Contact Us

Mentorship, Both Formal And Informal, Critical To Success, Female CRE Leaders Say

Mentorship and building relationships are keys for women looking to thrive in commercial real estate, panelists said at Bisnow's SoCal Women Leading Real Estate event on Tuesday.

Those relationships are helping women gain ground in the profession, long dominated by white men.

Female representation in commercial real estate's highest ranks is growing, with the number of women in the C-suite at the industry's largest firms increasing to 26.2% in 2023 from 25.6% in 2022, according to Bisnow's latest investigation into diversity in CRE.

Allen Matkins's Erin Murphy, Clarion Partners' Christine Kang, McCourt Global's Amy Arentowicz and Brookfield Properties' Jillian Richmond.

"I think none of us would be here if we didn't have advocates and mentors, both men and women," Clarion Partners Managing Director Christine Kang told the audience at the Hilton Los Angeles Culver City. 

Though panelists said they'd had both formal mentorships and informal ones, Brookfield Properties Vice President Jillian Richmond said informal mentors had been, for her, the most impactful to her career.

"It's those informal, natural relationships that form either because you've worked with someone very often, and you've done great work for them ... or because there's somebody in the office who you share interests with, and you develop a relationship that way," Richmond said. "Those informal relationships end up being very powerful and meaningful for your career development."

McCourt Global General Counsel Amy Arentowicz said it helps when seeking mentors and building relationships to establish values and remain consistent to them. She gave an example from the time when she was working for Related Cos., representing them in a "torturous" lease negotiation at Hudson Yards in New York. 

After the deal was signed, the tenant's representation, CBRE New York Tri-State Region CEO Mary Ann Tighe, "pulled me aside and said, 'I still respect you, I'm setting up this mentoring group of women who are your peers, and I'd like to help you advance your career,'" Arentowicz told the audience.

"Never in my wildest dreams did I think a tough lease negotiation would put me into a mentoring situation with a CEO of CBRE," Arentowicz said, but the opportunity led to a genuine friendship as well as continued mentorship. 

Along those lines, Kang advised that the best way to find a mentor is to have them find you. 

"Show your passion, show your work ethic, show the effort you're putting in and people will naturally want to become your mentor, your advocate and your sponsor," Kang said. 

Brownstein's Amy Steinfeld, Dignity Moves' Marge Cafarelli, Clifton Larson Allen's Olga Zarney, Shapell Properties' Janae Hilliard, The Michael Organization's Abbie Hawkins and SoLa Impact's Ekta Naik.

Richmond said that she has a broad definition of mentorship — it could include just working alongside others and learning what you can from them.

"That learning, a lot of it comes from just observing, not necessarily going to the person asking for advice, but being very present when you're working with somebody, or just talking with them and gaining as much knowledge through just observing as possible," Richmond said. 

This is something that's more challenging when teams span the country or workplaces where people aren't physically sharing space, she said, but it's not impossible. 

"Finding ways to connect with people is more challenging, and you have to put a lot more effort into it versus just being in a room with somebody," Richmond said. "The more you can do in person, I recommend it, especially if you're junior." 

And, once women get to the point in their careers where they are in positions of power, Kang said they shouldn't forget to continue the cycle. 

"Remember if you do get to a point in your career where you have a seat at the table ... don't just expect to be mentored but really step up and do it for others," Kang said.