By Catherine Reagor| December 22nd, 2019
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2019 was the year of women in Arizona real estate.

Three of the state's top commercial real estate member groups — Urban Land Institute Arizona, Valley Partnership and the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties — all have women chairs and executive directors. 

That's never happened before. 

Recently, I was invited to hang out with the group of women real estate veterans, and we talked about rising through the ranks in the competitive development and commercial real estate worlds.

The successful women shared tips to help others getting into their industry

Proving it in real estate

“Construction and development are among the slower industries to adapt to change, and this (women in leadership) is still a biggie,” said Molly Ryan Carson, senior vice president of developer Ryan Cos. and chair of the Arizona chapter of NAIOP.

“It is a prove-it industry, and sometimes proving it to the outside world is easier than within your own company. Is that a bummer? Sometimes. Is it a reason to stop? Hell no,” she said.

Heidi Kimball, senior vice president of Sunbelt Holdings and chair of ULI Arizona, said some industries are more open to women leaders than others.

“I think it’s very important that women in commercial real estate be really good at whatever their specialty is —  finance, marketing, management, etc. Make yourself an expert,” she said.

Suzanne Kinney, CEO Arizona NAIOP, said “commercial real estate has been slower than some other industries to create an inclusive environment that facilitates the movement of women into leadership rolls."

However, she sees that’s changing and many women in executive roles are mentoring younger women.

Cheryl Lombard, CEO of Valley Partnership, said since she doesn’t work directly for a developer, her career experience might be different.

“It has not been difficult. This is especially true on issues where I have an extensive background of experience and leadership, such as on water and other natural resources,” she said.

Get involved, become an expert

All agreed on three things that help women in real estate:

  • Network.
  • Find a good mentor.
  • Become an expert.

“Finding opportunities to participate in professional and business organizations like Valley Partnership, ULI and NAIOP and others will give you opportunities outside of your company to meet and interact with leaders in the industry and stay on top of issues, trends and factors impacting the industry,” said Jill Hegardt, vice president of entitlements at developer DMB and chair of Valley Partnership.

Carson said being appointed to boards further solidifies your “street cred” in the industry, and then more and more people in the private sector will give you a chance. 

Deb Sydenham, executive director of ULI Arizona, said limitations in an industry are often more perception than reality.

“Those who work hard, stand by their word, and have integrity will rise to the top, no matter the gender,” she said.

More women real estate leaders than ever 

"The fact that women are president or CEO at most of the commercial real estate industry groups in Arizona says a lot for the inroads they have made and how far they have come," said Peter Madrid of MadridMedia, a public relations and media company.

Two state agencies key to Arizona’s growth and real estate industry also are led by women. Judy Lowe is commissioner of the Arizona Department of Real Estate and Lisa Atkins is commissioner of the Arizona State Land Department.

The list goes on. Michelle Lind is CEO of the Arizona Association of Realtors and Courtney LeVinus heads up the Arizona Multihousing Association.

There are more women leading commercial real estate and development groups in Arizona now than ever. Sorry I can’t name them all in this column, but look for their insights in future columns as 2020 will be another strong year for women leadership in the state’s important real estate industry.

Reach the reporter at [email protected] or 602-444-8040. Follow her on Twitter @Catherinereagor.

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