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Women in Real Estate

Pioneering Paths: Insights from our Women in Real Estate Breakfast & Panel

March 21, 2024

On March 13th, against the busy backdrop of MIPIM 2024 in sunny Cannes, we hosted an insightful panel discussion titled “Pioneering Paths: Women in Real Estate”. With the MIPIM fair just a short stroll away, our attendees were treated to wisdom and insights shared by distinguished female professionals from the real estate sector.

The panel, moderated by Josephine Jakub, SVP Global Marketing at Drooms, featured three accomplished leaders:

  • Susanne Jakob, Director of Investment Management at pbb invest
  • Marlies Zwols, Managing Director at OZ architect
  • Jette de Beauregard, Associate Partner at Drees & Sommer

The discussion covered a range of topics that were relevant to anyone thinking about or building a career in real estate, offering valuable advice and perspectives for professionals in the industry. Here’s a glimpse into the conversation:

Pivotal moments

When asked about certain moments in their career that had a lasting impact, Marlies recounted her second year of her career in architecture: “I had to learn to think for myself, rather than just carrying out orders. This was the first time I got real praise from my manager – when I stopped trying to interpret what they want me to do, and just did what I thought was right.”

Susanne explained that for her, it has been a journey of lifelong learning rather than specific pivotal moments. “Stay curious, and keep pace with the development of the business,” she advised our audience.

For Jette, it was job changes outside of her comfort zone. “I started to aim for roles where I didn’t feel quite ready. Of course, I got a few knockbacks, but I was then given a chance. I took the risk that I wasn’t perfect for the role, but realised people trusted me. That made me trust myself.”

Essential qualities and skills for success

As leaders in their respective fields, our panellists underscored the importance of purpose, knowledge, kindness, and authenticity in leadership roles. They emphasised the need for competence, strategic thinking, and adaptability, along with qualities such as hard work, resilience, and delegation skills. Jette pointed out that “As a leader, you have to be there to support others, but also learn how to delegate effectively.”

Not only did our panel touch on the skills needed for leadership positions – they also discussed general skills needed to thrive in the real estate industry. Next to building a strong foundation of industry and market knowledge, soft skills (such as confidence, adaptability, and authenticity) are equally important. In today’s world it comes as no surprise that proficiency in technology and digital tools are also indispensable. Like many other industries, real estate is also becoming more and more international, so speaking multiple languages is also an asset.

Networking was also highlighted as being crucial in their career progression. “My recommendation for all professionals is to jump in early on: Join networks as early as you can, even during school or university,” said Susanne.

Marlies emphasised the value of sharing knowledge and creating a sense of community through networking, and said: “Networking is not just about moving up the ladder, but its also about sharing knowledge. Its more about finding peers at first and building trusted relationships,” highlighted Marlies.

Jette stressed the significance of building strong relationships within work environments, particularly in the modern era of remote work. She mentioned, “I really don’t enjoy networking, I find it the most difficult part of my job. I’ve done networking differently – I’ve networked with people I worked with. You never know where you’ll cross paths again. So work your network, not just during events like MIPIM, but also every day at the office.”

Overcoming hurdles and challenges

The hurdles our panellists shared resonated deeply with our female audience. Equality issues such as overcoming biases and stereotypes or handling the gender pay gap were significant discussion points.

“I was shocked to find out that my male counterparts were earning 20% more than I did 20 years ago. I overcame it by looking for a new job, and being cautious and aware of this problem in my negotiations,” said Susanne.

Marlies mentioned another challenge, which was irrelevant to gender: “I wish someone would have prepared me for the loneliness that comes with leadership.” She explained that once you become a leader, the dynamics change and you are no longer part of the “group”, opening yourself up to criticism on your decisions. Marlies emphasised the importance of being open and honest about the motives behind decisions, wherever possible. She accepted the fact that she will not always be able to please everyone, and also created project teams for decisions that influence many co-workers so everyone can take responsibility.

Our panellists agreed that whilst progress has definitely been made for women working in the industry, there is still a lot to be done. This includes the gender pay gap and working against stereotypes. Here, we should never forget to include the men working in the industry – they are just as necessary to build an inclusive and diverse work environment.

Finding mentorship and support

Mentorship and finding support through co-workers emerged as a critical factor in the career growth of our panel. Jette highlighted: “Starting from 19 years old at my first job on the construction site and up until today, my mentors have always been men!”. She emphasised the importance of listening and learning from all peers, managers and directors, no matter their gender or position.  

Finding women role models was highlighted by Marlies: “Female mentors, starting with my own mother, gave me examples on how to successfully balance my family and career in a healthy way.”

“Do not hesitate or be afraid to approach a person directly”, Susanne added.

Advice for dealing with challenges & difficult conversations

Our panel have all had their fair share of challenges and difficult conversations, and shared practical advice with our audience. Susanne emphasised the importance of patience and self-confidence, but also finding coaching where necessary: “There is a lot of support available that is useful in these situations, such as personal coaching or rhetoric seminars.”

“Don’t identify yourself with the problem – it’s a business issue, not a personal one. Stay calm and friendly, and try to not take criticism personally,” said Marlies, adding that “If the tone gets personal, I tell the person that their tone is not constructive, and we will not solve the problem this way.”

Jette agreed that staying diplomatic is the best way forward, reminding the audience that you never know who you’ll meet again in the future. Her practical advice: “Take time to think about your response – for example, never respond immediately to a heated email. You can write your response to get it out of your system, but sleep on it a night and reread it in the morning before sending it off.”

Initiatives for fostering inclusivity and diversity

Another highly important topic: What steps or initiatives does our panel recommend for fostering inclusivity and diversity in the sector? Marlies wants us to rethink the way we prepare women for leadership positions. “Early on in their career, they need to start believing that anything is possible, that they are good enough, and that their voice is as equally heard as anybody else’s. This is a process, not a skill you can learn in a course. HR departments need to see this as a long-term goal and develop valuation systems with this purpose in mind.”

Both Susanne and Jette agreed that flexibility and diverse working models foster inclusivity in the industry. This is not only relevant for women, but also for men. “We need to allow men to take time out too, for example parental leave. It should be encouraged”, commented Jette. Our audience also felt strongly about this: One listener mentioned her male colleague who is on parental leave did not include this in his “out of office” automatic reply, yet men should openly communicate this too.

Future opportunities and concluding advice

Looking ahead, our panel agreed that there are boundless opportunities for women in the sector. Susanne sees a special opportunity in niche topics that are still relatively young and in need of specialists, such as ESG and AI. She advised those aspiring to join the industry to gain as much practical experience in the different sectors as early as possible, and also to join multiple networks to gather knowledge and insights.

“Innovation, digitisation, and robotics will greatly change the real estate supply chain in the coming years. It seems to me that in an industry, which is changing, there will be more than enough room for women to find their place,” said Marlies.

Jette doesn’t believe the industry will be split equal between men and women, until universities are 50-50 as well. This is something worth observing and measuring in the upcoming years.

Final thoughts

To conclude, the panel provided invaluable perspectives and advice for navigating the complexities of the real estate industry. As we continue to champion diversity and empower women in the field, let us continue to share knowledge and pave the way for a more empowering future in real estate.

Stay tuned for more insights and events from our Women in Real Estate network! Follow our dedicated page to stay up to date: https://www.linkedin.com/showcase/women-in-real-estate-by-drooms/

And if you would like to watch the panel discussion, view here:

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