By Matthew Kredell
The number of women pursuing real estate degrees at USC Price is at an all-time high. To support them in entering a traditionally male-dominated field that still lags behind other industries in gender diversity, the Price School hosted its fourth annual Women in Real Estate Luncheon on Nov. 8 at the Town & Gown ballroom.
USC Price associate professor Mary Lynne Boorn, who moderated the discussion, opened the proceedings by sharing that more than 130 women are currently pursuing a degree in real estate at the USC Price School.
Many of those students took the opportunity to hear from a panel of women, all graduates of USC Price, who discussed their paths and challenges in navigating a career in real estate.
The panel featured four alumni at different stages in their careers to provide varying perspectives: Janette D’Elia MRED ’89, chief operating officer for Jay Paul Company; Rosie Cooper MRED ’06, executive vice president and regional managing partner at JPI; Melissa Delgado PMPL ’12, vice president of asset management for CityView; and Lindsey Mills, MRED ’18, associate for acquisitions and development at Tishman Speyer.
D’Elia recalled that she was one of three women in her MRED class.
“We were very much outnumbered by the gentlemen but I really felt like the program was a platform for me to hone my skills and go from a background in accounting into real estate development,” D’Elia said.
Over her 21 years at the company, D’Elia is proud that she’s been able to promote the interests of women and make it easier for them by leading the firm to adopt more family friendly and flexible policies. Most of the development and property management teams at her company are women, but she still sees a gender gap at the higher levels and the financial side.
“Still today in a lot of high-level meetings, I’m the only woman in the room,” D’Elia said. “On the one hand, it’s ‘Oh, OK, it’s not a big deal,’ but also it’s a big deal.”
Mills completed her MRED degree last year to develop the financial underwriting skills and soft skills such as communication and working with others to move from architecture to real estate.
“In architecture, you’re very much a service provider,” Mills said. “In real estate, you’re in the driver’s seat, you control all the variables, you’re working with the top people in every industry. I think that’s what I find most satisfying.”
D’Elia said it was the art of negotiating a deal that she found most satisfying, while Delgado highlighted creative problem solving as her favorite part of the job, and Cooper loves that every day is different.
Cooper, the first woman to hold so high of a position at her company, sees women making a lot of strides in real estate, but agreed that when she walks into a real estate conference that all she sees are men in blue blazers.
“We still have so much farther to go as far as women entering the workforce,” Cooper said. “But I do think there’s something about having women in a leadership role that probably encourages more women to come work for you. … So I think the higher women make it up, the more attracted women are going to be to our industry and it will hopefully foster greater diversity.
Juggling the responsibilities of being a mother with their careers often is a challenge for women in the workforce. Cooper has three children, all aged 10 and under.
“When I as in college, I thought I could have it all – that I’m tough, I can figure this out and I can balance everything,” Cooper said. “Now I reflect back and I know I can’t have it all all of the time. There’s going to be time when your parents need you more, your kids need you more, and when work needs you more.”
“It’s not a balance. It’s more an arch on what do you have to give your time to at that moment, and hopefully you work in a supportive enough environment and have a culture at your firm, which I’m lucky enough that I do, that they can understand that sometimes I need to leave at 4 to pick up my kids because my husband is traveling, but then I’m going to be on my email again at 8 to finish everything up that night.”
To figure out if a company’s culture is right for them during the interview process, the panel suggested that students share concerns while interviewing, ask interviewers for their favorite thing about working for the company and look for consistency in responses.
Delgado’s advice to female students heading into a career in real estate was to focus on communicating what they want.
“We’re not always as vocal as our male counterparts,” Delgado said. “I think it’s very important not to be apologetic, be forward and really have a voice. Just keep honing in on your communication skills and being more proactive rather than reactive.”
Cooper noted that it was a turning point for her career when she realized that she needed to speak up to the CEO when he was out in the market trying to find someone to run her office, letting him know that she was interested in the job.
D’Elia added that women can’t be afraid to advocate for themselves.
“In salary negotiation, I’ll say we’re thinking we’re going to bump you up to this and sometimes people just say, ‘OK, thank you,’” D’Elia said. “And I think, wow, that speaks for a number of other things as well because it’s like you’re not learning negotiation skills, and negotiation is such a big part of our business. So don’t be afraid to approach your superior when it’s that time of year and be your own best advocate.”
As they set out to pursue their careers, students found it valuable to get advice from successful women in the field.
“It’s really helpful to see other women in such high senior positions to show the students and new graduates what to expect and how to achieve personal and professional growth,” said Grace Won, a junior pursuing a Bachelor of Real Estate Development at USC Price. “It was interesting to hear how they got to positions in senior management and what worked and didn’t work for their growth.”
See the full set of photographs from the event here.
Associate Professor (Teaching)