Making Room at the Table for Boots and Heels

4 minute read

Women leaders offer insight into how they advanced their careers, including overcoming self-imposed hurdles.

Observers say the apartment housing industry has made progress toward becoming a more equitable environment for women. But there is still much work to be done, and among the challenges facing women are self-imposed hurdles that can stymie their advancement.

Those were some of the points made by panelists during the session, “There's Room at the Table for Boots and Heels” at NAA’s APTvirtual.

"The top five challenges women face in their careers are lack of confidence, aversion to risk and failure, imposter syndrome, discomfort with self-promotion and career aspiration gaps," said Amy Montoya, Managing Partner at Bella Investment Group.

Montoya detailed her battles with imposter syndrome and outlined some steps for overcoming it.

"This psychological syndrome plagues women way more than men, and many of these women are high achieving," she said. "It robs us from understanding that our hard work, knowledge, skills, experience and intelligence have all been factors that have paved the way for our success."

Women can shed their imposter syndrome when they give voice to their feelings and when they make lists of their accomplishments, Montoya added.

"Individual woman often don't realize that they're not alone in this experience—many others are often challenged by the same issue. It can be isolating to feel this way, especially if you don't share with someone how you're feeling," she said. "Consider that if this is what may be holding you back, you might take a moment and list all you've accomplished to get where you are today. Read the list over and over and then throw it in the face of your imposter."

Arianna Royster, Executive Vice President at Borger Management, said women can build their confidence in the workplace in several ways.

"For me, the biggest part of being confident is being prepared, overcoming fear, having a plan and not comparing yourself to others," she said.

Preparation, whether for a presentation or request for a salary increase, can help mitigate feelings of insecurity, panelists said.

"I research the heck out of everything when presenting on a certain topic,” said Royster. “I need to know more about that topic than anyone in my audience. Let's face it: Before I make any professional presentation, I'm going in with two strikes, so I better have my facts and figures ready. First, I'm a woman. Second, I'm a Black woman."

Another critical component of developing confidence is not being afraid of failure, Royster added.

"If it's fear that holds you back from asking for a promotion, or that raise, think about it: What is the worst that could happen? They could say, 'No,'" she said, later adding that "failure is only a steppingstone to greatness."

Extreme risk aversion is a problem that many women in real estate and elsewhere battle, noted Kristie Arnst, Senior Vice President at Buckingham Cos. "Women are statistically more risk averse than men, which impacts our career advancement," she said. "We simply do not put ourselves out there as often as men do."

Too frequently, women talk themselves out of applying for a promotion or a new job because of their perfectionism, Arnst added.

"Women tend to be perfectionists to the point of paralyzing ourselves. Women will generally not apply for a job—I found this very interesting—unless they feel they meet 100% of the job requirements," she said. "Whereas men are willing to put themselves out there when meeting only 60%. There are a lot of missed opportunities for women."

Building a network of supportive industry members and mentors can help women combat risk aversion, Arnst said.

"Networking and mentorship improve career success for women," Arnst said. "I recommend you build your network and then, when you're considering a new opportunity or project, that you connect with someone who you respect who is more experienced in the industry and that you have those discussions about whatever concerns or worries you may have."

Diverse Companies Are Successful Companies

Building an apartment company that is more equitable for women isn't just the right thing to do. It's a way to increase business success, the panelists noted.

A 2017 white paper by the CREW Network shows that companies with gender diversity in upper management perform better than homogenous companies in ROI and carry less debt, Montoya said.

The panelists also noted that while women are prevalent in the ranks of middle management in real estate companies, they are still way underrepresented in senior leadership and partnership-level roles.

Stephen Ursery is a Content Manager for LinnellTaylor Marketing.