- Zell was explaining how he promotes women at work based on merit.
- As the conversation continued, the real estate investor shocked some audience members with the language he used.
- "I don't think there's ever been a, 'We gotta get more p---- on the block, OK?'" he said.
One prominent real estate investor shocked some audience members at a conference on Wednesday when he used vulgar language to describe how he works with and promotes women within the industry.
"I never promoted a woman because she was a woman," Sam Zell, chairman of Equity Group Investments, said at the REITweek investor conference hosted by Nareit in New York.
"I never demoted a woman because she was a woman. My issue is what do you do, what do you produce, how do you interrelate to the rest of the business," he went on.
"I don't think there's ever been a, 'We gotta get more p---- on the block, OK?'" Zell said.
There weren't many laughs, the audience got "very silent," and there was "quite a bit of shock," according to Edward Jones real estate investment trust analyst Matt Kopsky, who was in attendance when Zell's comments were made.
"The quote is uncalled for," Kopsky told CNBC, "but he didn't mean any harm by it. ... He believes in meritocracy."
Representatives from Nareit and Equity Group Investments didn't immediately respond to CNBC's requests for comment.
At a time when other industries are being plagued by their own #MeToo movements, the real estate sector isn't immune to such discrimination.
A recent Wells Fargo study found that REITs benefit from having women on their boards. Still, the average representation of women on REIT boards is just about 15.5 percent today, trailing a 22 percent average for the S&P 500, according to the report.
Zell also caught heat roughly two years ago when he had a bizarre discussion about whether people wanted to have sex with Chinese men, during a separate real estate conference.