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5 CRE Pros Weigh In On Leadership And Gender Diversity In The Industry

JLL Executive Managing Director Elizabeth Cooper, Managing Director Megan Matthews, Executive Managing Director Amy Bowser and Senior Vice President Lakshmi Nalluri

Commercial real estate has always been a male-dominated industry. But slowly, efforts to encourage gender diversity are creating meaningful change. CRE firms like JLL are making great strides to push these efforts forward.

Women hold approximately 54% of CRE midlevel associate and senior positions and 27% of senior vice president, managing director and partner-level positions, so while progress has been made, there is still a way to go. 

To gain greater insight on gender dynamics in the industry, Bisnow asked five women at the helm of JLL’s Mid-Atlantic offices — representing agency leasing, tenant representation, property management and project management — to share their thoughts on leadership, how they got to the top and what advice they would give to other women and leaders hoping to elevate their careers in the industry.  

Bisnow: How would you describe your leadership style? 

Elizabeth Cooper, tenant representation broker and co-chair of JLL’s Law Firm Group: I have a business first, strategic style to my leadership. First and foremost, get the job done with excellence and always do what is right for the client, not what is easy or earns you more money. Once I have accomplished whatever I need to, I always say thank you to my team and work to teach, mentor, sponsor, listen and inspire others as much as I can. 

Megan Matthews, JLL property management lead for the Mid-Atlantic: I manage the way I would want to be managed and empower my team to make their own decisions. It is important to address problems head-on and make tough decisions. I try to always see the positive and communicate it, celebrate the wins and elevate our great people.  

Bisnow: What advice would you give other CRE leaders mentoring women?

Amy Bowser, one of JLL’s top agency leasing brokers in D.C.: I’d give the same advice to CRE leaders mentoring women as I would those mentoring men. Find ways to empower, promote and support them, but make sure those you mentor are ultimately making their own decisions.  

Lakshmi Nalluri, JLL Mid-Atlantic project and development services D.C. healthcare lead: Women, including myself, need to be nudged to come out of their shell and show what they can do. If you are leading women, help them come out and grow, connect them to people so they realize how great they are, and that they deserve to be heard. 

Kelly Katz, lead for JLL’s tenant representation group in Northern Virginia: There should be no difference between mentoring women or men. They should both be mentored and pushed to the next level. Adding women to your team will win more business because a diverse team brings different perspectives and backgrounds that better serve clients. JLL is focused on diversity and inclusion and it is one of the many reasons why it is such a wonderful place to work.  

Bisnow: How do you think the industry can encourage more women to pursue CRE careers? 

Cooper: Real estate is not a typical college major for anyone, and women and minorities often have no idea while they are going through school that the sector exists. Because of that, both recruiting and retaining diverse talent is harder.

CRE needs to be pushed as an option for women earlier on in their schooling. We need to be more active in educating women about the field, which is something JLL has made a top priority.

Bisnow: Any advice for young women just entering the industry?

Katz: I receive a lot of résumés, but very few of them are from women. In the past, this industry has not marketed to us. We need to spend more time educating soon-to-be college graduates that this is a viable and great industry for women. When I talk to women about getting into commercial real estate, I set expectations just as I do with the men.

Women need to be tough, learn to turn rejection into a learning experience and ask themselves every day how they can be better. They also need to outwork their peers, develop their networks, learn the latest technology and stay ahead of the trends.  

Matthews: Don’t be afraid to take risks early in your career. Be confident, speak up and seek great mentors, don’t wait for them to find you. 

Nalluri: Be proactive, promise less and deliver more. Be consistent and reliable because that’s ultimately what clients want most. Keep honing your skills and growth will come your way. 

Bisnow: Do you think we have reached equality in the industry? If not, what do you think will help move things forward?

Katz: First, the industry must define what gender equality truly means. I define an equal workplace as one that has the same number of women as men, equal salaries and the same level of inclusivity for women as men.   

Cooper: From the standpoint of a tenant rep broker, the answer is no. There are numerous reasons, but two major ones come to mind. 

First, women tend to avoid commission-only careers. Second, women need to work on building the courage to take a leap of faith and enter a sector of the CRE industry that has been and remains predominantly composed of men. To succeed as a tenant representative, you need to be collaborative, which women typically are, but they have fewer established women to whom they can model their behavior, learn, be mentored and partner as a team.  

Matthews: I don’t believe we have reached equality, but we’re headed in the right direction. During my 20-year career at JLL, I was always in the minority at the leadership table, but my voice was always heard and I always felt respected by my male counterparts. I know my opinion is valued.  

Bisnow: How has the male-dominated nature of CRE shaped how you approach your work? 

Cooper: There are traits that women are taught that I do my best to overcome. In particular, women don’t always see situations as opportunities to negotiate for themselves. We assume our performance will speak for itself and that is just not the case. This is why I always advocate for myself as I would for someone else.  

This feature was produced in collaboration between the Bisnow Branded Content Studio and JLL Mid-Atlantic. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.