This is the third in a series of excerpts from a panel discussion at the 2013 Multifamily Executive Conference. (Read the first and second articles.) Moderator Jerry Ascierto, editor-in-chief of Multifamily Executive, interviewed CEOs from the multifamily housing sector. Eric Bolton, CEO, MAA; Ed Pettinella, CEO, Home Properties; Tom Toomey, CEO, UDR; Bill Bayless, CEO, American Campus Communities; Tom Bozzuto, The Bozzuto Group; and Rick Graf, president, Pinnacle, participated.


Given that women are underrepresented in the construction industry (9%) compared with the 47% that they represent in the workforce as a whole, our CEO panelists tackled the question of how their companies promote women into leadership positions.

Bill Bayless, CEO of American Campus Communities, responded that the student housing industry is “maybe a little more gender balanced” than other sectors. His company has an internal program, “Inside Track,” that is utilized to promote both men and women from within.

“We start with young people who we are hiring as student workers. We try grooming them from the very beginning; both male and female need to have that internal connection. Our human resource perspective is internal grooming.”

Bayless added that he had nearly 90% female residents at a particular school, which supported what Eric Bolton, CEO of MAA, added to the discussion. He said if you look at the percent of males versus females in college, it’s overwhelmingly female. He believes that disparity will come into play in the future:

“I think if you look out five, seven, 10 years, that statistic has significant implications for how leadership is going to continue to evolve. I know in our company if you go at the senior vice president level, 40 percent of that group is already female. I believe this is one of those things that will be addressed as a function of education trends, and as a function of how society continues to evolve. I think we all need to be sensitive to it and be sure we’re promoting the diversity that we need.”

Tom Toomey, CEO of UDR, agreed that their observations about the education component are on the mark, but he put more emphasis on the importance of individual achievement:

“I’m kind of blind to it in the sense that I don’t sit there with stats. I really want the best athlete on the ground. And what you want is a young, deep bench, and we’re finding that young, deep bench is filled with more capable people. And we’ll promote them as they grow in whatever facet of the business. We feel good about it.”

Rick Graf, president of Pinnacle, recognized that in his business there are already “plenty of women, and they’re very, very talented.” He believes it’s a strategic process to develop emerging leaders through diversity programs and by targeting the best talent. He acknowledged, however, that there is a need to groom and grow those opportunities within the senior positions.

Comparing the present with the future, Tom Bozzuto of The Bozzuto Group glanced around the table at his fellow CEOs and commented that, “It’s unfortunate in some respects that there are half a dozen guys up here on the panel; on the other hand, we’re half a dozen not-so-young guys, and I would bet within a couple years this is going to change.” Bozzuto gave some quick statistics on his own company that reflect what the construction industry may look like in a few years:

“Julie Smith, president of my management company, has five senior VPs, one of whom is a male. In our development company, half are women. In our construction company, the ratio is much lower, but I’ll bet about 20 percent of project managers are women. I think our attitude is exactly what you just talked about, Rick. It’s that’s you go where the talent is. And you make sure there are no barriers. You make sure when somebody behaves the right way, when someone performs the right way, you model them as much as you can.”