Karen Cherry, Vice President of Office Leasing, The Howard Hughes Corporation; Abby Glassberg, Principal, NAI KLNB; and Elizabeth Allison (Tarran-Jones), Leasing, Merritt Properties participated in a virtual discussion that examined the current landscape for women in the commercial real estate industry, the importance of a mentor, practical advice for young professionals and strategies for attracting new talent.
Present-day climate for women in real estate
Abby Glassberg (AG): My career dates back to the late 1980s and, as a young mom in the mid-90s, I was told it would hurt my career if I talked about my kids and the challenges of working and raising a family. In fact, more than once I had to take conference calls in the closet, so people did not know I was working from home when I had a sick child. Pre-COVID, the industry as a whole was becoming more family friendly and during COVID, with the majority of people working from home, you experienced colleagues and customers with their children on Zoom calls.
Karen Cherry (KC): I have been working in the business for more than 20 years. Early in my career, I sought an interview with a brokerage firm but was turned down. The reason? The group had just hired a young female broker and they believed their quota for women had been reached. Fast forward to today and most organizations actively pursue the most qualified workforce possible and also embrace diversity. There were many trailblazers that many of us admired and looked up to. Cathy Ward leads this list and you do too, Abby, as the first female NAIOP-MD president.
Elizabeth Allison (EA): My career has spanned 18 years and many more women are at the other end of my daily conversations. This has been a marked difference from two decades ago. There are more women on the C-Suite and there exists a greater emphasis to have women on real estate teams to bring equity in gender and skill sets to teams.
Forming a mentor relationship
AG: Young people actually now mentor me. It is important for me to stay relevant and understand what younger professionals are thinking about in terms of new technology and what tenants want from a real estate perspective. Also, it is important to be supportive with relationships in the industry. Karen and Liz have my back and we share that bond with Terri Harrington, Clare Berrang, Kate Jordan and Marley Welsh.
KC: I found that a mentor does not have to be another woman. It’s more important to find someone that you jell and feel comfortable with. Find someone that reflects your personal values and that you can relate to both personally and professionally. When I came across people that I thought could help my career, I never hesitated to ask them to work with me. Don’t ever be afraid to request help as it is a sign of strength, not weakness.
EA: Align yourself with someone that you implicitly trust and has good morals. Your mentors will help form your best practices. As Karen indicated, I can rattle off many names of people that were critical in my growth and positively influenced my career; they are both men and women. All the women working in commercial real estate in this market are of extremely strong character and look out for one another. I could call any of them and discuss any subject.
Attracting more women to the industry
AG: We are on the right path. There are so many dynamic women in all facets of the industry today like Danielle Schline at Prologis; Lisa Goodwin, Kate Nolan Bryden and Olivia Millspaugh at MRP Industrial; Michele Salvino at Link Industrial Properties; Krysta Herring at COPT; Emory Camper at MCB and Amy Lacock and Kelli Rivera at JLL. The work is not complete and women need to use our influence to help others, as well as minorities, join the industry we love.
KC: Everyone recognizes this is an important mission and it’s difficult, with many companies trying to figure out how to get more diversity represented in our industry. People are more comfortable starting a career in a particular industry when they see someone that looks like themselves. In fact, this needs to be done for all minorities, not just for women.
EA: Having conversations like this one helps elevate the issue in the minds of many. When I was in college, real estate was not on my radar as a possible career. There are not many opportunities to study real estate in school, particularly as an undergraduate. We need to continue to draw attention to the women success stories which, in turn, will attract more influential and talented women into the business.
Advice for young professionals
AG: Aim high and don’t be afraid of or back down from anyone. My most trusted advisors, especially early in my career, were Ed St. John and Scott Dorsey and they always took the time to explain things to me, even if it wasn’t in regard to their properties. If you don’t hear the word “no” at least seven times each day, then you didn’t ask for enough.
KC: Form relationships with certain people to go to lunch and exchange ideas with on a regular basis. Establish ties with others to get to know and become comfortable with as many people as possible. Real estate is first and foremost a relationship business and you can never go wrong by making more contacts. Women sometimes find it awkward to act bold but, most times, that is the best course of action.
EA: Become involved in as many aspects of the company as possible to master new roles and responsibilities. Don’t be easily satisfied with your work or your development. Have others evaluate your skillset from time to time and make changes based on this input. Be the most trustworthy team member, be present with your team and ask the questions you fear you should already know the answer to because mastery of concepts and strategies is most important. Offer yourself to the outside and become involved in charitable and community-oriented projects.