If you would have told me 15 years ago when I graduated from Texas A&M University with accounting and finance degrees that I would have a career in the male-dominated world of commercial real estate, I would have laughed. I am a numbers girl. I planned my entire wedding in a multi-tab excel workbook. I didn’t believe I was equipped to procure new business and build client relationships. Believe is the key word.
I had been at JLL, previously The Staubach Company, for seven years in three different roles, closely watching and analyzing our brokerage business. It looked fun and rewarding but off-limits for a number-crunching risk-averse accountant like myself.
At night I would look at myself in the mirror and ask, “Do you think you are capable of doing that?” I’d wake up the next morning and the little voice in my head would say, “What are you thinking? You aren’t made to do that.”
In those initial seven years I got married, had my first of two children and worked for a laundry list of supportive male leaders including Jay Koster, Scott Wilson, Bill Leiser, and John Gates who took a chance on me and allowed me to professionally grow while I was starting a family.
Then I met Brooke. She “looked” like me. We were both early 30s and we had two-year-olds at home. We had husbands who had demanding careers and traveled. She didn’t have a rolodex of relationships that I thought you had to have. She didn’t play golf every Saturday at the country club and, most importantly, her persona didn’t match up to what I pictured a successful commercial real estate broker looked like.
But the fact is she was experiencing success at a young age and doing it in a “boys’ club.” She convinced me this is possible. “You can do this too, Kimarie.”
So after months of analyzing the opportunity (remember I am a numbers girl) I cautiously jumped in.
Dating back to 2008, JLL has hovered around 12-14% female brokers across the country since I had visibility into the numbers, and though that number puts us at or near the top of the list for firms in the industry, that just isn’t good enough for me anymore.
I have now been at JLL for almost 13 years. I love my career. I love coming to work every day and seeing my client’s satisfaction at the end of a successful project. To be part of impactful decisions that affect all the employees of my clients, such as Match, Service King, Medieval Times, and Conference USA, and to drastically improve their culture and allow them to reach their business goals by recruiting and retaining the best employees—it is extremely rewarding.
Even with a husband who racks up a lot of American Airline miles and two little humans back at home, I love my career. I am honored to be a chair for our Women’s Business Network Dallas chapter and guide our recently formed Diversity & Inclusion market’s charter. It is time to be bolder and more ambitious about the real value diverse teams bring to the bottom line. I think more women should have this experience of having a family and loving their career too.
So how do we be bolder? I have a few thoughts.
- Men, empower your wives and daughters. Be part of the solution, not the problem. It will open your eyes to empowering women with whom you work with. Women all over the world have run very successful households for years. Most men say their wife really runs their house. The corporate world isn’t much different, it just happens to be in an office building.
- Corporate leaders, groom and place more women in leadership positions. By 2026, the U.S. Department of Education estimates 57 percent of college students will be women, so companies should get their competitive advantage now. Set bold but measureable goals. If you have 40 business-line leads and only two of them are women today, set a goal and implement a strategic plan to get that number to eight women in three years. It will encourage younger women to enter your business. You can’t expect to grow your female contingency from the bottom up if they don’t see multiple women at the top of the food chain.
- Female executives, do business with other women. You have an incredible opportunity to help pave the way for other aspiring female business leaders. When a smart, eager, and polished female presents her new business idea, accounting service, or technology solution and if there is a solid value-proposition, give her a chance. To put it another way—the guys are doing it. So what’s stopping you?
- To the next generation of females, ask a lot of questions. Be very curious and take risks. Research industries similar to commercial real estate that might traditionally be male dominated. Identify a skill or competency that industry is lacking, develop that skill and chart a plan of attack. I entered the commercial real estate world when I realized the industry was full of amazing producers but very few had a master’s degrees in finance. More and more CFOs were part of the real estate process and wanted someone on the team that could tie back any proposed solutions to their balance sheet and income statement. Be confident and sell your value-proposition to your peers—it is not who you know, it is who knows what you know. Believe in yourself, because if you don’t, no one else will.
- And to everyone else, embrace and foster the next generation of leaders at every level. The next generation will help you evolve and make you look good. They embrace digital technologies, believe in empowering others, and value an open, transparent and inclusive leadership style. Even if you can’t make sense of what you see as quirky or unusual, they might be able to help you gain perspective and insight into personality and generational differences, which will essentially help your bottom line.
So back to those two little humans I am molding back at home. They are both boys. On the surface, it appears I don’t have the opportunity to improve that 14% statistic, but actually I do. I believe it is my job as a mother of boys to raise them to empower their future girlfriends to be strong, confident, and compassionate leaders and expect they will both be competing for the same job one day. Right now, I am teaching them that house work has no gender and neither does a career. My boys know mommy scales the ladder and hangs the Christmas lights every year. I track our retirement accounts and keep the family financially on budget. I snake the toilet when it gets clogged. But I don’t fold the laundry. I don’t grocery shop and my husband claims I don’t know how to start the dishwasher. All that to say, I couldn’t have done this alone. My husband and I are true equals, sharing in the responsibilities of everyday life, and thankfully, the joys and successes that come along with it.
Ask me what I am most proud of these days and I would have to say the mean spiral football throw my seven-year-old is teaching me. If I want to talk the talk and walk the walk with him, I have to learn new skills. Plus, it is way more fun than doing dishes.
Kimarie Akenbrand is a vice president at JLL.