Women Executives From Multifamily Industry Discuss Leadership, Opportunities
In conjunction with International Women’s Day on March 8, IBM released some disappointing news about women holding leadership positions. Their new report, “Women, Leadership, and Missed Opportunities” looked at the current corporate pipeline in 10 industries from nine different countries or regions and shows that there has been virtually no change in the number of women in top executive positions since 2019. Some leadership roles have even seen a decline.
Women are already underrepresented in various corporate leadership positions, but based on the new report, it seems like representation is becoming worse.
During the same week of the report, we at Grace Hill hosted a webinar, “Cultivating Women Leaders in Multifamily” that featured four female leaders in our industry who shared their keys to success and offered ideas, advice, and guidance for growth and effective management.
This discussion was moderated by Grace Hill’s Dana Hill and Christi Dobbins, and key topics covered include overcoming self-doubt, the importance of mentor relationships, expanding and diversifying your professional network, career-boosting resources, and communication.
Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
Alycia Anderson, Regional Vice President of Sales for Knock, is an accomplished motivational speaker, tennis player, cyclist, and identical twin, who was also born with sacral agenesis – a condition that has led her to live her life from a wheelchair.
“Facing self-doubt or the doubt from others is a challenge for many, including myself,” Anderson said. “This has affected all aspects of my life, my entire life. In grade school, when I was excluded from some field trips because there was seemingly no way to adapt and include. Whenever I didn’t get my ‘dream job due to the physical nature of the position,’ and the, ‘why me’ come up, fueling self-doubt.’ There are many stigmas and biases that come with living a life with a disability.”
Anderson said that the silver lining in overcoming this, “is that I’ve learned to believe in myself and know my worth.”
But Anderson’s challenge with doubt is not uncommon. KPMG’s “Advancing the Future of Women in Business: A KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit Report,” surveyed 750 U.S. executives and found that 75 percent of executive women report having personally experienced imposter syndrome (having feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt) at certain points in their career. Eighty-five percent believe imposter syndrome is commonly experienced by women in corporate America.
Making the mental push to get beyond these uncertainties can be a difficult thing to start, Anderson said. “But once you let it get going, it becomes a trickle-down phenomenon, stripping away doubts – it lets you be bold in your actions.”
Marci French, Vice President of Operations for apartment operator HRG Management Services, and a National Apartment Association Education Institute faculty member, echoed some of Anderson’s thoughts.
“Early in my career, I found myself apologizing for who I am,” French said. “It was a way to navigate away from being the strong personality that I am. I felt like, because I’m a woman, I had to overcompensate for that. Now, I can accept who I am and be that person.”
“Fear of failure can really rise up,” added Darcey Forbes, Senior Director of Field Sales at Grace Hill. Forbes’ career in multifamily began with a summer internship right out of school. She then worked her way up the management ranks for many leading companies. “You can and should learn from your experiences; that helps you overcome self-doubt.”
When feeling intimidated, Forbes recommends channeling advice paraphrased from TV personality Robin Roberts: “Think of where you’ve been, what you’ve done – the successes along the way. Instead of being intimidated by the mountain in front of you that you have to climb, turn around and look at all the mountains you’ve already climbed.”
Mentors: ‘Have One, Be One’
When it comes to strengthening new women leaders, Senior Director for Training and Development for FPI Management, Jessica Fern, emphasized it’s crucial that leaders identify their core values for life and follow them truthfully.
“If your actions don’t align with your values, your intentions will be misguided,” she said. “When leading, try to make those around you fear less; and always remain incredibly grateful.”
Nearly all the panelists agreed mentorships are a vital element in personal and professional growth.
“With mentorships: have one, be one,” French asserted. “And be in a constant state of learning, yourself. Determination, hard work, and integrity can take you a long way.”
Forbes also encouraged women to make stronger connections and to diversify their contacts to include those beyond the multifamily industry by finding people who have a wealth of knowledge in other areas.
“If you look at your list of contacts and their backgrounds all seem similar, branch out. Pay attention to who is in your personal ecosystem. Seek diversity there.”
Fern later added that it’s important to, “be a leader of self as well as a leader of others. Be a good example. Be someone who people can trust and who people will want to follow.”
How, exactly, to go about being that kind of leader? Fern said she finds strength in self-reflection.
“It helps me a lot. Set aside time to do it and focus – and don’t take calls while you are doing so. At the end of each day, retrace your steps and your thoughts. Separate fact from feelings.”
She went on to add that she’s a more effective leader when she approaches group meetings with an understanding of what she needs ahead of time to make the meeting productive. She recommends checking with others to see how they’d like to be communicated to, “it really makes a big difference. Communicate in ways that others want to listen. Lead in the ways that you’d want to be followed.”
French firmly agreed with Fern, “Listen to hear; don’t listen to answer.”
Helping the Apartment Industry ‘Get There’
What issues did panelists believe are important for the multifamily industry to focus on specifically for the next generation of women in leadership?
Forbes and French both mentioned DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) efforts, which in the past few years has taken center stage in company culture and management.
“You have to be intentional in your efforts to get there,” Forbes said.
According to IBM’s report, only 1 in 4 organizations said advancing women is a top 10 business priority. Fewer respondents this year compared to 2019 said, “they expected their organizations would significantly improve gender parity over the next 5 years.”
But Anderson pushed that the industry “needs powerhouse women on their boards and in the executive offices.” Which may mean individuals need to take on these ambitions themselves. “Ask for advancement – it won’t just be gifted to you. Tell yourself, ‘I deserve this!’ ”
French agreed that leading companies are those that continue to, “allow women the space to grow.”
Looking Back, Looking Forward
During the webinar’s conclusion, the panelists were each asked to look back on their careers. Knowing what they know now, what was one thing that they wished they’d known then? What advice would they give their younger selves?
“Chip away at the things that you’ve been afraid of and you’ll see your dreams will emerge,” Anderson said. And, “Remind yourself: You are significant!” Fern added.
Forbes shared, “It’s okay to be vulnerable. Show authenticity.” French concluded she would not have tried as hard to assimilate, but “instead, authenticate.”