ULI New York Blog

Wrap-Up: A View From the Top: Inclusive Leadership in the Real Estate Industry


In keeping with the goals set forth by the Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) in San Francisco at the 2015 Fall Meeting, Wendy Rowden, together with an esteemed panel, joined members of ULI New York for “A View from the Top: Inclusive Leadership in the Real Estate Industry.”  The event was an opportunity to highlight key findings of WLI’s research on women in the real estate industry. The report, Women in Leadership in the Real Estate and Land Use Industry, examines the current state of women in the real estate and land use field and identifies the most important actions organizations can take to promote more women to positions of greater seniority and visibility.

In addition to Rowden, Cia Buckley (Dune Real Estate Partners), Jodie McLean (EDENS) and Joseph Brancato (Gensler) came together to discuss the practices of their organizations, their personal experiences and their insight into attracting more women to the real estate industry and ensuring they advance to their full potential.  Above all, each member of the panel expressed the cultural and economic advantages of having diversity in senior roles within their organizations.

One of the study’s key findings included merit based promotion of a diverse workforce.  Encouraging employers to provide challenging work assignments that allow individuals to show their talent and gain knowledge is a key step in supporting the advancement of women to positions of power in the industry.  The next progression is to ensure that such projects have profile and to encourage senior management to take note of the achievements of all individuals involved, not just those that are the most vocal.

Facilitating an inclusive culture was also a vital point emphasized by the panel.  As Buckley noted, it is important for senior leadership to partake in ensuring all voices are heard.  That includes asking the opinions of everyone in the room, not just those that are the most outspoken.  McLean further noted that as a minority, once you are at the table you need to make sure you contribute to furthering the evolution of the culture shift.

Rowden lauded the importance of mentorship and made a clear distinction between it and sponsorship.  Mentorship being individuals that are advisors and sounding boards either within one’s organization or out.  Sponsorship on the other hand being a more proactive role whereby a senior person actively coaches and promotes the talent and success of an individual within their organization.  Brancato weighed in on how important both of these roles are within Gensler, and the company’s continued development of the next generation of leadership.

Many women often subscribe to the traditional adage that if you work hard and do a good job it will be noticed and you will be promoted.  As McLean noted, you can’t just keep your head down.  Building a network both internally in your organization and externally is key to further advancement.  This is true in all industries, but is even more so in real estate.  Both Mclean and Buckley stressed that networking were crucial to business development and career enhancement.  This is networking in the traditional sense, but one must also consider every day projects to be a form of networking; as an assignment well executed can also be a powerful networking tool.

Networking leads to another key point: women tend to stay in their organizations and roles longer than men.  Continuing to develop a network and consider opportunities out of your comfort zone in other organization may lead to a faster rate of advancement then staying within one organization.  That said, WLI found that one in four women with a CEO title are sole proprietors.  It seems that women are moving to smaller organizations to have a greater impact on the culture or bypass road blocks that are often seen in larger organizations.

Buckley noted that as women, we often over think our careers.  She encouraged attendees to taking advantage of both small and large opportunities that are in front of you, and to not be afraid to let advancement happen incrementally.  McLean seconded these thoughts, and further encouraged women to take opportunities even if one is not 100% sure.  She also said it is important to ask for what you want.  Think through and write down what you want, even if you have to rewrite three or four times to perfect it, to truly get to the point of what you are looking for.  Then go ask for it.

All three panelists agreed that less structured programs and a shift in corporate culture are key aspects in advancing women.  That said, they also stressed that it is still important to continue developing structured initiatives such as skills training, education and leadership programing.

At the end of the day, both Buckley and McLean also pointed out that it is key to have these discussions about diversity and the advancement of women with all stakeholders present.  WLI presents a phenomenal environment in which women are able to work together to elevate themselves in the industry, but it is important to ensure that men are also at events like “A View from the Top” to take part in the discussion.

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