From equity to work-life balance, women real estate leaders open up about overcoming challenges

October 3, 2017

By Cristy Lytal

To watch the full panel video, please click here »

It’s no secret that the real estate business, presently, is a male-dominated environment. However, the USC Price School of Public Policy’s Women in Real Estate Luncheon featured a panel of leaders who are breaking that trend.

With nearly 100 women pursuing Dollinger Master of Real Estate Development and Bachelor of Science in Real Estate Development degrees, in addition to boasting a strong network of female alumni and professionals, USC Price convened a candid discussion about everything from equal pay to work-life balance.

Richard Green, Chair of the Department of Policy Analysis and Real Estate and Director of the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate offered welcoming remarks, “It’s true, there is an absence of women and minorities in real estate,” he said. “But that’s changing. I am proud that USC is part of the catalyst that opens these opportunities up for everyone regardless of gender or race.”

“Playing a role in shaping cities is driving more and more women to the real estate profession,” added Sonia Savoulian, Associate Director for Programs in Real Estate at the USC Price School. “Women want to have a role in driving decisions for real estate development and investment.”

Clare De Briere MRED ’97 – founder of C+C Ventures and chair of the Urban Land Institute, Los Angeles – moderated the panel. Speakers included four additional USC Price alumnae: Lindsay Garcia BS ’11, assistant vice president of U.S. Bank; Jennifer McElyea MRED ’06, managing director of Watt Investment Partners; Rose Olson MRED ’06, senior vice president of development at Related California; and Jessica Palmquist BS ’10, senior acquisitions analyst at Clarion Partners.

Closing the wage gap

USC Price’s Women in Real Estate Luncheon panel examined topics from equity to mentorship. (Photo by Tom Queally)
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One important topic was equal pay for men and women — something that is not yet a reality in the workplace.

“I’ll say one quick thing on raises,” Palmquist said. “I’ve found you should always be pushing and asking, because it’s very unnatural as a woman to ask. And I found that all of my male counterparts, exactly my same age, will always ask.”

This resonated with McElyea: “I was always cautious, because I felt, ‘Well, you know, at some point I want kids. It’s going to be tough already asking to take time off to go on maternity leave. And gosh, if I’m asking for more money, that’s just going to make that ask even harder.’ And I think that was a mistake. I’ve now had two children while at this company and it was really a non-issue. And I was just telling myself that I needed to stay low-profile in order to not make it difficult for me to disappear to do what is totally normal to do. So that was a lesson learned, and I try to be much more aggressive now.”

Adjusting to the social landscape

Speakers, from left: Sonia Savoulian, Jennifer McElyea MRED ’06, Clare De Briere MRED ’97, Lindsay Garcia BS ’11, Rose Olson MRED ’06, Jessica Palmquist BS ’10 and Professor Richard Green (Photo by Tom Queally)

They also discussed the challenges of navigating the social side of the real estate business. From evening drinks to golf tournaments to ski weekends, many deals get done outside of business hours. Everyone agreed that being “one of the guys” can require some practice.

“I’m not a sports person and all the guys would sit around at lunch and talk sports,” said De Briere. “I started reading the sports section of the L.A. Times cover to cover. There are things from a social standpoint that I think we’ve all had to do to engage and become one of the pack.”

“You make these compromises,” she added, “but you open to the door so you can get to the point where you can say, ‘Hey look, let’s talk about this deal.’ And all of a sudden, it equalizes you a little bit. So practice your golf swing. Go on the fishing trip.”

Olson admitted that after she had twins, after-hours networking became nearly impossible.

“Evening events are really hard,” she said. “Breakfast events are almost impossible. So lunches, I can do, because it’s during the workday.”

Both McElyea and Garcia mentioned that their husbands initially found it strange that they spent so many evenings at meetings with male colleagues.

“There are so many after-work events and dinners,” said Garcia. “And my husband always asks, ‘Where are you going? Who are these people?’ Especially when I started, it was primarily middle-aged men that I’m going to dinner with. It’s a weird scenario.”

Value of mentorship

Nearly 100 women pursuing real estate degrees at the USC Price School. (Photo by Tom Queally)

In such a male-dominated environment, the panelists noted that the friendship and mentorship of female colleagues are especially valuable.

“I am part of a group of real estate women professionals who meet quarterly for lunch,” Palmquist said. “It’s been a huge resource for me, just because there aren’t as many women in the office.”

During the question-and-answer session that followed, the audience asked several pointed questions: What do you have to give up in order to have children? How do you connect with women in the real estate industry? How do you deal with explicit exclusion? How do you invite yourself to the all-male happy hour?

The panelists rounded out the conversation by giving their one-sentence words of advice on achieving work-life balance.

“Nothing’s ever going to be perfect,” Olson commented.

“Give or take,” Garcia said.

“You won’t always finish everything on a given day,” McElyea added.

“Worry less,” Palmquist recommended.

“And I would say, have fun every day,” De Briere concluded. “Don’t worry about the crappy stuff, because it’s always going to be there. Look for ways to make your days joyful.”