Creating Deep Roots: A CRE Trend to Celebrate

A note from the author: This is a story that celebrates the women of United Properties. It’s not about defining anyone as just “a female in the industry.” It’s about acknowledging that though historically women have not filled leadership roles in commercial real estate, we have made progress toward achieving gender-balance and undoing hundreds of years of inequity. Congrats, UP, and cheers to the future!

A CRE TREND TO CELEBRATE
In the world of real estate, the only constant is change. But there’s one real estate trend we’re especially excited to celebrate this week: the rise of women. In honor of International Women’s Day (IWD) Friday, March 8, we would like to give a special shout-out to the talented women of United Properties in Colorado and Minnesota. Despite the industry status quo, you are here – 41 women strong – contributing to projects that create lasting legacies for our communities.

Since 1911, IWD has been a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women while bringing light to the inequities that persist. This year’s theme is #BalanceForBetter, and the campaign runs all year long. Gender-balanced workplaces don’t materialize overnight – we all have a role to play every day. World-renowned feminist, journalist, and activist Gloria Steinem said it best:

“The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization, but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.”

Over the years, United Properties’ workforce has shifted from 52% women in 2016 to 59% today. After 41 years of work at United Properties in various roles, Corporate Compliance & Insurance Coordinator Ina Rae Noethe offered context on this data: “In the last decade, I’ve seen women promoted to higher leadership roles that at one time were strictly male-dominated. We have seen a trend where more women are working as developers, real estate brokers, department managers, and executive team members.”

While the progress is unmistakable, old habits (and ways of thinking) die hard. Prior to her start at United Properties, Development Manager Carrie Eggleston and a male colleague met with a potential client who would not acknowledge her when she spoke.

“He would not look at me and made several inappropriate comments about women throughout the site tour,” Carrie shared. “My coworker could not believe it. When the meeting was over, he was beside himself. All he could say was ‘I’m so sorry.’ That was an extreme case, but women do still face these things, so I was able to shake it off. My male colleague had never witnessed anything like it before. He couldn’t sit with it.”

WOMEN RISE TOGETHER
Carrie joined United Properties in early 2017 and has been making an impact ever since. She now serves as president-elect for Minnesota Commercial Real Estate Women (MNCREW). She says her involvement in the organization has been invaluable, as the women of MNCREW opened doors she didn’t know were there.

“Whenever anyone reaches out for coffee, I never say no. Others in the industry – men and women – did it for me. But you can’t underestimate the power of working alongside other women and helping each other out,” Carrie said. “It’s not all about business either. I’ve made many lasting friendships through MNCREW.”

This sense of comradery among women is felt throughout the Minneapolis office: “I’ve found mentorship and support in my team. Brenda Arnold, Julie Hughes, Eva Stevens, and Marge Barenthin – my first boss at UP,” Development Accounting Manager Roxy Lutz said. “I never worried about asking for help or advice.”

In Denver, Vice President of Retail Development Alicia Rhymer has encountered many women in executive roles throughout her career. Her perspective suggests that perceptions truly are shifting: “I worked at 7-Eleven corporately for 5 years, and it’s more common to see women in retail development roles compared to office or industrial. The vice president of our entire development team was a woman, so I’ve never really noticed or felt that women were treated any differently.”

In the U.S., development roles are still occupied primarily by males. Women make up 32% of development jobs (CREW Network, 2015), compared to 20% in 2000. Alicia and Carrie are two of six women in development company-wide, including Courtney Schneider, Megan Turner, Mona Douillard, and Naomi Ohnstad. When Sr. Business Analyst, AVP, Lynn Camp started in 2015, only two women held development roles. Since then, all of these women have been on the rise, even through life’s big milestones.

“Growing up in southern Missouri in the late 1960s and early ’70s, women would hide their pregnancies until they no longer could, at which time they were typically fired or asked to resign from their position,” Executive Administrator Pequita Jordan shared. “When Lynn was on maternity leave with her third child, a much-deserved promotion was in the works! That would have never happened in the past. Being pregnant and taking maternity leave was seen as a problem.”

According to a study cited by LeanIn.org, motherhood still “triggers assumptions that women are less competent and less committed to their careers. […] Studies show that the ‘maternal wall’ women face when they have kids is the strongest gender bias.”

Pohlad Companies grants 12 weeks maternity and paternity leave – a progressive move that works toward a gender-balanced workplace. Roxy reflected on this sentiment: “I’ve noticed that today, men are taking time away from work to care for their children, just like I did as a mom.” ​

COMMUNICATION STYLES AND PERCEPTION
According to LeanIn.org, a study of performance reviews indicated that while 66% of women received negative feedback on their personal style such as, “You can sometimes be abrasive,” only 1% of men did. The same report concluded that men interrupt women on average almost three times more often than they do other men.

A study of reviews reported by Fortune reflects this sentiment. Of 248 reviews collected from 28 different companies (including large corporations, mid-size, and small companies), 59% of reviews evaluating men contained critical feedback, while 88% of reviews evaluating women contained such feedback. Overall, “Men are given constructive suggestions. Women are given constructive suggestions – and told to pipe down.”

Why is this? Fact-check with yourself: Would the comment feel abrasive if a man were speaking? Is she being interrupted and responsively raising her voice? When women speak up, try not to interrupt or mistake confidence for abrasiveness. Silence doesn’t indicate passivity or lack of confidence either. According to Forbes, she’s probably just listening.

“I’m not the one who needs to be the loudest voice in the room,” Carrie said. “I participate and provide input, but my style is to sit back, listen, and learn from everyone around me. Sometimes this may be perceived as lack of confidence when that is not the case. But if your role calls for you to speak up more, you need to push yourself out of your comfort zone – I’m still working on that myself!”

Carrie’s first love was social work. Through her experience in child protection as a new grad, she learned how to build a case and hold herself accountable to decisions that had powerful impact on children’s lives.

“Business is the same in some ways,” she shared. “I’ve used my social work skills throughout my entire career. In development, there is no one right answer, but you do have to understand the rules, build a case, and persuade. You won’t always be right, but you must be assertive and confident in what led you to your decision, regardless of how it’s received.”

Alicia views her communication style and how she is perceived as a woman in development as an advantage: “Women inherently think differently, and I feel we bring a unique perspective into the industry. There’ve definitely been moments in my career where I’ve felt being a woman was an advantage. To me, success in the industry has more to do with earning respect through proving your knowledge and abilities in finding, establishing, and moving developments through the process and less about gender.”

Alicia also expressed that at times she must adjust her approach, depending on how her directness is being received.

“I’m not in my male colleagues’ heads, but I do think about how I am perceived. I’ve had to work on my approach because sometimes people don’t take it well if you’re direct and to-the-point. So sometimes I’ll soften it or add a lot of fluff. My directness has not been taken favorably by some men in the past. It’s very individually based and depends on the man, their perception, and we’re they are at.”

Advice and insights from UP women to those starting out in real estate:
Sr. Development Manager Courtney Schneider: “Work your tail off and be the ‘yes’ person – put your head down and earn your stripes. Don’t act as though you are above any task that needs to be done. Be a team player and chip in wherever necessary. Treat others with respect and act with integrity. Be the most valuable person to your boss and someone others want to be around, both personally and professionally.”

Development Manager Megan Turner: “Work harder than the person next to you, step out of your comfort zone, and don’t hesitate to provide your input.”

VP of Retail Development Alicia Rhymer: “Don’t climb too fast. I attribute so much of my success to the fact that I started from the ground and worked my way up through all aspects of the development industry. From paralegal, to construction, to entitlements and putting deals together. Those experiences helped me advance faster in the long-run – learning the different pieces, how they all fit together, and making the relationships along the way. Once you have the experience and gain that respect, the individuals who helped you grow – man or woman – will become your biggest champions.”