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By Robin Lore ’19
|Moderator:||Peggy DaSilva '83, Co-Founder, Greenwich Village Capital|
|Panelists:||Amy Boyle '08, Assistant Vice President, New York City Housing Development Corporation|
|Julie Wong '03, Partner, Head of Capital Raising and Fund Formation, GreanOak|
|Susi Yu (MSRED '01), Managing Director, Head of Development, L&L MAG|
For women entering the real estate industry, it can seem like an intimidating world. The culture has a reputation for being male-dominated, and while the junior and mid-level ranks are generally split evenly by gender, there is a severe lack of women at the most senior levels of our industry. With a recent spotlight on the challenges that women face in all industries and the backlash and call out of abusive behavior, it feels like we are at an inflection point. Countless conversations are being held about ensuring that women have equal opportunities at all levels of their careers. Moderated by Peggy DaSilva ’83, the Paul Milstein Center Career Panel on Women in Real Estate brought together female executives and Columbia Business School students and alumni to continue this discussion.
The panel began by discussing the real estate market and opportunities they see. Susi Yu (MSRED ’01), who was part of the executive team that left Forest City New York with former CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin to form L&L MAG, discussed the steady stream of deals that her team was underwriting. Since the move in January 2018, they have looked at approximately 30 multi-family deals. On the affordable side of the multi-family sector, Amy Boyle ’08 has seen a lot of growth in the affordable space with new companies eyeing strong opportunities and entering the market. On the capital raising side, Julie Wong ’03 noted that investors, particularly international pension funds, continue to look to the US for strategic real estate allocation.
Moderator DaSilva pressed the panel on their initial optimistic responses. The market is nine years into recovery and the panelists were asked to discuss how they are preparing for the next downturn. From GreenOak’s point of view, Wong reported that disciplined practices are at the core of their investment strategy: they have been selective in making new investments within the major markets where they are active, and in 2015 and 2016 have been net sellers to capitalize on the rising values. On a more personal level, she advised audience members to be strategic about building their skill sets. Maintaining a skill set that is flexible will prevent you from being pigeonholed too early in your career and allow you to be nimble during tumultuous markets. DaSilva added that she had also seen many women consciously or unconsciously tracked into asset management.
After discussing the challenges that women face in navigating their career paths, the conversation turned to the gender gap in the real estate industry. Throughout the panelists discussions it became clear that the gender gap is not simply the ratio of women to men in the industry, but the attitudes and treatment that women feel in the workplace. In sectors that have strong female representation such as affordable housing, the culture is unsurprisingly female friendly, noted Boyle. For Yu, Forest City Ratner had a very meritocratic culture and she noted that she didn’t feel a gender gap at the company. However, Yu shared that she had worked at another company with a very different culture where she felt the constraints of the gender gap and left the company after less than two years. The other panelists agreed that the best strategy to deal with a toxic culture is to leave the company. Boyle shared that she had once overheard her former boss make a misogynistic comment directed toward her which prompted her to leave the company.
This strategy is less than ideal for women; it puts the impetus on the woman to leave, which can be disruptive to her career. As a result, the panelists stressed the importance of networking. Yu encouraged the audience to keep their heads up in the workplace and to meet with people outside your realm and know what’s going on. Network so you can be in a position where you can negotiate in your career and have alternatives. In addition to serving as a source for career opportunities, the panelists discussed how their networks have provided valuable advice and support throughout their careers. Yu shared a story about reaching out to legendary CBRE broker Mary Ann Tighe for advice when she faced resistance from her boss about accepting a coveted board position. Tighe coached Yu as she pushed back and eventually secured his blessing to pursue this opportunity.
In closing, the panel of accomplished women encouraged the audience members to continue to be relentlessly proactive in carving their career paths. There are still invisible forces in the industry that push women into more traditionally female career paths and it is essential for women to be aware of these forces so they can decide which paths they want to forge and which skills they want to do develop. Company cultures in the industry are homogenous and it is essential to seek out those cultures that will empower women. As we grow and develop in our careers, there are supportive networks of women to engage. The panelists listed a number of professional networks that they recommend (listed below) and if the networking reception after the panel was any indication, the Columbia Business School network is an excellent place to start.
Recommended networks for women in real estate:
- CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women) - https://crewnetwork.org/home
- WIRE (Women in Real Estate) - http://wirewomeninrealestate.com/
- NYPEN (New York Private Equity Network) - http://nypen.org/
- RELA (Real Estate Lenders Association) - http://www.rela.org/
- ULI Women’s Leadership Initiative - https://americas.uli.org
- WX (New York Women Executives in Real Estate) - https://www.wxnyre.com/
- Women in Housing and Finance - http://www.whf-ny.org/
Robin Lore ’19 is a first-year student focused on real estate and is AVP of Trips and incoming Co-President of the Real Estate Association. Prior to Columbia Business School, Robin worked at Bentall Kennedy, a North American real estate advisor, on both the investment management and corporate teams. She will be joining PGIM’s Real Estate team for her summer internship. Robin graduated from the University of British Columbia with a BCom in Finance and Real Estate and is a CFA Charterholder.