Members of Ladies in CRE’s leadership team include (left to right, top row) Jennie Hodack, Megan McNulty, Allison Johnston, Rachel Koster, (bottom row) Brettany Shovanec, Skyler Baty, and Ally Rice.

Commercial Real Estate

This Group is Building Real Estate’s Next Generation of Women Leaders

A gathering of commercial real estate women in their 20s and 30s has become much more than just a place to network.

The room began to fill up on the 42nd floor at Bank of Americas Plaza on a recent Wednesday evening, with women from all facets of the commercial real estate industry in North Texas in attendance. They were friendly and chatty with one another, some greeting familiar faces and others making new acquaintances. The reason for the gathering: the year’s first event for Ladies in CRE, a five-year-old organization targeting women in their 20s and 30s.

As the night wore on, attendees chatted over appetizers before the keynote speaker addressed the group. Liz Trocchio Smith, herself a former commercial real estate executive who has gone on to start her own executive-coaching business, was speaking about the “Stiletto Network: Inside the Women’s Power Circles That Are Changing the Face of Business.” That’s the title of a book written by Pamela Ryckman, and the theme for this evening’s event. As Smith spoke, the attendees listened intently, nodding in agreement as she stressed the need for women to support one another. She went on to encourage those in attendance to reach out “horizontally”—to those in other ancillary industries.

In an industry that’s rife with savvy veterans—and, let’s face it, dominated by men—it often can be intimidating for neophytes, especially young women, to approach strangers at industry mixers. But not here, not tonight. The women who lead LCRE are quick to tell you that the group is all about women helping other women—in business and beyond. “It’s to the point now where you can call the construction-business development girl who comes to the events, or is on the leadership team, because you want to give her business—or send a deal to a tenant rep broker because you’ve developed a relationship with her,” says Allison Johnston, a co-founder of the group.

“High Potentials in the Pipeline: Leaders Pay it Forward,” a study conducted by Catalyst, a New York advocacy and nonprofit firm, found women are more likely than their counterparts to help develop others in their careers. Sixty five percent of women who received some type of development were now doing the same for someone else, compared to 56 percent of men. And, what about women helping other women? The study showed that 73 percent of women who were on the receiving end of some type of mentorship were now developing other women, compared to 30 percent of men who were assisting women. The numbers point to a flaw in the oft-repeated idea that women in power are less likely to help other women and, in fact, try to keep other females from reaching new heights. The study refers to this idea as the “Queen Bee syndrome,” a point of view that it says is discredited by its research.

“It’s the relationships, personally and professionally, that will last me the rest of my life.”

Allison Johnston, co-founder of LCRE

Brettany Schovanec, one of the co-founders of LCRE, remembers attending a small gathering in 2012 at the home of Rebecca Smith, a vice president with CBRE. There, Schovanec was able to talk with women who understood her experiences. Johnston also attended that night, and would later call the host to ask for her invite list. That setting provided the spark to launch the LCRE group. With an unofficial start in 2012, the group continued to host small happy hours, but it wasn’t until 2015 that the group made its official launch after starting a website and filing for LLC status.
Of course, there was already the larger, well-established Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) Dallas organization. But LCRE felt the need for women of a younger generation—those just starting out—to have their own space to gather. CREW sees the need, too. “One of CREW Dallas’ key strengths is supporting all North Texas networking opportunities for women to help flourish their ever-expanding potential,” says Suzanne Brasuell, president of CREW Dallas, and principal and vice president of business development at ENTOS Design. “Women are empowered by collaboration, cooperation, and collective decision-making. The networking opportunity this group of ladies has started helps us all succeed and strengthen our networks within the CRE community.”

Since its start, LCRE has experienced grass-roots growth, going from about 35 members to more than 400 today. And it’s something that companies have had no problem getting behind; indeed, this year’s planned events already are fully sponsored. The group’s organic growth speaks to how well it has been received by its target audience. “It isn’t hard to ask companies to sponsor, because it’s such a good value,” says Rachel Koster, another co-founder and the group’s head of public relations. “Obviously, those attending are finding value. They keep showing up!”

A 2015 study produced by CREW showed that, for women in the industry, the lack of a company mentor or sponsor was the No. 1 barrier to success. For men, the lack of a mentor ranked fifth. And, with the large number of commercial real estate groups available to join, those just beginning their careers may not be able to expense membership dues and costly event fees. As a result, LCRE intends to continue offering free membership and events. Its events, Schovanec says, “are centered around, how can we get better in the workplace and at our job, learning from mentors: ‘How did you get where you are, and how can we get there, too?’”

The group’s leadership board consists of eight women representing every aspect of the industry, from brokerage to architecture firms. The group says 2017 is all about getting better at the things they’re already doing. Currently it hosts four quarterly events and, true to what it’s done to date, it will react to growth and demand accordingly. The group has recently begun hosting small, more intimate breakfasts for new members, driving home the importance of connecting on a personal level.

“A lot of young girls in the group don’t have a lot of connections that more established people have,” Schovanec says. “So to build connections and be able to recommend people for other business services has been huge for me. [So has] finding contacts within the group I can trust to recommend to my clients.” The night of the group’s meeting at BofA Plaza, members of the leadership team walked around the room encouraging attendees to grab a business card from the bowl that had been used to draw for door prizes. Sometime before the group’s next meeting, they advised, you should reach out to that person, gaining one more connection in the process.

As a newcomer to the industry myself—one who happens to fit in this age range—my experience with the group has been more than pleasant. While the entire commercial real estate industry is welcoming and willing to help others, there’s something to be said for a time when you can gather with women to discuss everything from how they got their start to something as casual as a new exercise class you recently tried. “That’s what I’ve enjoyed most: the ability to speak freely,” says Schovanec. After I had coffee with Skyler Baty, another co-founder and the group’s lead on new membership services, Baty made it a point to connect me with others in the industry. And, her promises weren’t empty. Within a couple of hours, I had email introductions in my inbox. These women truly practice what they preach. Johnston says that a number of people have started recommending LCRE to younger hires, and so they want to be sure they are creating a welcoming atmosphere.
A group that started out as a way to socialize has grown to be much more than that. “It’s the relationships, personally and professionally, that will last me the rest of my life,” says Johnston. “I’ve already made some great close friends I truly believe I will have long-term. We all have something in common: we’re all career-driven, we’re all social.”

Lily Corral is an associate editor with D CEO and the editor of D CEO Real Estate.


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