COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | TARA BURNS

Secrets to success for female CRE professionals

One year after CREW Network published the benchmark study “Women in Commercial Real Estate: 2010,” CREW Network President Diane Butler presented a follow-up study at the CREW California Conference held last month in Los Angeles. The white paper, “Success and Satisfaction of Women in Commercial Real Estate: Retaining Exceptional Leaders,” echoes the sentiments of speakers and attendees at the conference: Women are making great strides in commercial real estate, but the number of exceptional female leaders in the industry continues to be scarce.

Darla Longo, vice chairman and managing director of CB Richard Ellis, was the keynote luncheon speaker at the conference, titled "Catching the Next Wave in California Commercial Real Estate.” A 32-year veteran of commercial real estate, Longo is an exceptional female leader both within her company and the industry. Since her career began, she has been a part of more than $20 billion worth of real estate transactions, according to her bio. Longo advised the audience to develop and nurture an effective team of people with strong work ethic, core values and “an ego that can be checked at the door.” She believes that the best teams are a natural fit and have a reason to be put together.

Longo's success has not been without risk or challenge. She encouraged the audience to see every shortcoming or lost deal as a “chance to circle the wagons and see it as an opportunity for growth.” One of her recommendations was to hire a professional coach and especially to be coachable. Longo shared that her best learning experiences were when she was open to listening to others with opposing views.

Through her tenure, she has been successful in building teams, negotiating successful real estate transactions, and is now in a position to reflect and offer guidance to those who are up and coming in the industry. She suggested that young professionals think about where they need to be, not where they are today as a way to become motivated toward long-term success.

As the first woman to be elected to CBRE’s board of directors, Longo acknowledged the lack of female leaders in the industry. She applauded organizations like CREW Network that are working to educate and promote the efforts of women in commercial real estate throughout the United States.

While the lack of parity will not be solved quickly, the white paper “Success and Satisfaction of Women in Commercial Real Estate: Retaining Exceptional Leaders” provides best practices and recommendations for women to succeed and reach the next level in their careers. Published in 2011, the white paper is a summary of 20 interviews with senior commercial real estate executives and their responses to the study “Women in Commercial Real Estate: 2010.”

One of the recommendations in the white paper is finding a sponsor, instead of a mentor, to help play a key role in career advancement. While many companies are developing and encouraging mentorship programs, research has shown that sponsorship is an essential element for career advancement.

The paper defines sponsorship as a relationship “where a senior executive provides tangible opportunities for a candidate to achieve success and actively advocates for the candidate’s career advancement.” According to research findings in the book "The Sponsor Effect," “women tend to have mentors who provide career direction and support, while men are more likely to benefit from sponsors who advocate for them at the highest level of the organization.“

These findings and additional discussion points in the white paper continued to stress the importance of developing a network of women and men who will advocate and invest in your long-term goals and career advancement.

Other recommendations from the CREW Network encourage women to:

· Develop an understanding of the market value of their skills.

· Talk to recruiters to get insights on compensation. Speak with colleagues and share details of compensation and benefits to common advantage.

· Stay in touch with colleagues while taking a leave of absence, be a lifelong learner and find ways to continue to develop new skills.

· Articulate wants and needs. Negotiate for what you deserve.

· Communicate accomplishments and achievements to those who matter.

· Raise your hand to volunteer for stretch assignments.

· Network, network, network.

· Look for sponsors to help propel you to the top of the ladder.


Burns is an account manager at Unisource Solutions and a member of the 2012 CREW San Diego Marketing and Communications Committee. To find out more about CREW San Diego or CREW Network, visit crewsandiego.org.

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