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Can You Really Have It All? Women Real Estate Finance Leaders Weigh In

May 20, 2016

When EisnerAmper tax partner Lisa Knee moderates panel discussions, she often tells the speakers about a situation that happened between her and a colleague in the early part of her career.

“He told me that I can’t have it all,” she told panelists during the private equity session at Real Estate Weekly and EisnerAmper’s Women’s Forum, held at the New York City Bar Association on May 11. “I’ve spent my entire career trying to prove him wrong.”

So is it possible?

TPG Real Estate Finance Trust CEO Greta Guggenheim shaped the discussion by recalling a situation that has happened in different iterations to many professional women. She was watching a video from her son’s pre-school class, and it showed her son following his teacher, pulling on her skirt, and repeating, “My mommy’s picking me up today!”

“He said it about 100 times,” she said. “I do it so rarely that I felt guilty and lost some sleep over it. It’s tough.” 

Brookfield Property Partners senior vice president of asset management Sara Queen also recalled one of her children’s school projects, which insinuated that all Mommy does is “work, work, work.” (Her guilt was assuaged by another child’s project, which claimed that all his stay-at-home mother does is “yell, yell, yell.”)

“You can have it all, but not all at once,” said Kathleen McCarthy, global COO for Blackstone’s real estate group. “I feel like I get a lot done in a day and live a very full life as a result. But there’s a lot of people who don’t start practicing early enough in their careers trying to manage a full personal life and career. I don’t think you wake up one day and figure it out.”

Carnegie Corporation director of investments Alisa Mall once read an article by Facebook’s Randi Zuckerberg which talked about career, family, fitness, friends, and sleep—and how you can only pick 3 of those. “I think that’s 100% correct, but for me, it’s 3 on any given day,” Mall said. “That’s how I like to think of it, and I make sure they’re in constant rotation.”

One of her colleagues once told her to sneak out for 45 minutes each day, and that no one would notice. “I thought I’d get in trouble,” Mall recalled. “But I started practicing it, and in 15 years, no one has really noticed. Everyone’s important, but you’re not that important—try to really embrace that. When I try to compare myself, it makes me feel terrible.… You can’t win at everything.”

A strategy that Queen employs: “Outsource all the crap you don’t want to do,” she said to audience laughter. “There are all sorts of great ways to outsource in this city, so embrace those. Just because your kids know your FreshDirect or Seamless password does not make you a bad mother.”

Queen also lets her children know that the opportunities they have happen because she works. “So everyone understands that there are times when you can’t be there and there are times when you can. So you have to pick the ones that are really important and be there.”

The industry is really beginning to understand how important it is to have diverse ideas in a room, McCarthy added. “We have different experiences and exposure to things, and that’s valuable. Be memorable and be vocal—it’s important that you add something to the conversation.”

Even though the real estate and finance industries have made strides in attracting more women over the past 20 years, “we need to be genderless,” Knee said.

Guggenheim, who grew up in a family of all girls, said she’s never felt different than men, despite it being more difficult to break through into the c-suite. Throughout her career, she said she has joined trade organizations—not women’s organizations—because she wanted to interact with everyone in her industry.

“I never felt or acted different, which has served me well,” she said. “I feel like I’m a real estate professional, not a female real estate professional.”

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