Yesterday morning, REjournals hosted its first annual Chicago Women in Real Estate Summit. The sold-out event packed the Ivy Room in River North as professionals young and old, men and women, were eager to hear how the prospects for women in the industry have changed—and how they can change further.
Tracy Treger, principal at Syndicated Equities, provided opening remarks on influential women in CRE.
“When I first began my professional career nearly 30 years ago, I was almost always one of the only women in the room, if not the only woman,” Treger said. “I was called ‘honey’ by colleagues, clients and professional partners.”
As her career progressed, Treger found that men, rather than women, were more effective mentors and better champions for her personal advancement; the other women around her were either fighting their own battles or they lacked standing to be effective advocates. With time and experience, she learned to speak up for herself.
“Looking at the industry today, there’s been a lot of positive change,” said Treger. “Clearly there are a lot more women in the room. We encompass every field of commercial real estate and in fact you can do a deal from start to finish working with a team exclusively of women.”
The first panel displayed the perspectives of emerging women in real estate. Jessica Lingertat, chair, real estate practice at Gould & Ratner LLP moderated the panel. Joining her on stage were Angela Aeschliman IREM chapter president and senior vice president, property and asset management at The Missner Group; Alba Colavitti, international associate, AIA; Dannielle Lewis, CPA senior manager at Wipfli; Josie Peacock, associate director of investments at CRG; Katie VanBerschot, vice president, senior private banker at Wells Fargo and Sarah Wicker, vice president, director of research at CallisonRTKL.
On the topic of mentors, the panelists had a variety of experiences as they started out. “When I was coming into my career in my early twenties…I wasn’t actively seeking a mentor,” Wicker said. “But I was lucky to be at a global design firm where I worked for the most kick-ass boss lady ever. I didn’t realize how lucky I was.”
The general consensus was that formalized, in-house mentorship programs that pair established professionals with up-and-comers are invaluable. In the end, however, the more effective relationships are those that form organically, even if they can be much harder to cultivate.
“Sometimes it’s hard to find those organic relationships,” VanBerschot said. “I often had to raise my hand and join those extracurricular activities, do those extra projects, and then once you start showing up doing those, you kind of get ‘volun-told’ to do some bigger projects. From those are where I found my sponsorship.”
Collete English Dixon, executive director of the Marshall Bennett Institute of Real Estate at Roosevelt University, moderated the second panel, which featured established leaders discussing current workplace issues. Also on the stage were Kathryn Kovitz Arnold, practice group chair, partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP; Jamie Georgas, senior managing director at CBRE; Janice Goldsmith, principal at Zeller Realty Group; Cassie Hrtanek, assistant general counsel/securities in The Inland Real Estate Group’s law department; Molly McShane, chief operating office at, The McShane Companies and Vicki Noonan, managing principal at Cushman & Wakefield.
One notable difference between the experiences of the first set of panelists and the second group is how technological advances and societal change have unburdened women in the workplace to a degree. As women were historically the caregivers at home—even if they, too, worked—the prospect of raising children brought with it the possibility of derailed careers.
“Realistically, I had to be at my desk in order to conduct business,” Noonan said. “My balance was with my children. I stayed in the city instead of moving to the suburbs because I did not want to be on the train to miss them in the morning or miss them at night. I intentionally left my office on time at 5 o’clock to be home for baths and reading and cooking, and then I went back to the office most nights. And the night you didn’t go back because you were just too tired, you paid the price in the morning.”
Today, it’s more accepted that fathers share more of the burden of child-rearing, which gives mothers more stable footing in the workplace. On top of that, better connectivity means we can work anytime from anywhere—so having to get the kids off to hockey practice is a lot easier if you’re already working from your dining room table rather than an office 20 miles from home.
“One of the fallacies that we were subject to is that you could do it all. And that was a big lie. You couldn’t do it all; you couldn’t be perfect at your job and perfect at raising your kids,” said Goldsmith. “I don’t know about you guys, but I stressed out over that. There was enormous personal toll in trying to do it all. Listening to the first panel, I think there’s a bit more realism now.”
By the end of the morning, these 15 women at various points in their career—but all of them exceptionally accomplished—discussed a variety of topics such as risk taking, the desire to be liked, real estate’s conspicuous avoidance of #metoo scandals and more. Be sure to sign up early for next year’s summit so you don’t miss out on the incredible insights.