Carving out a career in a traditionally male-dominated industry like commercial real estate can be a daunting proposition for women at the beginning of their careers. However, women can climb the CRE career ladder by capitalizing on their own strengths and creating a culture of inclusivity, according to panelists at the women’s breakfast during the annual BOMA International Conference & Expo.
The panel’s seasoned property management veterans encouraged women entering commercial real estate to approach their careers deliberately and authentically and to be willing to collaborate. The “it takes a village” concept is just as true for the workplace as it is for families, the panel noted.
10 Ideas to Help Further Your Career
Events like the annual women’s panel are a great way to gain the insights you need to further your career, whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been in the field for years. The 2019 panel was packed with valuable, actionable insights for professional growth, including these 10 ideas.
Volunteer for new responsibilities and take ownership of projects to demonstrate what you’re capable of. “That helps set a tone for you and what your work ethic looks like,” says Tonya Scharf, partner with Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, LLP.
“You can all think of someone in your career who has been hard on you who you don’t want to emulate,” explains Marla Maloney, president of asset services for Americas for Cushman & Wakefield. “I can think of a few people who I learned I don’t want to be… Think about how we can put ourselves in the best position to have a positive outcome.”
“Some people are afraid to ask questions because they don’t want to look like they don’t know what they’re doing, and that’s the biggest mistake,” suggests Shelby Christensen, senior vice president of operations for Liberty Property Trust and vice-chair of BOMA International. “To climb the CRE ladder, you can’t be afraid to surround yourself with people who are better than you.”
It can be easy to fall victim to unconscious bias. Be deliberate about collaborating and growing younger professionals at your firm, suggests Scharf, whose current firm sponsors minority job fairs and has a women’s leadership council. “We’re very intentional about how we’re approaching this so we do get the best results,” she says.
The tone at your company has to start at the top. Executives who don’t care about professional growth and inclusivity will indirectly communicate that no one else should care either. “Our entire senior leadership team is available and accessible,” Christensen says. “The tone from the top is very much ‘We’re here and we want to talk to you.’”
There are not enough hours in the day to take advantage of every opportunity and still make it to every family event. There will be a give and take, and that’s OK, Scharf notes. “It’s about prioritizing. Maybe I don’t go to that dinner with some of my colleagues. Maybe I give that up so I can go to a recital instead,” adds Scharf.
“It’s important to be your authentic self and not be like ‘I’m this way at work, this way at home and this way at church.’ It’s just me,” says Christensen. “All of those experiences shape who I am and I try to be authentic all the time. Find your authentic self, what is your voice, and live that way consistently.”
To climb the CRE career ladder is about showing up and working hard, but so is asking for what you want. “You cannot wait for someone to see your hard work and think you’re just going to get the promotion,” says Christensen. “It doesn’t work that way. You have to be responsible for your career. Go work for it.”
Or, put another way, “fake it until you make it,” Scharf says. “That doesn’t mean don’t do the work or don’t be your authentic self. What I mean is, fake that confidence. You know your work is good, you did a good job, you put in the hours you needed to. If you don’t project that confidence, no one in that room is going to have the confidence in you.”
Panel moderator Keri Taylor, a strategic market leader for commercial real estate for Trane, urges property professionals to push fresh ideas forward rather than second-guessing themselves. “Have a good business case, but go for it and try to implement something that’s really new and innovative,” Taylor advises.
Growing a career in facilities is hard work, but it’s worth it. Carve out your own niche in the industry and create an environment that supports other professionals doing the same—the whole team will be better for it.