Power Women Stay True To Themselves And Lift Up Others
The challenge of taking individual responsibility for your career trajectory in a corporate environment seemingly built around gender bias was at the center of panelist discussions at Bisnow’s Philly Power Women event Oct. 30.
While the possible methods to navigate that environment are as varied as the women themselves, panelists largely agreed that focusing on one's authentic self is a prerequisite for effecting larger change.
“A lot of challenges and opportunities in my career have been about running the race with myself, and the narrative running in my head about who I am, what I’m doing, what I need to do, what I need to stop doing,” JLL Research Director Lauren Gilchrist said.
Gilchrist and fellow speakers like Philadelphia Director of Planning and Development Anne Fadullon stressed that a woman focusing on herself first does not mean internalizing blame for structural disadvantages like pay disparity, nor does it mean treating advancement like a zero-sum competition. Rather, it is a method for building self-confidence and an accurate picture of what one can bring to a conference room or a negotiating table.
“If you are the best, when you walk into a room you don’t need to tell everyone you’re the best,” Fadullon said. “People know.”
A key element in having confidence and projecting competence is to have an accurate sense of one's own skill set — "knowing your superpower," as Stratis CEO Felicite Moorman put it. Demonstrating one's ability doesn't solve for gender biases, but panelists said they considered it the first step.
“It’s important to understand that it’s not personal,” Post Brothers Senior Vice President of Development Sarina Rose said. “It’s about communicating what the project needs, listening to where the best skill sets are at the table and filling the gaps where they’re not.”
Women don't have the luxury of being redundant in conference rooms that are otherwise filled completely with men — a practice that a majority of the women in attendance still find fairly commonplace, based on an informal poll of the room. "Filling the gaps" in a group setting's interpersonal dynamics is an additional burden on women, one that demands flexibility, Rose said.
“Try to figure out who’s in each room, because it’s always different,” Rose said. “You can redefine yourself; if one strategy didn’t work one day with a group of people, you can go back the next day and try something different. People are pretty forgiving when it comes to that.”
Whether based on skills or personalities, asserting oneself in a corporate setting becomes far easier and simpler if there are more women in the room. Panelists exhorted those in leadership positions to directly attack the issue of gender parity by lifting up younger or lower-ranking women.
“Inclusion really sums it up,” Brookfield Properties Retail Vice President Andrea Lukens said. “If you are a superior and you have underlings, bring them to meetings. Expose them to information and to other leaders in the organization. Don’t keep people down in their spots, behind their desks.”
“It’s [about] making sure that you lay as big a table as possible," Fadullon said.
As self-sufficient and powerful as so many women in commercial real estate are, any significant progress toward equity in the industry has to involve the support, understanding and involvement of men, Moorman exhorted passionately.
“I believe that it’s the responsibility first of our Fortune 500 companies who are exceptionally willing to bypass pay equity in exchange for a bargain,” Moorman said to applause. “And I’m tired of being treated like bargain employees. The fact that we have to negotiate harder for less pay has been proven, and it’s disgusting.”
The industry has made undeniable progress in recent years, which poses a risk of men becoming complacent. To break the illusion that the problem is solved, authenticity can be a powerful weapon to make the conflict feel personal to everyone. Moorman spoke of how her husband, after 20 years of marriage, asked her, “Is it really still that bad?”
“I said, 'I have shielded and sheltered you if you don’t know how bad it is,'” Moorman said. “'Every butt slap and every missed promotion, I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to worry you. That’s over.'”
“Every aggression and micro-aggression I deal with, he hears about now,” she said. “Because you need to be open and honest if you want any [help] dragging us out of this hole.”