Women On The Move: 4 CRE Finance Execs On How They Reached The Top And What's On The Horizon  

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'They Don't Expect Me To Know What I Know': Vanessa Mai, CRE Information Owner

'They Don't Expect Me To Know What I Know': Vanessa Mai, CRE Information Owner

Vanessa Mai oversees the data management and planning for the thousands of commercial real estate projects that JPMorgan Chase lends on each year. She moves mountains of data points into actionable insights for JPMorgan Chase's sales, marketing credit and finance teams, influencing the business decisions, budgeting and resource allocation for its real estate holdings.

As more of the day-to-day work of CRE occurs digitally, data needs to be tracked and protected, and the ability to leverage and analyze data is becoming a competitive advantage. Mai has overcome a double hurdle in her career path: finding success in the male-dominated worlds of both tech and CRE.

What does it take to be a successful woman in our industry? 

Passion. Love what you do and give your all. CRE is very male-dominated, but I am lucky enough to work in an environment where I constantly feel respected as a woman and as a trusted colleague and where I am rewarded with incredible work. 

That's not to say it is easy being a woman leading the data architecture world. When people outside the team approach me, they don't expect me to know what I know. Part of me likes to surprise people. I can see that moment when they realize, 'Oh, she really knows what she is talking about.' They suddenly begin to act differently and even use bigger words. I use those encounters as transformative moments. Hopefully by meeting with me, some people will change their view of women's roles in the workplace and in CRE.

Why is the Information Owner role crucial for JPMorgan Chase, and for lenders in general? 

As CRE organizations strive to become more data-driven, Information Owners are expected to be 'change agents' with insider knowledge to help form a data-driven organization and build a stronger data control culture. The role has shifted to become both more defensive — dealing with regulatory and compliance issues — and offensive, driving new revenue.

Are CRE companies doing enough to protect their data?

With the proliferation of cybersecurity risks, we have to continue to be vigilant and stay on top of data security. The reality of data security is that the job is never finished: There is always more to build.

How do you advocate for yourself and other women at work?

I try to surround myself with people who challenge me and give me honest feedback. I offer opportunities to amazing tech-savvy folks with diverse backgrounds and skill sets that may have been overlooked by others.

I invite new talent to join me in my mission and ambition to break stereotypes. I help them challenge their thinking and focus on achievement and excellence. I remind my team every day to feel confident in their abilities, see the bigger picture and focus on making a positive impact on the overall organization. 

How can the industry continue to build on its current progress toward greater diversity and inclusion?

My team is a great example. We encourage managers to hire employees from diverse backgrounds, embrace differences and always be supportive of work innovation. 

An inclusive working environment has the potential to completely transform our lives, our societies and our world. Gender-diverse teams bring more skills, breed more innovation and drive better performance. 

What do you think is the best way to ensure men are meaningfully engaged in conversations about gender equity?

We should all be observant and share what we see in men's interactions with women — what they do well and what they might want to work on. Be their support mechanism in building a path to awareness and embracing of diversity.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Embrace your imperfections. It's often our imperfections that make us unique in a positive way. It's perfectly fine to just be you, as you are.

How would you define resiliency?

Remain humble and never stop learning. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Who is your role model?

My mother. She has a will of steel and never shies away from challenges. She encouraged and supported me throughout the many phases of my life, both as a single mom of two and as a professional woman. She shared one pearl of wisdom with me: 'If you can break a problem down into baby steps, you can do anything, one step at a time.'