A few weeks ago, the staff of MULTIFAMILY EXECUTIVE and a panel of executives from the leading companies in the multifamily industry judged MFE's annual awards competition. Among the categories was Executive of the Year—a recognition that, in past years, has been bestowed on respected chief officers such as Dave Woodward of Laramar Communities, Ron Ratner of Forest City Residential, and Tom Bozzuto of The Bozzuto Group.

This year's Executive of the Year is no exception. She is a champion for multifamily housing and has a compelling story to tell. She is also the first female Executive of the Year MFE has named in more than a decade of bestowing the award.

The recognition of a woman made me think about the growing number of female executives in the multifamily industry. Women have long filled roles as leasing agents and site managers, even as regional and senior VPs. But today, it seems that more and more women are CEOs of national real estate companies or managing directors of multibillion-dollar investment funds.

I recently spoke with Dr. Gail Ayers, CEO of the CREW Network, a national organization of 8,000 or so members that provides career services and networking opportunities to women working in commercial real estate. Dr. Ayers affirms that interest in real estate grows every year among women. At CREW, membership grows by 10 percent to 12 percent per year, she says. And the vast majority of these members have at least five years of experience in the industry. “I am very excited about the future of CREW and the future of the real estate industry,” Dr. Ayers says. “I think it looks good for women.”

Despite such obvious advancements, women continue to fall on a lower rung than men on the corporate ladder. In fact, a 2005 study by CREW found that, when comparing men and women with more than 20 years of experience, only 23 percent of women held the title of president, chief executive, or chief financial officer. That's compared to 44 percent of men.

What does all of this tell me? Women are closing the gap on inequality in the multifamily workplace—as they are in all facets of life. And that is a good thing. Psychologists have found that women in positions of leadership tend to be more cooperative, positive, and encouraging than their male counterparts. That's not to say men don't exhibit those qualities. The world's greatest leaders have historically been men—but today, women are being afforded the opportunity to equal those achievements.

Interestingly enough, I recently learned that many successful women also happen to be single. And these single women have become a powerful segment of the population, with widespread influence and solid spending power. More and more of these women are making their mark on the housing industry, buying up homes at higher rates than ever before. In fact, a 2007 study released by the National Association of Realtors reported that single women in the 25 to 34 age bracket bought 1.76 million homes from July 2005 to June 2006, accounting for 22 percent of the market. That's up from 14 percent a decade ago. Meanwhile, the number of single men buying homes stayed flat at 9 percent during the same period.

Some researchers attribute this uptick to a variety of factors, including an increase in the number of women with college educations and a growing desire to achieve financial independence earlier in life. I'm not sure that those are the only reasons—I wonder whether, perhaps, society has also changed its view of the fairer sex, embracing women on equal footing with men and thereby empowering them to make such financial decisions alone. That's why, in the next few months, MFE will be investigating the needs and challenges of this emerging demographic. What we find out will be useful information to anyone marketing apartments and condos to women.

By the way, if you're interested in finding out who the 2008 Executive of the Year honoree is … well, you'll have to wait until we announce the award at the 2008 Multifamily Executive Conference in October. But trust me. You'll want to be there. Her story will knock your socks off—and show you just how influential a leader a woman can be.