The reputation that commercial real estate is a “male dominated” industry is certainly changing, and is being led by one of the largest commercial real estate investment groups in the U.S.: Inland Group. Over 60 percent of Inland Group’s entire workforce is female, and 44 percent of executive officers at Inland are women.
In an interview with the Illinois Real Estate Journal, JoAnn McGuinness, President & COO of Inland Real Estate Income Trust, Inc., shed light on Inland Group’s efforts to adapt its culture and promote an environment that facilitates the growth and empowerment of women.
“I have always been so impressed by the fact that Inland has always focused on making sure—whether it was our executives, employees, business partners, or the philanthropy that Inland has participated in over the years—that there has always been a focus on diversity,” McGuinness said. “Part of that diversity has always been to make sure that women are represented in groups across all those segments.”
That includes Inland’s boards as well, as McGuinness noted that even on Inland’s board of directors for the company’s various funds, there is always a focus to make sure that women are a representative part of the group.
“When I first began my career, I don’t know how many times I’d look around and be the only woman in the room,” she said. “There were many times when I could count the women on one hand. That was not the case at Inland, and I always thought that that was something the company should be recognized for. Something that I’ve seen over the course of my career is that women have always had to work harder.”
“They’ve had to work harder to get to the same place, or with respect to getting to a certain position within a company,” McGuinness continued. “Inland recognized that and women are able to accomplish an awful lot. Unfortunately in the past it was because that’s what women had to do to get ahead. But Inland certainly appreciates that, and values its women workers.”
One way Inland promotes an environment that facilitates the growth and empowerment of women, is by establishing female-focused workplace initiatives. For example, the Women’s Initiative Network (WIN), was actually started informally by a group of female executives at Inland.
“We wanted to pay it forward, and do something for the women on our staff,” McGuinness said. “We had all been with the company for quite some time, and had spent the greater part of our careers here at Inland. We would always converse about how the company has this family environment where we were always looking out for each other, and helping each other.”
“That transferred into some mentoring roles, as we all had mentors that certainly helped us in our career,” she added. “So we started doing things informally on our own. We ran somewhat of a dual track, and continue to do so today. One track is us offering to spend time with any Inland employee who is looking for advice. Sometimes it’s advice on how to deal with a co-worker, or how to excel in their career. Our calendars are always open if someone would like to speak with us.”
The second track is done in a group setting. “We do events that always have an educational component to them. For example, how to dress professionally, how to network, or how to conduct yourself in a meeting. Sometimes it can be things that are very simple for employees that are just up and coming, or something that’s a struggle for some people to really understand how to get that next step up.”
McGuinness said that WIN also incorporates events were they can partner with various charities. “This was something that came as a request from our employees, as they also wanted to start giving back as well. We’ve done sponsorships with the American Heart Association. Earlier this year we did the walk they sponsor in Oak Brook.”
WIN has turned into a fairly large group today, and McGuinness noted that they are surely proud of it.
“Once it caught on through word of mouth it started spreading,” she said. “One of the other original founders of this program Cathy Lynch, who’s also a director of the Inland Group, along with myself conversed with the founders of Inland about what we were doing, and they were very much behind it. We were doing it on a very low budget, which they quickly increased, and encouraged us to really make it into a company sponsored program.”
Women are breaking new barriers in the commercial real estate industry, and Inland has cultivated several award-winning female executives, as the company has been recognized for its dedication to empowering women in the workplace more than once.
“The Oak Brook Chamber of Commerce for encouraging and promoting an environment that facilitates the unlimited growth and advancement of women, recently issued Inland the Breaking the Glass Ceiling Award in 2013,” McGuinness said. “We also received the Elevate Award from the Women’s Council of Realtors for excellence in fostering the growth and advancement of women in the workplace.”
While at Inland, McGuinness herself, also received an honor. In 2009, Illinois Real Estate Journal awarded her the Crystal Apple Award.
“I was nominated for the award, and then chosen as the winner out of ten finalists,” she said. “Quite frankly, given the phenomenal women I was up against, I was shocked to have been chosen as the winner. I’m very proud of that, as it was yet another recognition that Inland received because of its professionals.”
Inland’s female executives have received other numerous awards from industry associations recognizing their contributions to the industry, including the National Association of Women Business Owners’ “Influential Women in Business Life Achievement Award,” Midwest Real Estate News’ “Hall of Fame” Award and Real Estate Forum’s “40 Under 40.”
At the end of the day, McGuinness thinks it’s up to women to be the change they want to see. “I really do think women have to speak up and make it a point to be heard. By putting themselves out there, they are making sure that they are getting recognized for their efforts, as well as for what they can bring to the table.”
JoAnn McGuinness was first exposed to the real estate industry at Inland in 1992, as an entry-level employee right out of high school. Having managed more than 35 million square feet of space, McGuinness is one of the country’s leading women in commercial real estate. As 15 year veteran of Inland, McGuinness is proud of the women’s mentoring program (Investment News Women’s Forum).