Women in Commercial Real Estate

Chicago, IL | March 01, 2022

Since the first Women’s History Month in 1982, March has been a time to celebrate women’s past and present contributions to the country and world at large. Women have made incredible strides socially, politically, and economically—all of which are worth honoring. March is also a time to highlight the work that still needs to be done to achieve gender equality.

MBRE Highlights Women in CRE

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, women’s participation in the workforce peaked in 1999—60% of women were in the workforce—but that number has slowly fallen since then. Worse, the pandemic is proving to be a more significant obstacle for women attempting to return to the labor force than men. Workforce participation dropped for women and men alike due to COVID-19, but women made up 63.3% of the 2.9 million jobs that were lost. And as those jobs are regained, it’s clear that women are not finding work at the same pace as men: of the 467,000 jobs gained in January of 2022, only 40.3% were filled by women. What’s more striking is the sheer number of men compared to women re-entering the labor force: 39,000 women 20 and over joined the labor force—started actively looking for work—in January compared to over 1,000,000 men. According to the National Women’s Law Center, the disparity between men and women returning to the labor force “likely reflects the uneven caregiving responsibilities men and women have taken on in the wake of the Omicron variant which caused continued school and child care disruptions last month.”

The numbers are even more grim for women of color. The overall unemployment rate was 4.0% in January 2022. But for Black women, the unemployment was 5.8%, and for Latinas, the rate was 4.9%. There have been vast improvements in representation, female leadership, and income equality in recent decades, but we still have a long way to go. The growing gap between men and women in the labor force threatens to undo some of our progress, particularly for women of color, as well as those who identify as members of the LGBTQ community. To reach true gender parity in the workplace, we must fight harder for an equality that includes all women.

It’s also important to keep in mind that gender equality varies significantly by job type, with the largest disparities seen in “male-dominated” industries, such as architecture and engineering, computer programming, and construction management. In industries where women are effectively closing the representation gap, such as commercial real estate, income inequality persists. According to a 2020 Benchmark Study Report by CREW Network, the gender wage gap in CRE is particularly pronounced in higher-level positions and within certain specializations, such as brokerage and development. According to the report’s finding, women in commercial real estate make 34% less overall than men—that gap is 11% worse than the findings in CREW’s 2015 study.

More than ever, MB Real Estate supports the continued fight for gender equality in CRE and our community, and we recognize the complexity of achieving true parity. In this piece celebrating women and their achievements, we learn the stories of a handful of MBRE’s outstanding women professionals and why it’s important for women to have a seat at the table, from their point of view.

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Suzanne Hendrick - EVP, Managing Director, Asset Management

MBRE Women in Commercial Real EstateHow did you end up in commercial real estate?

I worked as a CPA right after graduation, and I was exposed to development accounting during a time when one of my major clients had their new headquarters developed by The John Buck Company (TJBC). This piqued my interest in CRE, so I made a move into the accounting side at TJBC later in my career.

At John Buck, I was the Asset Controller for the Sears Tower redevelopment. Seeing the day-to-day construction and operations at this iconic asset inspired me to transition from accounting to management. I worked on many challenging management assignments at TJBC for 15 years and Hines Interests for seven years. The rest is history!

What do you like about MBRE? How has the company helped you develop professionally?

I love the culture and the people at MBRE. Managing buildings from the portfolio level and most recently guiding the Asset Management division’s overall business goals has allowed for tremendous professional growth. Mentoring and helping others reach their career goals is also an important part of my role that I’m proud to be in a position to do.

Why do you think it’s important for women to have a seat at the table?

Diversity in the workplace needs to be present from top to bottom. There were very few women in positions of power when I started working in the industry. Teresa Mancuso, Jane Rodak, and Vicki Noonan were a few women in senior-level positions I really looked up to. Although we’ve definitely made strides in terms of gender equity, there’s room for improvement. A lack of diversity within the workplace holds any industry back from reaching its full potential.

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Carolyn Carras – SVP, Chief Financial Officer

MBRE Women in Commercial Real EstateHow did you end up in commercial real estate?

I started my real estate career as a corporate accountant. I was fortunate enough to branch out into many other areas in real estate, such as Property Management—both in accounting and as an on-site property manager—development and even IT. These experiences made me more well-rounded and able to visualize the big picture.

What do you like about MBRE? How has the company helped you develop professionally?

MBRE values me as a person. I feel like I have a voice and can effect change. MBRE prioritizes a work-life balance. This allows me to think on a more macro/big picture level and help steer the ship.

Why do you think it’s important for women to have a seat at the table?

Soldier on. Take one step at a time. Sometimes the path can be difficult. I succeed because I do the best I can. Every single day.

I remember a design meeting I was in for a retail mall and a table full of men making choices on what a woman would want from that mall. I can’t imagine them struggling to make it from the parking lot with a newborn baby and stroller through the mall and back again with packages. They did not ask my opinion.

I’m glad to see more women joining the real estate industry and having a voice.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I think that it is important for women to have a voice and see their image reflected in the decision-makers.

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Katherine Lula – SVP, Director Of Operations & General Counsel

MBRE Women in Commercial Real EstateHow did you end up in commercial real estate?

Oddly enough, because I wasn’t interested in practicing law any longer. For several reasons, I had become disenchanted with working at a law firm and wanted to take my career in a different direction. A friend of mine worked for MBRE at the time and suggested I apply for an opening on one of MBRE’s property management teams. I was lucky enough to get that position and found myself on what I thought was an entirely different career path in commercial property management.

As the General Counsel part of my title gives away, my escape from the law was fairly short-lived. But getting to come back to it on my own terms, and for a company I love working for, has been an entirely different and more rewarding experience than the one I had when I first practiced law.

What do you like about MBRE? How has the company helped you develop professionally?

For me, these questions are very intertwined. So much of what I like about MBRE is because of the ways in which the company has helped me develop professionally. When I left the practice of law, for what felt like the first time in my life, I didn’t have a clear direction on what was next. Since I was young, the plan was always that I would become a lawyer. When I came to MBRE, I had no experience in commercial real estate. But it became very clear very quickly that the company was made up of people who wanted to teach me and help me grow and succeed. This ultimately helped me shape a new path for myself, and I couldn’t be more grateful for all the support and encouragement I’ve received along the way.

Why do you think it’s important for women to have a seat at the table?

One way to answer this question is to highlight the importance of having a diversity of experiences (and women can have inherently different experiences than men) involved in guiding the direction of a company and an industry.

Another answer is to reflect on the very question itself. Built into the question about why women should have a seat at the table is the implicit realization that women have not had such a seat in the past. A lot has improved, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

Either way, our company and our industry are better when we bring together a diverse set of viewpoints to grow together.

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Cory Schauer - SVP, Director, Human Resources

MBRE Women in Commercial Real Estate

How did you end up in commercial real estate?

I ended up in commercial real estate purely by accident. I had just finished grad school and wanted to make a career change into HR. At that time, I knew very little about HR or CRE, but MBRE took a chance on me, and here I am almost 15 years later!

What do you like about MBRE? How has the company helped you develop professionally?

MBRE has a unique culture that is simultaneously nurturing and inspiring. I am surrounded by extremely dedicated and bright people who challenge me to always strive to do my best work. At the same time, MBRE’s employees have integrity and are loyal to the company and each other. My colleagues make me want to be both a better employee and a better person. We all reach points in our careers during which we feel ready to take “the next step.” Often, we need to change jobs in order to get the growth we are looking for. At MBRE, you can raise your hand and ask for more work, more involvement, to try out a new way of doing something; whatever it might be, you can usually find it. I have been fortunate enough to be able to grow my career here without needing to leave.

Why do you think it’s important for women to have a seat at the table?

Women provide an unmatched degree of empathy, which is critical for organizations to function at their highest (and most human) level. A work environment where people feel heard and supported is an important part of attracting talent and keeping current employees happy. I also believe that women are more likely to share their ideas when other women are around, which is important because we have great ideas! Women having a seat at the table is just one step in the right direction, but hopefully it helps us all to see that room still needs to be made there for all people with marginalized voices.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

When I started at MBRE in 2007, I knew nothing about CRE and thought I’d stay for a few years, get some experience, and then move on. I never thought I’d be here 15 years later, and it’s because MBRE values its employees and their hard work. Anytime I’ve felt that I was beginning to plateau, I’ve been given the opportunity to take on more or pursue new ideas. Since joining the company, I have become a wife and mother and have never been made to feel less valuable or less able to contribute. As I tell potential employees, if you’re willing to put in the work, there is nothing stopping you from going far here – the world is your oyster at MBRE!

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Joyce Yang - VP, Marketing & Research

MBRE Women in Commercial Real EstateHow did you end up in commercial real estate?

My background began in marketing for a residential real estate firm, as well as time at a traditional ad agency and a real estate consultancy. Several years ago, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to move into commercial real estate. Based on my skillset and familiarity with real estate in general, it was a logical career move into an exciting part of the real estate industry, and I have not regretted it once.

What do you like about MBRE? How has the company helped you develop professionally?

I appreciate how MBRE employees are willing to learn new things and adopt concepts that might be out of their areas of experience. There’s great teamwork across departments and business units to meet client needs. One of the things I value most about MBRE is that the company has always supported professional development above and beyond straightforward, skills-based education. There is also a focus on emotional intelligence, self-management, and relationship building. I see active efforts to prevent and address bias, which is highly encouraging.

Why do you think it’s important for women to have a seat at the table?

In business, a diversity of perspectives is always an asset. Having key decision-makers in the company with unique viewpoints leads to creative problem solving for clients and helps develop strong relationships across the commercial real estate industry. And having women in leadership that are respected for their skills, experience, and intelligence, rather than picked to be token symbols, increases our potential talent pool for recruiting and business deals. One of the core values of MBRE is providing tailored solutions for our clients, and our success in upholding this principle is due to the diversity of experience and the collaborative nature within the company.

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Nicole Saine – VP, Controller - Treasury Management

MBRE Women in Commercial Real EstateHow did you end up in commercial real estate?

At my last job, I showed loft space to potential tenants and realized that I had an interest in real estate. What inspires me most about real estate is its ability to evolve along with new technology and changes in the market. I also enjoy knowing how important a real estate investment is to clients and the difference working with the right company makes.

What do you like about MBRE? How has the company helped you develop professionally?

What I like about MBRE is the family feel each department has for each other. MBRE offers employees a lot of opportunity for growth, regardless of title or department. For the last 18 years, I’ve worn many different hats and have been able to carve out my own path based on my skills and interests. Not only is there opportunity for growth, but our managers encourage staff to attend workshops and training seminars to further support their professional development.

Why do you think it’s important for women to have a seat at the table?

Women are intelligent, strong, and confident, and shouldn’t be treated as if they don’t have the expertise or wherewithal to be decision makers. Also, you must bring a mix of viewpoints to the table in order to have a well-rounded strategy. If everyone making the big decisions has similar experiences and opinions, important opportunities may be overlooked.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

It is important to form a bond and create an environment where my team feels comfortable asking questions and having discussions about anything and everything. I have a passion for helping my team learn, grow and become successful; this brings me a great sense of accomplishment. It is such a rewarding experience when I can be a part of the success of others.

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Becky Gualandri – AVP, Human Resources Manager

MBRE Women in Commercial Real EstateHow did you end up in commercial real estate?

I landed in commercial real estate by chance. After completing undergrad with criminal justice and sociology majors, I moved back to my hometown to do some soul searching and figure out “what I wanted to be when I grew up.” Five years later, I determined that human resources was the career path I wanted, so I enrolled in the graduate program at DePaul University. I next needed to find a day job so I could move to the city while completing my grad degree at night. MB Real Estate was that day job. I never imagined that fourteen years later, I would still be here!

What do you like about MBRE? How has the company helped you develop professionally?

The people at MBRE are by far what I like most about this company. I enjoy coming to work each day because of the people I work with. I feel there is a genuine respect for one another and the roles that each of us play in making this company successful. There’s a willingness to share knowledge and help one another. I don’t feel like just a number at this company but rather someone who is important to the company and its success. This is my work family.

Growth and promotion from within are very important at MBRE. I am one of many examples of this. My first role with the company was an entry-level position, working closely with the HR team (but not in an HR role). I was vocal from my first day that my ultimate goal was a role in human resources. Knowing this, the HR team took every opportunity to give me exposure and involve me in HR projects. I received several promotions (including working at a couple of our property management offices) before I had the exciting opportunity to officially join the HR team.

Why do you think it’s important for women to have a seat at the table?

Women bring a valuable and diverse perspective to the workplace. We make up about 50% of the workforce, so our voices should be heard, and we should be represented at the table accordingly. By giving women a seat at the table, a company increases its potential for new, creative solutions and increased productivity.

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Elise Goodman - AVP, Corporate Services & Tenant Representation

MBRE Women in Commercial Real EstateHow did you end up in commercial real estate?

I was working in healthcare sales when I was referred to the MBRE tenant representation team. I was very naïve in that I knew NOTHING about commercial real estate. After meeting with the MBRE team and learning more about commercial real estate, I immediately knew commercial real estate (specifically tenant representation) was for me. It’s been six years now, and I haven’t looked back.

What do you like about MBRE? How has the company helped you develop professionally?

There are very few companies in commercial real estate like MBRE. At MBRE, you are more than a number, you are a person and it shows. We have unmatched benefits, and the support from leadership is truly unique for commercial real estate. The support and autonomy MBRE provides have helped me develop tremendously.

Why do you think it’s important for women to have a seat at the table?

While this question is seemingly innocent enough, I want to say: it’s time we stop questioning the importance of women (and diversity) at the table. We shouldn’t need data or articulate opinions on why women should have a seat at the table.

A better question, how can we ensure women are at the table? My response to that: mandate it. That goes for minorities, too.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A lot of commercial real estate companies fall short in supporting their female brokers when it comes to maternity leave. I’m fortunate to work for MBRE, where they prioritize maternity leave—they were very generous with my leave last year. A lot of female brokers don’t have maternity leave, or if they do, it’s unpaid. It’s time companies put their money where their mouths are and support their female brokers with paid maternity leave. At the very least: it’s a very small price to pay to retain talent.

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Cate McCormack – VP, General Manager, 30 W. Monroe

MBRE Women in Commercial Real EstateHow did you end up in commercial real estate?

I went to school for finance but was always interested in and wanted to pursue real estate in some aspect. Out of college, my first job was as a financial analyst with Equity Office Properties handling Argus models and analyses for a portfolio of commercial office buildings. After winding through other aspects of real estate, including residential real estate, my inclinations guided me back towards commercial real estate, which made me pursue property management years ago.

What do you like about MBRE? How has the company helped you develop professionally?

Two of the best things about MBRE are the people and the culture. Even though there are many different groups, everyone is here to support each other and work together. I appreciate knowing that the executive team welcomes discussions from all levels of the company and that I can voice my opinions and be heard. I also value the strong female representation at the executive level.

Why do you think it’s important for women to have a seat at the table?

Women have a unique perspective that needs to be heard and valued. One of the things learned from the pandemic is that women are juggling multiple responsibilities and still are able to thrive in both their professional and personal lives. It is important to have diversity at the table to cultivate more business, strategize for maximum employee success, and manage an effective workplace. This can’t be done if women don’t have a voice at the table.

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Courtney Hamm – VP, General Manager, 1 N. LaSalle

MBRE Women in Commercial Real EstateHow did you end up in commercial real estate?

I grew up watching my mom serve as a property manager and developer in commercial real estate for 25 years. I loved learning the ins and outs of the different buildings and watching the behind-the-scenes activities. It was an eye-opening experience that ignited a passion.

What do you like about MBRE? How has the company helped you develop professionally?

At MBRE, you are treated as an individual that is an important part of a team—you are not just a number. When possible, MBRE promotes from within. I can personally attest to this as when MBRE was awarded the management of a property where I was the property administrator, they took the time to get to know me and my goals. While I always had to champion my ambitions, MBRE was more than committed to my growth within the company. All you must do is look at the tenure of the employees to understand that MBRE is a company people enjoy working for. More importantly though, the individuals who work at MBRE make this a good company. Every single person is more than willing to help and to be a resource. Not to mention, I’ve made some good friends along the way.

Why do you think it’s important for women to have a seat at the table?

It’s considered advantageous to have a diverse group of people at the table because it allows us to learn and grow from each other and our collective experiences. Women contribute diverse perspectives and are innovative. Also, research shows firms with women in senior positions are more profitable, socially responsible, and provide high-quality customer service. It just makes sense to include us.

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Sarah Klauck – General Manager, 190 S. LaSalle

MBRE Women in Commercial Real EstateHow did you end up in commercial real estate?

Like many people I know in the commercial real estate industry, I fell into it! I actually majored in journalism, so not once during my college years did I think, "After graduation, I'm going to manage a commercial office building," but I got a summer job with The John Buck Company before graduation, and I've never looked back!

What do you like about MBRE? How has the company helped you develop professionally?

The management style of MBRE's leadership team allows General Manager's—like myself—to think outside the box, be creative and make decisions to best run our assets. We are empowered and given the opportunity to be in the driver's seat. I like knowing that my colleagues are a resource and available to bounce ideas off of or work through a problem with but have never once felt micromanaged. I have gained a great deal of confidence in myself and my skill set during my time at the company.

Why do you think it’s important for women to have a seat at the table?

Diversity of all kinds is crucial to a successful business platform. Women have just as much to bring to the table as men when given the chance to speak up and share their ideas. We offer a different perspective, thought process, and experience base to formulate strategies and opinions. Some of the smartest, most driven, and wicked smart people I have encountered in my career are women, and I have learned from each of them!

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Lara Ziemba - Director of Events, Millennium Park & Chicago Cultural Center

MBRE Women in Commercial Real EstateHow did you end up in commercial real estate?

I ended up working for MBRE through the event industry, so it was somewhat incidental. I’m a longstanding member of the Cultural Center’s events team, and I recently started managing events at Millennium Park.

What do you like about MBRE? How has the company helped you develop professionally?

After years of working in local government, working in the private sector has been a nice change of pace. MBRE has been extremely supportive of our team, even though what we do is a bit outside the norm in the CRE business. MBRE has helped me grow professionally by giving me the opportunity to take on more responsibilities so that I’m always learning in my role.

Why do you think it’s important for women to have a seat at the table?

Any industry benefits from having women equally represented in positions of power because we are just as capable as men and also think differently. Having a wider perspective is a big advantage if the goal is to find the most effective business solutions.

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Michelle Taylor – Assistant General Manager, Richard J. Daley Center

MBRE Women in Commercial Real EstateHow did you end up in commercial real estate?

My interest in real estate management and inevitably commercial real estate stemmed from watching my grandmother manage several family properties from an early age. After starting my family and in need of a career change, there was only one choice to make!

What do you like about MBRE? How has the company helped you develop professionally?

MBRE has taken a keen interest in my professional development. My experience with the leadership team has been nothing short of transparent and professional. The culture at MB enables you to bring your authentic self to work each day.

Why do you think it’s important for women to have a seat at the table?

It is important to include the diverse perspectives of women and minorities at the table. Here’s how I see it: Diversity produces innovation. Innovation produces increased productivity. Increased productivity creates higher employee satisfaction and retention, which ultimately leads to client and tenant satisfaction.

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Marie Ellis – Associate Manager, 1 N. Dearborn

MBRE Women in Commercial Real EstateHow did you end up in commercial real estate?

I landed in commercial real estate by chance, but I’m so glad I ended up here! I first took up a temporary administrative position which became permanent, and after a couple of years, I accepted a position as Associate Manager at my building.

I stuck around because I realized the opportunity for growth within this industry. I appreciate that there are always new challenges where I can exercise creative problem solving, and no two days are ever the same!

What do you like about MBRE? How has the company helped you develop professionally?

It’s incredibly refreshing to work for a company that recognizes and nurtures potential in its employees and provides the space to learn and grow professionally. The ample opportunities for professional development and mentorship have been invaluable!

Why do you think it’s important for women to have a seat at the table?

Representation for women entering industries that have been historically male dominated is so important. With all decision-making, if you’re not able to provide a platform for diverse voices and perspectives, you’re simply not seeing the whole picture.

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Barbra Vidinich - Executive Assistant, Corporate Services

MBRE Women in Commercial Real EstateHow did you end up in commercial real estate?

I began my real estate career in residential real estate. I enjoyed the challenge and reward of finding the best home for my clients and seeing their excitement as they moved into their new homes. A few years later, a family friend chatted with me about her career in CRE, and I became intrigued. I was inspired to make the shift to CRE because I’ve always looked at the Chicago skyline with awe and love the pulse of our city. My career change into CRE at MBRE has been very rewarding to see the evolution of the office culture.

What do you like about MBRE? How has the company helped you develop professionally?

One of my favorite things about MBRE is that everyone works together within their own team, and their work intertwines with the other teams. Instead of competing with one another for business, the teams strive to help each other to reach the best results for our clients.

Our executives’ level of industry expertise has inspired me to expand my own knowledge of CRE economics, the intricacies of lease administration, and the ins and outs of construction management.

Why do you think it’s important for women to have a seat at the table?

Each member of a team contributes their knowledge, inspiration, and experience. When an industry or firm is heavily weighted by similar viewpoints, the product of their work is skewed and does not meet its full potential.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

MBRE is a place where everyone is valued and acknowledged for their contributions. I feel truly blessed to work for a company with a culture that is so supportive and encourages people to be their best.

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Learn more about MBRE and our employees here.