Katie Lenss has seen her career rise alongside several major projects, including 1213 Walnut, a high-rise in Philadelphia. After seeing that project through from start to finish, Lenss returned to D.C. in 2018 to join Rockefeller Group’s mid-Atlantic office.
At Rockefeller, she leads by advocating for her employees and pushes them to stretch outside of their comfort zones. Lenss is currently working on the WMATA headquarters redevelopment, and despite being in office about four days a week, she has taken the pandemic as an opportunity to reimagine what it means to maintain a work-life balance.
"I used to try and hide the fact that I was a working mother, just to prove that having children wasn’t going to negatively impact my ability to get my job done," Lenss said. "I still put in just as many hours, probably more, but I make it a priority to get home in time to have dinner with my kids."
Kaleena Francis Lee, a senior development manager at Jair Lynch Real Estate Partners, said that project after project, executing well is her top priority. A rising member of a diverse company that expanded during the pandemic, Lee said two of her proudest achievements are the development of apartment buildings Anthology and The Kelvin. But she said her greatest achievement is her son, Jupiter: "every day I am in utter awe of him."
Lee said she is currently working on The Heritage at Old Town and Rhode Island Assemblage, the latter of which is the first project within walking distance of her home.
“Every building we can deliver is a remarkable feat. There are so many people telling you ‘no’ all the time,” Lee said. “As we enter another turbulent market, bring it on, challenge accepted.”
Kay Sargent, a director of HOK's global WorkPlace practice, has experience guiding organizations through the most difficult circumstances imaginable. She has helped firms respond to the 9/11 and Oklahoma City terrorist attacks and helped organizations recover and rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.
A designer by trade, Sargent says her preferred leadership style is to “guide from the side” when things are going well and take point in difficult moments. She is currently working to design the new hub campus for Oracle in Nashville, and said she is passionate about using the art and science of design to shape the evolution of work and life.
"We need to design spaces that reflect that and reflect our humanity and ensure social equity and inclusion," Sargent said. "By creating environments that support well-being, engagement and inspire those within them, we can drive powerful outcomes."
Robin Mosle, founding partner at Of Place, has reached a point in her career where she is “suddenly finding enormous pride in watching our team learn and grow.”
Her small, nimble company led the revitalization of Crystal City, and today Mosle is eager to learn from past work while taking on new master-planning projects. She is doing so with help from her daughter, Alison Williams, and her son, George Mosle, both of whom are in leadership roles at Of Place.
“When I was a ballet teacher and students would fall, we would congratulate them for trying,” Mosle said. “I believe in taking risks, in reaching a little too high and in using colleagues as part of a buddy system, for sounding boards.”
Brittany Rose describes herself as a “laissez-faire leader,” but is hands-on when it comes to creating opportunities for others. The co-founder of Women in Real Estate, Rose said she helps others by turning the lessons she’s learned from her own mistakes into assets.
A D.C.-based real estate consultant and investor, Rose is now working to expand her national ambitions, pursuing a new development project in Houston.
“Women have proven themselves as strong leaders who can build and lead profitable and effective organizations,” Rose said. “Now, because of a more intentional effort to address systemic inequities, women are getting to play on a more even playing field.”
Over the course of her 40-year career, Janis Schiff has assisted dozens of women in taking their careers to the next level. A partner at Holland & Knight, Schiff developed the firm’s Rising Star program to help women achieve equity positions — the program is celebrating its 20th year in 2023.
Among her recent accomplishments at the firm include the closing of a complex deal for a hotel and condo resort in South Carolina, as well as finalizing the sales of a multiparcel shopping center in Austin and a large shopping center in California.
Raedun de Alba, associate director of engineering at Van Metre Cos., believes in a listening-first leadership style.
Long active in Commercial Real Estate Women’s Northern Virginia chapter, de Alba said she has watched approvingly as extracurricular activities for professionals have taken a more hybrid approach, allowing participants to unwind at home, watch their children or take care of work while networking with their peers.
She is currently working on new amenity spaces for Van Metre’s Goose Creek community in Ashburn, and she looks forward to achieving her goal of seeing a project fully through the development process.
Mary Madden, a superintendent at Whiting-Turner, said, “Getting to walk by and admire the first project I helped lead from start to finish, 1701 Rhode Island, never gets old.”
An employee at the construction firm for six years, Madden said she approaches construction as a collaborative effort with a democratic, team approach. In addition to her work on Rhode Island Avenue, Madden was involved in the renovation of the former Fannie Mae building at City Ridge.
She believes remote work allowed the industry to reach “a wider circle of people,” and she works to “recruit, retain and elevate women within our industry.”
Stephanie Williams, president of Bozzuto Management Co. and operating partner of Bozzuto, is a leader who puts a premium on creating a welcoming environment.
Williams has helped Bozzuto grow into a company in which more than half of the senior leaders are women. But rather than stop there, Williams said she plans to continue to advance people and women of color "who may not at first glance fit in a traditional model of a leadership mold."
"For Bozzuto, diversity, inclusion and equality are not boxes to be checked, but rather they are part of our vision for who we strive to be as a company," Williams said.
Anica Landreneau wears many hats, including global sustainable design director at HOK. But some of the accomplishments she is most proud of include projects that affect a wide swath of the commercial real estate industry, including changes to local and model codes focused on sustainability, equity and resilience.
As a leader, she said she tries to be “inclusive and thoughtful,” but she is willing to get tough if it means achieving good outcomes.
“It’s easier to lead when you demonstrate respect for everyone’s expertise, capabilities and what they bring to the table,” Landreneau said. “Being tough doesn’t mean taking the contributions of others for granted, it means acknowledging and crediting all the people that contribute to successful outcomes.”
Gina Merritt said she likes to “let people shine!” as a leader. Merritt is the principal and founder of Northern Real Estate Urban Ventures, which is in the midst of closing on several deals for properties in Suitland and Capitol Heights.
She said she is most proud of social capital platform Project Community Capital, which connects formerly incarcerated and other individuals with local contractors and access to support services. She has also worked to inspire and mentor other women in the commercial real estate industry.
“There are too few Black women in CRE — with a mentor, they can see a future for themselves and gain the support they need to build a career in real estate,” Merritt said.
Christine Espenshade, a vice chairman at Newmark, believes the pandemic has permanently changed the nature of work and that it may prove to be for the better.
A multifamily veteran who recently completed the sale of two trophy-class Northern Virginia properties for more than $600M, Espenshade is also passionate about her literacy work with Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Library. The broker said the ability to work from home with more flexible hours could encourage more women to return to the workforce.
“I think people are working more post-pandemic than before or during because we’ve learned how to work from anywhere,” Espenshade said. “It will be important, especially for caregivers, to learn to leave work behind when the day is done and focus on time with friends and family.”
Erin McDannald, CEO of Environments, describes herself as a “forward-thinking leader.”
In her work, she is thinking about how the built environment shapes human life and behavior. But she also believes in adapting a “hybrid forever” approach to work that gives her employees time and space to live meaningful lives. McDannald is focused on expanding the use of software to connect humans to the built environment, including through “digital twins.”
“Our society needs to see more intention and adaptability built into the office environment, and women have a natural ability to shape this kind of workplace,” McDannald said.
Offit Kurman principal Bryn Sherman believes in “fluent and unblocked relationships” in order to build trust and be a leader in her work. Sherman said empowering others provides her with a sense of purpose and making an impact is her passion.
Over the course of her career, Sherman said she has seen the commercial real estate industry shift to be less male-dominated, but she believes there is more work to be done. The attorney said she is currently increasing her independent board service.
“Findings have shown that Covid has significantly impacted women and their decision to leave the workforce for a variety of reasons,” Sherman said. “It will take time and a concerted effort to get back to where the representation of women in CRE increases.”
Moriah Thomas Parker is committed to growing her capital formation skill set as a vice president at FCP, but she is already a leader in the industry. In her work analyzing portfolio risks and strategies, she is proud of her “ability to be resilient and tenacious to achieve my goals — no matter if they are big or small.”
A collaborative leader, Parker said she is passionate about blazing a path for other people of color in finance and helping people advance their career when attracting and mentoring new talent.