International Women’s Day: Obstacles and opportunities, according to Duke Realty’s Susan Bergdoll

Building a career in any field is no easy feat. For a woman in a predominantly male industry, it comes with unique challenges.

But as some might view womanhood as an obstacle, Susan Bergdoll, SVP and regional leader for Duke Realty’s Chicago, Minneapolis and Indianapolis markets, views it through a lens of opportunity.

We’re celebrating International Women’s Day by highlighting Susan’s empowering perspective.

What led you to a career in CRE? 
Susan Bergdoll: Fresh out of college, I took a job working for the Mayor of Indianapolis. During the two years I was there, I had the pleasure of meeting Tom Hefner, the then CEO of Duke Realty. As I looked to transition away from politics and working for the government, my dad encouraged me to establish a career rather than find another job. That’s when I contacted Tom who said, “Come on out. Not sure what we’ll do with you, but my philosophy is to hire good people when you find them.” That’s how I landed at Duke Realty. It was here that I developed my career in this industry. 

What hurdles do you face working in a career still largely dominated by men? 
Bergdoll: I really don’t feel like there are hurdles in this business, right now. I choose to see opportunities afforded to me as a female. People remember you when you’re different. Consider this: Potential tenants may tour eight warehouses that all look the same. If that tenant prospect only remembers the building because the person who showed them the building was a woman, and it helps close the deal, then I’ll take it. 

How do you overcome these hurdles? 
Bergdoll: Again, I don’t think there are hurdles, only opportunities. 

Are you seeing an increase in the number of women entering the CRE business? 
Bergdoll: When I started in this business 25 years ago, I felt I was the token female in the industrial real estate industry, and it was a lonely place to be. I see more women entering the field in all types of positions. Thanks to organizations like iWire and CREW, women are getting the support of a network of women who all want to see more women succeed in this industry.  

Why do you think there aren’t more women in this business?  
Bergdoll: Women may have a misconception that it’s a male-dominated industry with no room for women. However, I found that it is a welcoming industry for women. I have found plenty of growth opportunity and Duke Realty and industry organizations have mentorship programs to help women in this business. 

What do you enjoy most about CRE? 
Bergdoll: What I love most about commercial real estate is the variety in my day and helping my clients. The real estate business is really the people business—helping people solve problems. Developing trusting relationships with brokers, tenants and others is key to solving those problems. 

What advice would you give to other women interested in entering the field? 
Bergdoll: It’s advice that I live by—stay true to yourself and your brand. I chose this field knowing what it was like, so I never expected the industry to acquiesce to me. I adapted my behavior to fit in with the industry while still being true to myself.