WX New York Women Executives in Real Estate Panel 2015

Society has come a long way from the rigid gender dichotomy that strictly defined men as breadwinners and women as homemakers, but employment gender equality still falls short of egalitarian perfection. The problem is unevenly distributed among industries, as women in real estate and finance can attest. Women who have excelled and attained executive-level positions in these traditionally male-dominated fields have learned valuable lessons that can benefit the next generation looking to follow in their professional footsteps.

On Wednesday, March 18, CREF hosted an annual panel discussion and reception featuring guests from WX New York Women Executives in Real Estate, an invitation-only association of executive-level women actively engaged in the commercial real estate industry in New York City. The panelists related their experience, shared insights, and offered advice.

The panelists were:

  • Amy Applebaum ’86, senior credit banker, J.P. Morgan
  • Cheryl Boyer ’87, chief operating officer, Fulcrum Hospitality LLC
  • Peggy DaSilva, managing director, Canyon Capital Realty Advisors

The panel was moderated by Susan Fleming, MA ’08, PhD ’10, senior lecturer in management and organizational behavior. Fleming began her career on Wall Street, spending twelve years in the investment community, subsequently becoming a prolific educator and researcher on topics including gender bias and underrepresentation of women in leadership positions.

The event was open to all students, both women and men. The content may have been most directly relevant to women, but it’s part of an ongoing society-wide dialogue, and continued progress is incumbent upon the efforts and mutual understanding of all.

The panelists spoke extensively of their experiences and the types of obstacles they’ve faced, but they also highlighted encouraging trends, and offered suggestions for succeeding in spite of the bias women are likely to encounter.

They suggested that young women in these fields be proactive in laying the foundations for their own advancement, and actively seek out projects and ask to be included in those that are of interest. Attendees were advised to learn to do the job ahead of them to make themselves invaluable candidates, but never to forget how to do the work of lower positions they’ve progressed beyond.

The panelists suggested looking and acting professionally, and being prepared for meetings—having not only what they need, but bringing copies for everybody else too. They cautioned against getting caught up in office gossip and of oversharing. They explained that it’s not enough just to go about one’s work diligently, expecting to be recognized and rewarded; each must accept that it’s not an equitable system and remember that she needs to be her own staunchest advocate. They recommended documenting contributions so women will be able to qualitatively and quantitatively substantiate their value to the organization when it comes time for review or possible promotion.

The panelists advised that women know the culture of a company where they’re interviewing, and never underestimate the value of a solid support system. Whether it’s colleagues, mentors, “sponsors” (related to mentors, but specifically those in positions to help move one forward), a significant other, or close friends, one’s professional and personal networks are key not only to career, but to engineering a work-life balance—something that, for women in real estate and finance, still must be earned over time.

After the moderated discussion, panelists addressed audience questions, and a reception followed. Students had a chance to speak one-on-one with the panelists, sharing conversations, making connections, and gathering data for their own forthcoming entries into the world of real estate and finance.