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'We'll Show Them How To Lead': Women In Real Estate Advocate For Inclusion At All Levels

Top decision-making and deal-making positions in commercial real estate aren’t going to diverse candidates often enough, industry veterans say, leading to negative consequences for women looking to develop their careers.  

"It has become clear to me that our leadership is still white men making decisions at the top," JLL Vice Chairman Elizabeth Cooper said during a panel at Bisnow's D.C. Region Women Leading Real Estate awards ceremony. "While they think it’s because these folks haven’t been in the business enough, I think it's because people who are making the decisions don't look like most anyone in this room and don't act that way." 

NFP's Kate McLaughlin, Urban Atlantic's Caroline Kenney, JLL's Elizabeth Cooper, Skanska's Jennifer Tatum and Monday Properties' Jennifer Burns speak during a panel at Bisnow's D.C. Region Women Leading Real Estate awards ceremony on Dec. 6.

Cooper, speaking before a ceremony held at 1812 North Moore St. in Rosslyn that honored women in Washington, D.C.'s commercial real estate industry, said Wall Street now expects the industry's top firms to pay attention to diversity.

But despite incentives, she said that the "top half" of the industry, and not just the C-suite, has too few diverse professionals. A Bisnow analysis last month found that while the industry has made slight progress on increasing its diversity at the upper levels, the majority of women serving in C-suites held support and personnel roles rather than financial or senior leadership roles. 

That lack of diversity can be demoralizing for professionals hoping to have their voices heard, said Jennifer Tatum, vice president of leasing at Skanska.

Tatum said when she worked in the brokerage world, most of the people in the room didn't look like her, an uncomfortable environment that she said forced her to speak up more than she normally would.

But after she took a position at Skanska, Tatum said she found she was more comfortable.

"I got to Skanska, and all of a sudden ... there were a lot of women there, and for better or for worse, I talked even more," Tatum said.

Tatum and the other panelists said their experiences in the industry have led them to seek out more ways to mentor and support people from marginalized backgrounds looking for a career in commercial real estate.

Caroline Kenney, managing director of public-private ventures at Urban Atlantic, said she has felt comfortable working at her firm in part because the leadership includes two women. She said that Urban Atlantic Managing Partner and co-founder Vicki Davis has told her what men in Kenney's position are asking for in pay, and Kenney advocated for more women professionals to share their pay as well.

"I think having a knowledge base is really important because it empowers you," Kenney said. "You're asking for something that's market. That's all you're able to do."

Monday Properties Executive Vice President Jennifer Burns said it is important for women to advocate for themselves and for employers to listen to them. 

"If you're in a place where you aren't comfortable or able to advocate for yourself because the person that you need to advocate to won't hear it, you may be in the wrong place," Burns said. 

Cooper recalled the moment she decided to switch from a salary to a commission-based pay structure, which offers high upside to top brokers. She said even her husband was nervous about the switch, but when she spoke to the chief financial officer, who was also a woman, she gained the confidence she needed to make a change.

"She said, 'Elizabeth, do you not know that men ask for things every day? You have never asked for anything in your seven years here,'" Cooper said. "I got the sense that others were doing things that I wasn't ... and that I should do it too."

Following the panel discussion, judges revealed the winners in four categories honoring women in real estate. The honorees were first announced in November, and the winners were revealed at the event.

Jair Lynch Real Estate Partners' Kaleena Francis Lee, Of Place's Robin Mosle, Bozzuto's Stephanie L. Williams and Artemis Real estate Partners' Debbie Harmon were among the honorees for women of the year at Bisnow's D.C. Region Women Leading Real Estate awards ceremony on Dec. 6.

Stephanie L. Williams, president of Bozzuto Management, won leader of the year.

Edens' Emalia Tamanikwa, Boston Properties' Erin Cotter, Rockefeller Group's Katie Lenss, Whiting-Turner's Mary Madden and The Brand Guild's Sofia Royce were among the honorees for rising stars at Bisnow's D.C. Region Women Leading Real Estate awards ceremony.

Erin Cotter, leasing director of Boston Properties, won rising star.

FCP's Moriah Thomas Parker, EagleBank's Barb Mackin, JLL's Amy Bowser and JLL's Elizabeth Cooper were among the honorees for deal-maker of the year.

Moriah Thomas Parker, vice president of portfolio management and investor relations at FCP, won deal-maker of the year.

Van Metre Homes' Raedun de Alba, Northern Real Estate Urban Ventures' Gina Merritt, HOK'S Anica Landreneau, JLL's Malanda Worrell, Offit Kurman's Bryn Sherman, Envrionments' Erin McDannald and HOK's Kay Sargent were among the honorees for innovator of the year.

Malanda Worrell, a senior vice president of market strategy at JLL, won innovator of the year.