UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Leonard W. Wood Center for Real Estate Studies welcomed four alumnae back to campus to share their insights as women navigating careers in commercial real estate.
Carolyn Hubach (MBA ’88), Sabrina Jones (BA ’00, MBA ’09), Kelly Nagel (MBA ’08) and Natalie Trojan (MBA/MRP ’97) participated in a lively discussion with women real estate students from our Undergraduate Business and MBA programs, as well as local alumnae working in commercial real estate.
Here are some of the themes and advice that resonated throughout the conversation.
Be authentic. Forging a career in real estate – or any male-dominated field for that matter – can be intimidating and challenging at times. Our alumnae agreed that remaining authentic to themselves is the most important trait that’s sustained their careers.
As a woman in real estate, “you are judged from the moment you walk into a room – but that doesn’t mean you need to be afraid of standing out,” says Jones, director of asset services for CBRE|Raleigh.
“You are often memorable because you are the only woman in the room” – and that can be a distinct advantage in being heard and remembered, adds Trojan, former senior vice president in the Energy Services Group at Bank of America and an industry expert on PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy).
To position yourself for success, find your passion, develop your talents and have an authentic voice – and use these tools to excel in your field.
Pay attention to details. It’s important for women to develop a deep knowledge of their field. Learn the numbers, pay attention to the details and develop expertise that makes you invaluable to your team or organization. “The biggest honor is when someone comes to you as the expert,” says Hubach, a 20-year veteran of Wall Street real estate capital markets groups who now advises clients on financial investments across a variety of alternative asset classes – real estate, most notably.
In real estate, women will often be questioned by men in the room – but if you know the numbers and display competence from the start, you will command respect and become an integral part of the discussion, says Nagel, a regional development executive for Aimco Apartment Homes.
Be your own advocate. Do not underestimate the importance of being your own advocate for your career. “Have lunch with your colleagues – especially the men,” advises Hubach. “Make sure they know who you are and what you are capable of.”
Getting involved with local organizations in your field is a great way to expand your network and develop contacts who will champion for you in your industry, says Jones. Creating a women’s network within your company is another great way to motivate one another and make valuable connections, adds Trojan.
There are great opportunities for women in commercial real estate. When asked in which area women should begin their commercial real estate careers, the panelists had no shortage of answers.
Trojan notes that the green space is very exciting right now, with emerging technologies bringing new opportunities to commercial real estate developers and investors. The brokerage field offers opportunities for women to differentiate themselves as knowledgeable tenant reps who can understand the increasingly sophisticated demands from tenants, says Jones. And the residential market still holds attractive opportunities for women interested in development, adds Nagel.
Senior housing and global commercial real estate are two areas primed for growth, says Hubach. She also notes that insurance companies have done a great job of elevating women into executive roles, which can make pursuing a career on the finance side quite attractive.
“Select an area of commercial real estate you like and find an employer who is doing well in that space – and one that champions women in leadership positions,” advises Hubach.