Recap of the Real Estate Women’s Forum in NYC, Part 1


Over 400 women assembled at The New Yorker Hotel on February 16, 2017 for a day of following our professional passion of real estate.  Attendees and speakers ranged from Brokers to Developers to Capital Markets experts and beyond, touching both public and private sectors.  This made for interesting conversation at the end of the festivities with a networking event.

I’ll share some of my highlight moments from each of the morning sessions that I went to in this post, and the panels that they came from. The afternoon sessions will be posted in a Part 2 post forthcoming. 

The morning keynote included a presentation by Partnership for New York City President Kathryn Wylde and her interview conducted by United Way of New York City President and CEO Sheena Wright.  While the presentation focused on New York statistics, it was incredible for this Boston girl to hear the scale and scope of what is done in a city about the population of my state:

  • With 50% recent job growth in recent years, technology is a key opportunity for NYC.  Similarly, Ms. Wylde thinks that NYC is poised for growth in the life sciences fields.
    • MKD thought: Does NYC become more desirable than Kendall Square for the biotech field? Time will tell.  
  • Emerging cities will create 50% of jobs through 2025.
  • The continued political polarity will be a large risk for the economy now and moving forward, no matter what side you are on. She believes the two most important areas of impact are the tax burden on companies and the cost of healthcare expenses.  
  • Education of the work force must focus on SKILLS development.
  • Old ideas need to be re-imagined to push the envelope of what they can do and what is possible.
  • Know your audience – use empathy to focus on the other person.  This works in a variety of environments.  
  • The gender wage gap cannot be addressed by legislation, but rather through business leadership. Women should get organized with industry groups.
  • Anyone you meet is someone who could be a potential mentor.  Take advantage of everyone you meet and what they are willing to offer.  Most people are willing to help others, but do not explicitly state the phrase, “will you be my mentor?”

I found myself intrigued by this conversation, and by the New York statistics – I was hungry to learn more and how they compared with other states or cities. In particular, I was not curious about the statistics with emerging cities.  Given the increasing urbanization of America, I am curious where the most successful emerging cities will come from and how they handle to growth of those jobs. What kind of infrastructure growth, both in buildings and other related utility and transportation infrastructure, will be needed to sustain and provide opportunity? I also wonder in case of economic depression or recession how strongly these emerging cities will retain those jobs. Hoping for the best all around.

The next session was a panel discussion I enjoyed, even though it had a New York focus.  But the concepts these developers are discussing can be applicable if you think about what similarities there are in your own markets.  Each of the panelists had great advice – but what I found interesting was that most of these women, who were on the younger side, varied somewhat from what Ms. Wylde had offered in approach.

Cranes in the Clouds: Development & Construction State of the Market and Outlook

Moderated by Elise Wagener, Partner at Kramer Levin

Panelists were Jennifer Bernell, EVP at Kushner Companies; Terri Belkas-Mitchell, Principal at Xenolith Partners; Lauren Cahill, Senior Development Director at AvalonBay Communities; and Charlotte Sturgis, Head of Construction at Rose Associates

  • Downtown Brooklyn has a higher concentration of students than Cambridge, MA (home to Harvard, MIT, and others)
  • Technology like Uber and Lyft are changing the boundaries of where it makes sense to build
  • “If you find a deal that pencils, you’re going to take it”
  • Partnerships can exist with those who have land, like schools or churches, and would like to develop but don’t have the experience.
  • The new presidential administration means that affordable housing opportunities are anticipated to have funding gaps moving forward
  • In working with local agencies that may be difficult, you must understand that the people in those organizations are working to do their jobs too. Learn to understand where the reviewer is coming from.
  • Related to experience developing as a woman:
    • LC: Over prepare to compete. At the end of the day you need a stellar work product. Key books were “The Confidence Gap” and Megyn Kelly’s book. There will be some things you can’t control, but focus on what you can control.
    • TB: Go into the room as the “expert” – it engenders confidence in yourself and from others as the consummate professional
    • CS: Saw more issues with age than gender on the construction side. Allow work ethic and passion to make you shine.
    • JB: Set yourself apart with passion, work.  Be prepared to sink or swim – and learn to “swim professionally.”

The final panel of the morning before lunch that I attended had a very appealing title to me, but since the discussion tended heavily toward sustainability, I was a little disappointed.  The anecdotes of some of the projects, particularly from Ms. Fine and Ms. Radden, were the best and most entertaining parts of the panel as it was incredible the scope and scale of what they were able to accomplish in their previous and ongoing work. I did enjoy how interested the panel was in how each other was successful in their endeavors and how they accomplished tasks and projects. 

Ideas in the Skyline: Design, Technology, and Innovation in 2017 and Beyond.

Moderated by Julia Lewis, Director at Practice for Architecture and Urbanism

Panelists were Susan Fine, Principal at Oases Real Estate, Callie Haines, SVP – Asset Management at Brookfield; Sydney Mainster, Sustainability Manager at The Durst Organization; and Viki Radden, Managing Partner & COO at 5 Stone Green Capital

  • Sustainability can help reduce costs of managing an asset.  
  • Technology is needed to help push health and wellness in buildings
  • Look at products installed and used, including chemical portions
  • Sustainability tends to be very time heavy for research on both short and long term aspects.
  • Retrofitting creates a challenge cost-wise – question of how to finance savings
  • Sustainability is expected in the industry – for not cost increase to the user.
  • VR: “It is easier for the women to do what the boys don’t want to do”
  • We all need a place to live and food to eat – it is a question of how can we do it better than we did before?
  • VR: need multiple skills to succeed, and need to be agile.
  • Planning for the internet usage is essential.
  • Capturing data is important to know who is coming and who you need to reach to get them there.

Did you attend the conference?  What were your takeaways?  Was there anything that piqued your interest from my Part 1 recap?

Make sure to check back in for Part 2 of the conference in an upcoming post!

Being a Voice, But Also a Learning Ear

Last week I had the opportunity to serve my alma mater and its Greek community (fraternities and sororities) as a member on the career panel for the Worcester Polytechnic Institute Greek Alumni Council’s Career Night Panel.  It was an honor to be asked to share my experience with the students, but truly an opportunity to be able to LISTEN to what other panelists had to say.  Three decades of graduates were represented, including two representatives of the Class of 1986 and a graduate as recent as 2015 (we were missing the 90s).

There were a few key takeaways for me that are worth sharing with a wider audience, and helpful for more than only college students to think about:

  • Be curious!  Ask lots of questions, always.
  • It is important to differentiate yourself. You can do this based on your activities, interests, and intellectual projects.
  • Confidence is important – even if you have to fake it.
  • Always follow up after interviews or meetings.  Handwritten notes are best; handwritten notes that accompany a timely email are best.  
  • Commutes matter – your ability to enjoy work and your life as a whole depends on it.
  • Expect that the career path you have in two, five, ten or more years later may be very different than you had at graduation, and that is okay.  It will continue to change over the course of your career. Plans are great, but stick to them hard at your own peril.
  • Take the opportunities that come to you that are interesting, exciting, and relevant to you.
  • Don’t be afraid to say no to opportunities that might come to you – time is finite and not everything is truly important to you and your goals.
  • Networks are extremely valuable – and so are your network’s networks. Stay connected with people by sharing articles, congratulating on positive changes, and even asking some people for coffee.
  • Mentors and other “guiding” relationships (like those with professors, for students) are important for opening doors and helping you focus on aspects you haven’t been investigating or addressing. People who hold this type of role in your life are valuable at every stage, whether new or experienced professional.
  • First impressions matter.  From attire, to handshakes, to eye contact, to the ability to hold a conversation, it is hard to reverse someone’s negative (or less than 100% positive) first impression of you

I would have loved to have had the same guidance as an undergrad instead of fighting for my own path and finding out everything the hard way over time.  Even without having it, I love the chance to share my own life story and successes by volunteering a few hours with these students.

If you have the opportunity to speak at a career night, jump at it!  The opportunity to practice public speaking and engaging with an audience is hard to pass up, and you are also an audience to a set of peers who have sage advice to offer.  

From Overwhelmed to Overjoyed – How I Found the Path to Real Estate

It would start Sunday nights – the stomach aches, the head aches, and dread. I was miserable knowing I had to go to work in the morning, and it was starting to impact not only my excitement about professional opportunity, but negatively impacting my body also.  I knew, more than anything, I needed a change.  A big change.  

Educated as an engineer, analysis of what would go into that change was going to be part of the process. Undoubtedly!  The big questions for me were:

  1. Why am I making this change so I feel exceptionally satisfied with my work at the next job?
  2. Where have I been and where do I want to go in my career?
  3. Who inspires me?
  4. What do I want to spend my days doing?

These questions were not easy to answer immediately.  I spent significant time soul searching, chatting with friends about their own careers, scouring career sites, attending alumni events for both undergrad and grad schools, and networking with anyone and everyone I respected, admired, and was interested to spend time with.

There were two particular additional tools that ultimately helped me shape my search toward real estate:

  1. Reflecting back on what I enjoyed the most in my career
  2. The Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

As a young civil engineer I had the opportunity to take the day-to-day reigns under guidance of a Professional Engineer and later a Professional Architect in a role of Owner’s Project Manager for a busy airport in New England.  As OPM, you represent the interests of the owners with other parties, yet as a third party. It is a challenging position but work that I loved.  I strived to understand the mission and challenges of the owner to the point where our success was intertwined.  As much as the big picture was energizing, the details became enchanting. For about 18 months I worked on this set of projects and received unsolicited, exuberant feedback from just about everyone I worked with.  This positivity gave me a sense that this type of role, working for and as the owner, was something for which I had talent and affinity.

The MBTI assessment was something I had taken a few years earlier at the WPI Career Development Center, coached on my results by an amazing friend who is now a Director there.  I was unabashedly an ESTJ, known as “The Executive” or “The Guardian”: practical, traditional, organized, visionary, hard-working, loyal, leader, and great at bringing people together.  When you research the terms “ESTJ careers”, several fields consistently appeared, with one striking my fancy: Sales Representatives, Law Enforcement Officers, Military, Teaching, Coaching, and Real Estate.  Real Estate was a field that I could use my MBA that I had just completed and my experience was relevant – I would be working with people in exactly the roles I had performed earlier in my career.  It was a matter of now desiring to sit in another chair at the table!

My network was helpful to me once I understood and could communicate my goal and desired opportunity. Surprisingly, the opportunity I earned and am happy to be working in today came from an online posting, and joined a company where I knew no one – quite contrary to all of the career advice out there!  It took effort, thoughtfulness, and creativity to tie my personal story together in a way that showed I could help fill the gaps needed by my now current company.  I wake up each Monday, excited to go to work. Sundays are enjoyable now, and perhaps I sometimes feel even a bit anticipatory of the week ahead!

Career dreams can come true.  Work can be enjoyable, fun, and rewarding – not work at all.  It takes conscious thoughts and efforts to transform direction, and sometimes considerable time.  Don’t be afraid to use any and all tools available to you! Life has a wonderful way of working out when you work hard for what you want.