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How Internal Women's Networks Equal Greater Success

New York

Studies show that women are more successful in cultures that promote inclusivity and diversity, and more organizations are launching in-house programs to help female commercial real estate professionals excel through leadership training, mentoring, networking and more.

Yesterday, CREW New York gathered five women from national firms to discuss their companies’ initiatives during the organization’s monthly luncheon at Manhattan’s Club 101.

Joining CREW New York for the event (above) were EY partner Serena Wolfe, Turner Construction Co director of community affairs Stephanie Burns, JRT Realty Group director Kristen Morgan, moderator Sasha Durcan of Turner, CREW New York president Theresa Garelli of New York Land Services, Akerman director of economic development services Beth Zafonte and Langan principal Michele O’Connor.

EY’s Professional Women’s Network has been around since the ‘90s and now spans 50 chapters, helping women within the company manage their career paths and improve the number of females on the firm’s partner level, Serena says. She’s also co-chair of the Urban Land Institute’s Women’s Leadership Initiative, which was formed in 2012 to promote the advancement of women, increase the number of women who serve in leadership positions and grow their visibility.

“We invest a lot of money in developing [women executives], so it’s in our best interest to foster, retain and make them successful,” she says. Competition for top talent is fierce, and it’s hard to compete without having such support within your company or organization.

Stephanie is the founder of Make Your Mark, which launched at Turner six years ago to support and grow women into leadership roles. Among its initiatives: teaching women to know when it’s necessary to speak up and how to be their own advocate, she says. Having such an inner circle helps women network and obtain business, ultimately affecting the company’s bottom line.

“There are some women who’ve climbed the ladder and forgotten about the women behind them," Stephanie says. "Never forget how important we are for each other…someone is looking to you as a model.”

She recalls a lot of resistance to Make Your Mark at first, and there are still obstacles. For one, she notes, Make Your Mark has been called a “cult” and “the feminist TCCO group.”

But now the group is supported with a full budget, she notes; when starting such a group within your own company, stick to your guns, stop asking for permission and just keep it moving.

JRT Realty Group—which has been recognized as the nation’s largest certified woman-owned commercial real estate services firm—has a strategic partnership with Cushman & Wakefield and its women’s business development group, Artemis. It’s an opportunity for female brokers to get to know each other, refer business to each other and attend networking events, Kristen says.

Michele notes that Langan also has a group for women to get together and talk about impactful issues. While engineering attracts many women in large numbers at the entry level, it’s rare to keep them at a firm past 10 years, she says. As someone who exceeded that mark at Langan, she often speaks with the younger women about her experience, including how to juggle family and a career.

Beth’s firm launched its Women's Initiative Network (WIN) across 20 offices to help its female lawyers achieve success through traditional and peer mentorship, as well as professional development. As a result, Akerman has been named as one of the top firms in the United States for women lawyers in multiple rankings, and WIN has been strategic in attracting more opportunities for the firm.