Lady Gaga’s album “Joanne” has been playing on repeat in my car. Listening to the lyrics of one of my favorite catchy tunes, “Hey Girl,” I made a surprising connection to the real estate world.
“Hey girl, hey girl
We can make it easy if we lift each other
Hey girl, hey girl
We don’t need to keep on one-in’ up another”
On the day of the annual UNC Real Estate Conference in April 2016, a group of female attendees from across the nation arrived early for a pre-conference conversation over coffee and bagels. Most, though not all, were alumnae of UNC and the conversation revolved around what we could do to promote women in real estate and support the commercial real estate aspirations of current and future Tar Heels. Out of that conversation came a number of fantastic initiatives, including a “Conversation with Real Estate Alumnae” panel in fall 2016 and a new mentor program, a result of an innovative partnership between UNC Kenan-Flagler and the Urban Land Institute’s Triangle chapter of the Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI).
WLI is a program aimed to increase both the number and visibility of women leaders in the real estate and land use industries. The mentor program launched last fall aims to bring women together to support one another or, in wise the words of Gaga, “lift each other up.” Each mentor group has three members: one UNC student, one young professional and one more seasoned professional. The idea is to provide the student and young professional with the opportunity to learn from someone in more advanced stages of their career, while enabling the senior mentor and young professional to share advice and inspiration with those with less experience.
My mentor group is:
I’ve met with these awesome women a few times since our initial meet and greet, which was a breakfast at the Research Triangle Park Foundation headquarters funded by a WLI Urban Innovation Grant. We’ve discussed specific projects Jessica has led for Longfellow, including the Durham Innovation District and the Keystone Technology Park in Research Triangle Park. I’ve also learned about the rewards and challenges of owning your own business through Laura’s stories of her rental property portfolio in Durham. The meetings serve as a way to get to know women in an industry that has traditionally been known to favor a “boys club” mentality. I’ve benefitted personally by being able to learn from successful women leaders ask questions in a low-pressure environment and share my career goals.
I’ve also been happy to have the opportunity to meet other members of the mentor program through WLI Triangle-organized events. The women in the nine mentor groups were invited to participate in a “Wine and Design” event in downtown Raleigh. It was a fun, relaxed event filled with women across all stages of their careers. As we sipped our wine and painted our masterpieces, a common theme I gleaned from all the women was their willingness and desire to help each other in their careers. It is gratifying to know I am entering a profession that has strong women and ample alumnae to support me throughout my commercial real estate career. As I approach graduation, I feel energized and inspired to join their ranks.
By Catherine Easter (MBA ’17)