Women comprise approximately 37% of the commercial real estate workforce and their roles are rapidly changing, with increased opportunities in the development, construction and project management functions. Kate Nolan Bryden, Senior Vice President, MRP Industrial; Gail Chrzan, Senior Vice President, Blue and Obrecht Realty and Danielle Schline, VP, Market Officer, Baltimore/DC, Prologis recently discussed their career trajectories, stressed the importance of education to draw more women to the industry and offered guidance to young professionals looking to break into the field.

Opportunities in industrial

Danielle Schline (DS): Ten years ago, the typical warehouse building was perceived as cold, dimly-lit and dirty. For the most part, female brokerage professionals gravitated to the retail category because it was more exciting. However, the emergence of ecommerce and the continuing demand for storage and logistics facilities – more recently equipped with automated and state-of-the-art systems – made industrial real estate considerably more attractive. My first real estate position was with a regional development company and I was one of two women working on the brokerage side. On one occasion, I attended a sales dinner and was the lone woman. I recall thinking, “I might not remember many of the names of the men in the room tonight but, as the sole woman, they will surely not forget mine.”

Kate Nolan Bryden (KNB): The industrial product type has experienced tremendous growth over the past several years and it seems has organically attracted more female professionals. I have noticed a steady increase in the number of women I work with at all phases of the development process – we interact with more female code officials at municipalities, design professionals, and women in project management roles for our general contractors and tenants. This was not the case even as recently as five years ago and it’s encouraging because in order to continue the growth we’ve seen, more talented women (and men) will need to join our industry. I’ve often thought that being a woman in industrial development is an advantage – it has allowed me to differentiate myself among my peers and competitors and has led to many opportunities for both professional and volunteer leadership roles.

Gail Chrzan (GC): Not only is the office environment cleaner but, with four discernable walls and a finished building environment, it is more understandable. Most women growing up or early in their careers had no interest in pallet jacks and stacking systems, but they could relate to standard office and retail space. In my view, women tend to be more creative and better problem-solvers, while also valuing the importance of relationship-building. Because they understand people, and can visualize the environment that works best for companies, women make the perfect brokers. Early in my career at CBRE, there were many talented women in the organization and many were identified to work in corporate real estate roles and left the world of standard brokerage.

Breaking Barriers

DS: The opportunity to bring more women into real estate needs to start earlier by informing them of the possible career paths starting in high school. One of the best aspects of real estate is that there are many specialty areas to participate in, such as design, development, leasing, marketing and sales.

KNB: Even though I studied engineering in college, real estate development wasn’t on my radar until my final year and even then, I knew little about it. Most of my friends were focused on joining the legal, medical or banking industries I think in large part because those professions are so well known and even portrayed widely in pop culture. The opportunity to make the leap from general contracting to real estate development is all thanks to a fortunate confluence of timing, circumstances and connections.  For our industry to grow and survive, we can’t rely on those chance encounters to bring the talent to us. I think there’s an opportunity for our local NAIOP members to make a more direct effort to introduce our industry and even our individual roles to students in the formative years of their university careers. By developing those relationships and exposing students to the different facets of our industry, those students who thrive in a relationship-driven, team-oriented environment will recognize the opportunity for a challenging and rewarding career among us.

GC: There is still more work to be done among small and medium-sized brokerage companies to accept women. The major brokerage companies are better attuned to achieving employee equity and have mandates from top management to diversify and hire more women and minorities. I look around and do not see many young women in the brokerage ranks. With attrition, these numbers will only shrink as people continue in their real estate careers. Women bring a different viewpoint on things and I believe brokerage companies are missing out.

Sources for Motivation and Inspiration

DS: I consider myself fortunate to interact with a diverse customer base, and feel particularly energized when spending time with customers learning about their businesses and how they use our buildings. We turn over empty buildings and they transform them into amazing manufacturing or fulfillment centers. Every use is unique and I learn and see something new with each buildout. COVID has fueled growth in the logistics sector, not only with ecommerce; our market has seen recent pharmaceutical applications and the current health crisis will continue to fuel this industry. Many of my mentors early in my career were men, and now it is satisfying to work side by side with two female professionals — Karen Cherry and Reda Duffy — who hold key positions within the Prologis Baltimore/DC market.

KNB: Working with and getting to know our tenants and their businesses is incredibly energizing. The ultimate test of whether we’ve succeeded in the delivery of our speculative or even built-to-suit products is how functional our buildings are for the end user — and seeing our tenants excited for their new space is very gratifying. A mentor of mine once said “there’s no glory in building an empty building” and it rings true when you see a building come to life with material handling equipment and full of product ready and waiting to fulfill new customer orders. Working closely with our tenants is also a huge learning opportunity — with each new project, we work to integrate new design or process improvements that often have functional benefits once the buildings are operational. I’m extremely fortunate to work with a very talented team at MRP Industrial. Being surrounded by people I like personally and deeply respect who share my passion for industrial development makes for a fueling and often very fun work environment.

CG: As an avid gardener, I try to figure out things through the beauty of nature. We also travel frequently and find that you never return from a trip as the same person. Of course, I read everything I can get my hands on and always strive to think outside the box.

Welcoming Change and Opportunities

DS: No matter the stage in your career, say ‘yes’ to opportunities and find a way to figure things out. Network with anyone and everyone in the real estate industry, be it a customer, a peer or a competitor.  Look for positions with room for growth and with companies you respect. Search for opportunities to mentor up-and-coming women in the industry and be an advocate for them.

KNP: Seek out mentors that will initially challenge and subsequently support you. Development is never exactly the same from project to project so it’s important to get exposure to as many situations and jurisdictions as you can. It’s also important to stay balanced and measured in the face of inevitable challenges and to avoid rash or convenient decisions. Most importantly, don’t be afraid of change, dive into every opportunity or challenge, and always take on more than you think you can handle.

GC: Remain tough, set your sights on the best job you can get and learn the most you can every day. The more knowledgeable you are about a subject, the better you can represent and help your company. Outwork the competition and always specialize in a business category so you are recognized for that particular area. People will come back to you for guidance time and time again.