Sponsorship, particularly the support of men in positions of influence who are willing to advocate on behalf of female colleagues, is critical to propel high-potential women up the corporate ladder, according to a study presented at the Groundbreaking Women in Construction conference, held in New York City on May 7.

Ann Waeger, board member of the Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) Network, said the group's benchmark study, "Women in Commercial Real Estate 2010," found that women expressed far more dissatisfaction with their careers than men. "To better understand the difference in men's and women's feelings, we interviewed 20 CEOs and others," said Waeger, a partner in the New Jersey law firm Greenbaum, Rowe, Smith & Davis. "We wanted to encourage the industry to find new ways to keep women on a successful track, to get them to achieve financial parity and to help women who are exceptionally talented to advance to the C-suite."

CREW's white paper finds a lack of sponsorship to be a factor holding women in the "talent-rich level of management just below the C-suite." Often, men have sponsors, and women have mentors. Waeger adds, "It's critical for high-potential women to have a sponsor to provide them access to people at the highest echelons."

Women also need to take an active role in their careers. Waeger said, "Understand the value of your skills. Stay connected. Communicate your wants and needs. Toot your own horn and network, network, network."

The conference, which drew about 250 women, also explored differences among the three generations of women present. For example, baby boomer Gayle Grady of PCL Civil Constructors Inc. said, "Sharing tough situations provides us a platform to learn from each other." Representing Gen X, Allison Klein, from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, said, "Everybody has a different point of view, but we all want to talk about it."

Speaking as a millenniel, Lizzy Straus, Turner Construction, added, "Talking to others here from my generation, we were astonished at some of the experiences women from other generations shared. I don't feel that way, and neither do most of the others I was talking to. I think the industry has changed a lot."