Unconventional Thoughts | Mar 2021

Women in Commercial Real Estate

By: The Women of Matter Real Estate Group

As a company, we celebrate women every day for the incredible work they do, while also recognizing that the real estate industry has a long way to come when it comes to diversity and representation. For International Women’s Day on March 8, highlight the passionate, dedicated women who make our firm truly Matter.

According to a 2020 Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) study, more young women are entering the industry and women held 29% of brokerage positions compared to 23% in 2015. Additionally, 32% of women in 2020, 4% more than in 2015, are aspiring to achieve a position in the C-suite. Currently only 9% of C-suite holders in commercial real estate are women.

While these numbers suggest we’re moving in a positive direction, some areas remain stagnant. Women make up 36.7% of the commercial real estate industry, which hasn’t significantly improved since 2005. Additionally, the women who are in the industry make less on average than their male counterparts. In 2020, the fixed salary gap between genders was 10.2%, yet it was 20% in development. Even more disheartening, the commission and bonus gap was 55.9%, the development gap was 65% gap and the brokerage gap was 70% gap.

To better understand the experiences of women in the male-dominated real estate industry we asked the women at Matter about their start in real estate, their mentors and what they would tell women looking to enter the industry. From the emergence of a “girls’ club” in commercial real estate to the diverse backgrounds of each of these women, we’re confident that our industry is steadily improving thanks to their ongoing contributions.

Kristen Holland (2.15.16)

Kristen Holland
What’s your role at Matter?
I am the construction manager for all projects.

When did you first get interested in real estate development?
I was approached by Jim and Kevin to step into this role. I didn’t have much interest before but have come to really love it.

What was your journey to where you are now?
After graduating from Community College of Southern Nevada (CCSN), I went to trade school for sonography, then dabbled in everything from hospitality to marketing for nine years. Six years ago, Jim Colegrove, the special projects and tenant improvements division manager at Burke Special Projects, approached me and while I knew nothing about construction, Jim mentored me and within six months I was assistant project manager. I continued to learn and grow at warp speed then got promoted to project manager. I worked in that position until April of last year when Kevin Burke and Jim Colegrove asked me to learn a new position with my background managing construction for Matter. I was terrified knowing the high expectations these two have, but they’ve helped to see me through it.

Who were/are your mentors?
Jim Colegrove is my greatest mentor. He has constantly challenged me for the past six years and trusts me enough to fail. He has high expectations but also gives me just enough tools to work with. Working alongside him has been the most rewarding and terrifying experience of my life. It is rare to work for someone who truly wants his employees to succeed and is a great support.

What would you tell other women who are interested in careers in real estate development, fields that are heavily male dominated, or companies/industries that have the “boys club” reputation?
I would tell anyone who’s interested to go for it. It is a great industry with infinite opportunities and growth. I have never noticed that it is male dominated nor have I ever felt like my successes or failures had anything to do with my gender. I also have never felt a “boys’ club” vibe. I am always treated with respect and kindness.

What’s the most challenging part?
The only challenging part would be juggling a career and motherhood, but I would have that struggle in any industry.

Kelly Headshot

Kelly Lawson
What’s your role at Matter?
I serve as the director of real estate. My focus is on land — from understanding the market, sites and active players, to business development, acquisitions, site due diligence, zoning and entitlements, title, transaction management (escrow, lender, closing). Additional responsibilities include managing dispositions and sales, facilitating site agreements and recordables and more.

When did you first get interested in real estate development?
I was hired as an office assistant at a real estate sales/brokerage firm by Jim Stuart, one of the current partners at Matter, as a high school senior in 1991. Initially I learned the admin side then moved on to marketing and sales, which eventually led to my role in development.

What was your journey to where you are now?
When I worked as an office assistant, I instantly had a knack for coordinating processes and managing transactions. I passed my real estate license when I was 17 years old so I could expand my skills and provide more value. That evolved into being an assistant for Jim Stuart’s land sales team at what is now Colliers International. By 24, I had been promoted to a salesperson partnership position on the team and spent several years in the land brokerage side. In 2001, I evolved to the development side (also with Jim) where I handled acquisitions, dispositions, due diligence, escrow/title, closings and transaction management. I took a hiatus from 2006-2017 while my kids were young. In 2017, I joined forces again with Jim in what is now Matter as director of real estate.

Who were/are your mentors?
Well, not a big surprise based on the young path I found myself on with this person – but it is Jim Stuart. He has influenced my life for 30 years as first and foremost a dear friend, and as a big brother, mentor and amazing leader. I have always strived to be the best I can be and deliver a level of quality, thoroughness, determination and passion for all I do. His belief in me as always fueled me to do my best and bring a level of compassion and dedication.

What would you tell other women who are interested in careers in real estate development, fields that are heavily male dominated, or companies/industries that have the “boys club” reputation?
Get out there and start! Have the confidence to know you can do anything and be anything you want to be. But put in the time to know your stuff. Be a leader of yourself and a steward of always being prepared and going the extra mile. Don’t be afraid to speak up, contribute and be wrong.

What’s your favorite part about being a woman in this industry?
I absolutely love this industry and the people in it. It is fun to go out there and bring your best game at all times so you can say at the end of the day you did all you can do to contribute and do whatever it is your role serves. There are so many amazing, dynamic and passionate leaders – both men and women.

What’s the most challenging part?
Real estate and development is not and industry for the weak of heart. Deals are hard from finding sites, to making a deal work, all of the entitlement challenges all the way through leasing and selling the asset. There are challenges and curve balls thrown your way ALL THE TIME. You have to lean in and get the answers and solve, solve, solve. And ANTICIPATE…. anticipating what can happen next is a challenge but must be done.

Jenny Thanasith

Jenny Butte
What’s your role at Matter?
I am a part of the Capital Markets team and responsible for the financial underwriting for new development opportunities and assist with the overall capitalization of the projects.

When did you first get interested in real estate development?
I had a great professor in undergraduate school that brought awareness to the field and sparked my interest to learn more about the various specialties. This, in turn, spurred me to join the Real Estate Society, which is a student-ran real estate organization on campus that included like-minded individuals with an interest in the industry. This was a great opportunity to learn from experts within the field, get exposure to real life situations and form valuable connections. One of the activities that I’ve always looked forward to was touring new projects with the developer – it was always inspiring to see how passionate they were, seeing the project through their eyes and what they were trying to accomplish for the community.

What was your journey to where you are now?
My path had several twists and turns that came with cuts and bruises and I valued every part of it! From graduating with a finance degree right at the beginning of the Great Financial Crisis, relocating for work, and taking a big leap of faith that was a little outside of the box – I’m very fortunate to be where I am today. I work with a team of superstars that I learn something new from every day and each motivates me to continue to push forward and think creatively.

Who were/are your mentors?
It is hard for me to point to one specific individual. At every stage of my career, I’ve formed relationships with inspiring leaders and peers that have contributed to my growth. For whatever reason, they’ve agreed (whether they knew it at the time) to take me under their wings and share their knowledge and wisdom on how to advance professionally while still valuing personal time. If you’re reading this and wondering if this includes you – chances are, it probably does!

What would you tell other women who are interested in careers in real estate development, fields that are heavily male dominated, or companies/industries that have the “boys’ club” reputation?
Great news is that it’s easy to stick out. Make your voice count by being an expert in your field and making impactful contributions to the team.

What’s your favorite part about being a woman in this industry?
Regardless of your specialty – I find it encouraging that women in this industry naturally try to lift each other up and help contribute to each other’s success. There may be a boys’ club but there’s an unspoken girls’ club that I’m anxious to see grow as more women enter the industry.

What’s the most challenging part?
Something I’m new to and am still learning about is how to manage time with work and motherhood. Happily accepting tips (from men and women) on how to be present and bring my A-Game to both “jobs”

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Kelly Otavka
What’s your role at Matter?
My main role at Matter as a real estate paralegal is providing support to our leasing team and helping manage lease negotiations with tenants. I typically step in once we have a signed proposal and work towards getting a signed lease, then set the tenant up in our internal systems and pass the baton off to property management to ensure the tenant has a smooth move-in at the project.

When did you first get interested in real estate development?
Back in 2012 I started working for OliverMcMillan (a developer based in San Diego, CA), where I was introduced to and fell in love with the world of commercial development. Watching the design of large-scale, mixed-use projects come to life was fascinating to me, and from then on I did my best to be exposed to any aspect of the development process that anyone would let me in on. I learned a ton being in an environment that allowed me to sit in on meetings for the sake of learning. Touring projects we were building around the country and getting involved at a high-level introduced me to aspects of the field I was interested in; the leasing and construction processes.

What was your journey to where you are now?
I took my experience from working at OliverMcMillan, mixed with my paralegal background, to The Corky McMillin Companies, where I started off as a legal assistant. I worked closely with the development, leasing, and asset management teams and quickly integrated into each platform. With the company expanding, I was given the choice to further develop my career in any of the three departments I was working with. With the award of a parcel of land in Little Italy, San Diego just waiting to be developed, I decided to take the route of honing my project management skills and building a 99-unit apartment building in the heart of San Diego. Eighteen Ten State Street was a wild ride, and the most incredible learning experience I could have asked for. We had a wonderful project team, and I learned how to turn a hole in the ground into a building occupied by excited residents in one of the city’s most desirable neighborhoods. I’ve never been more proud than I was when we received Temporary Certificate for Occupancy for the project and started moving tenants in. After closing out the job, I was then given the opportunity to manage the sale of the majority of the commercial portfolio owned by The Corky McMillan Companies, giving me transaction management experience that I will forever be grateful for. With my development and legal background, it paved the way wonderfully to where I am today!

Who were/are your mentors?
I cannot sing the praise of previous boss, Joe Haeussler, enough. From day one at The Corky McMillin Companies, we had a great working relationship and he was a great coach/leader on every project we worked on together. To this day he’s always just a call away if I ever need advice, whether that be career or life related. I’ve also been fortunate to cross paths and work with some wonderful women who have never hesitated to help me reach my goals and provide anything from career related support to a sounding board to bounce ideas off. Kymberli Clement of KC Design + Development has been a great resource!

What would you tell other women who are interested in careers in real estate development, fields that are heavily male dominated, or companies/industries that have the “boys club” reputation?
If you dive into your passions and you’re confident in your abilities, you won’t even notice if you’re the only woman in the room.

What’s your favorite part about being a woman in this industry?
Being a woman in this industry tends to allow me to automatically connect with other women in real estate development. Joining the Urban Land Institute and networking with other woman has helped me form a camaraderie in my life I’ve grown fond of. I enjoy being a part of the crew who shows that you really can be involved in an industry you’re interested in if you work hard and keep working towards your goals.

What’s the most challenging part?
There are some days I really need to have thick skin. I’m a bubbly, positive person but that isn’t always a productive demeanor and it’s something I’ve worked to temper in the workplace when necessary.

Savanah Stuart

Savanah Stuart
What’s your role at Matter?
I started out as brand manager at Matter, but as my time and responsibilities have evolved, we changed my title to marketing manager last year.

When did you first get interested in real estate development?
To be honest, I didn’t expect to find myself in this industry. As the daughter of a Matter partner, I was always exposed to commercial real estate, but was not drawn to it.

What was your journey to where you are now?
After sustaining an injury in 2018 that took me away from my previous occupation, I began working for Matter part-time. My hours continued to increase, and I was offered a full-time position in 2019. I would not have thought I would have ended up in commercial real estate (CRE) but I have learned so much in the last two years. I’m incredibly thankful to have the support of our team and be surrounded by individuals who carry a depth of experience that most people are not fortunate enough to be exposed to.

Who were/are your mentors?
This is tough, but my biggest mentor, both in and out of the office, would be my dad, Jim Stuart. Working for a family member has its own levels of complexity and hardships; however, I am so fortunate every day that I get to share this aspect of life with my father. Our relationship has grown into something I would not have imagined. It is a hard balance to keep work and life separate, but I could not have asked for a better person to learn from.

What would you tell other women who are interested in careers in real estate development, fields that are heavily male dominated, or companies/industries that have the “boys’ club” reputation?
I would tell women to go for it. The industry has been slow to become more diverse, but it is well on its way as the younger generations begin to take over majority of positions. Differentiation and work ethic mean more to any company than your gender, but don’t be naïve enough to think gender does not play a role. I would also emphasize doing research and knowing what your male counterparts are earning in the same position.

What’s your favorite part about being a woman in this industry?
I like being able to say that I am a part of this industry. I have found that it surprises a lot of people when I tell them what I do. While marketing is more gender neutral, primarily in Las Vegas, the CRE world is heavily dominated by men. While I don’t think that being a woman in any industry should be some shocking statement, I am proud to be on the forefront of this shift to a more diversified workforce.

What’s the most challenging part?
As a young woman in the industry (borderline Millennial/Gen Z), I feel that I am much more aware of the comments, remarks and looks I get as a young female surrounded by primarily older men. What used to be commonly ignored as older men tried to flirt with young women is much more apparent and frowned upon in my generation. While few of these instances have occurred, and though never within my own office, I’ve seen it firsthand and it is something I am keenly aware of.

Anything else you want to share?
As the youngest member of this team, it was interesting for me to read the responses of my colleagues and to see how we viewed things differently by our generational expectations and experiences. I think there is a resilience in the women who paved the path for women like me, and my hope is that it gets easier for women to work in CRE as representation by women grows. We see this progression in other male-dominated fields, where the ‘fraternity house’ paradigm is forced to shift as more women enter the industry. I think it’s important that we acknowledge the things that make women uncomfortable, so we can continue this progression in a manner that is honest, yet productive.