences between men and women in the business as she became an experienced professional. This led to her joining CREW Atlanta in 2003. Eleven years later, in 2014, Christine became president of the organization’s local chapter and one year later she was named to its global board.
“It’s a very important time to be part of CREW Network. Members and the industry see the value and imperative of the work we are doing. … When women succeed, we all succeed—our workforce, our companies and our industry,” she said.
Real estate’s gender pay gap is one of the aspects fueling her CREW journey. “I am motivated by the question ‘Why does anyone think it is fair that a male should make 23 to 26 percent more than a female when they are doing the same thing?’. Equal pay for equal work is the bottom line,” Gorham added.
She admits that the industry has evolved when it comes to gender diversity, but there is still a long way to go. While many women are entering the field, there still is a significant deficit in C-suite roles. Women hold only 9 percent of C-suite positions and 27 percent of senior vice president, managing director and partner level roles, according to CREW research.
The bad news is that there is no immediate fix. Even if companies actively commit to addressing gender diversity and the derived barriers and disparities, seeing results requires a lot of time. “If companies embraced the tactics and strategies CREW Network provides through its industry research, we could reach equality in 25 years,” Gorham said.
The next step in the organization’s efforts is a benchmark survey launching at the beginning of this year as a way to track progress for women, diversity and inclusion in real estate. All commercial real estate professionals are invited to weigh in and build the full picture.