Women at the Top: You Can Have It All
November 30, 2015
The worst career advice that EisnerAmper tax partner Lisa Knee ever received eventually turned out to be the best advice. While starting in the accounting industry, fresh out of college and newly engaged, she was told by a male colleague that she couldn’t have it all. “I spent every day of my career proving him wrong,” she told a crowd—which included her young sons—during the annual NYC Real Estate Expo on November 11 at the New York Hilton.
The 5 professional women she gathered for the “Women on Top of Their Industries” panel then shared knowledge that has guided them throughout their careers as they rose through the ranks—guidance that would not only benefit women looking to grow their business, but anyone looking to succeed.
“Mine comes from Jimi Hendrix, who said that ‘knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens,’” said Terry Tateossian, founder of digital marketing firm Socialfix Media. “From my perspective, we need to listen even to people who are criticizing, learn what their point-of-view is, and what they’re trying to tell us. If we take that in and digest it, we come back stronger.” And no never means no, she added; it means “not right now,” so even when you get a no, keep pushing until you get there.
CL Investment Group director of development Kate Wang—who has a background in architecture, planning, real estate finance, brokerage, and development—said her best advice came from a successful commercial real estate sales agent, who told her, “Do what works.” The takeaway, she noted, was not to have self-imposed limitations.
It’s important to exude confidence, even when you’re not confident, added Continental Ventures president Jane Gol, a developer and owner of real estate in New York City, Long Island, and Toronto. And don’t silo yourself—that was a lesson that helped her immensely during 2008 and 2009, when going out of her comfort zone led to her firm launching a single-family homebuilding practice, a Long Island division, and a lending company that helped them successfully through recessionary times. “The markets turn and turn quicker than you think,” she said. “If you have confidence, you’re going to do well in the market.”
Harriet Polinsky, a real estate litigator and senior partner at Borah Goldstein Altschuler Nahins & Goidel, agreed. “You need to assert yourself and let people know how valuable you are,” she asserted. Another critical skill: developing relationships with people within your company who will work with you and help you, as well clients who will further expand your business.
But you can’t rise to the top without being a team player. “You’re only as successful as your team,” pointed out CW Solutions president Stacie Curtis, whose firm provides right-of-way and acquisitions services for utility and telecom companies. And balance your work load and personal life—you can’t work full steam every day of the week, 365 days a year. She said that some of the greatest assets women have today are organizations like Women's Business Enterprise National Council and Women Presidents' Organization, which provide support educationally, professionally, emotionally, and personally. “There's always someone you can call when you're not sure of what decision you should make.”
Knee asked what the panelists felt were unique attributes that women professionals bring to the business table.
“We’re going through the biggest mind shift in how we consume information,” answered Tateossian—and communication is one of the strongest points at which women excel. They’re networkers, collaborators, nurturers, and develop deep relationships with people—and statistics prove that women are some of the best salespeople out there, she said.
Women are also information gatherers, Gol added; being able to see where people are going and what people are doing are critical skills for a developer. When she worked under former New York City Department of City Planning commissioner Amanda Burden, people would come to her to talk about their neighborhoods and were truly invested in their homes. “As a real estate developer, you have to walk the streets, know the neighborhoods, and know the people.”
It took Polinsky many years to develop relationships, which all boiled down to respecting people. “Women have the ability to emotionally navigate and have a lot of empathy,” she said. “I tried to use that working with people.” Listen to them, understand what they want, and treat them like you would yourself, she recommended.
Knee noted that all of the panelists work in male-dominated fields that, quite frankly, should be genderless. (Her wish: to not see all-women panels like these in the future, but women on every panel.) How have their industries been changing in order to reach that goal?
Gol recalled at one time being the only woman sitting at a table with men to close a deal. Everyone took a restroom break, and when they returned, the informed her that they had sealed the deal—in the men’s room. “But the whole field has changed, and now I can go to the ladies’ room and make a deal, because there are plenty of women,” she said.
When Polinsky started working as a lawyer, it was a men’s club when you went before the bench. But today, her firm has many women working in litigation and other legal fields. “I’m very encouraged, but we still have a ways to go—there are still not enough women on the very top level.”
“I look forward to the shift where there will truly be a balanced society,” Tateossian added. “Because at the end of the day, I cannot do what I do without my men. Whether it’s personally or professional, we need both. We can be partners in fully pulling our weight and pulling our best assets.”
Overall, what’s critical to the next generation of women leaders is mentorship—and showing the young professionals can indeed have it all, if you choose. The panelists spoke of both their mentorship experiences and how they’re contributing to the future.
Wang noted that she has often worked with both male and female mentors who have tremendously helped and encouraged her. One of the unique aspects the women could show is that you can not only fulfill your dream of having children, but also having an amazing career. “That’s something we should all be proud of.”
At age 14, Tateossian had her first job, working for a woman attorney. “She had four kids and was a partner at her law firm,” she recalled. “That was wonderful for me and how I entered the workforce. One day, that became my reality. I believed I could do this—have kids and a career.”
Curtis stressed the importance of having a mentor both professionally and personally. “It’s so important and valuable to me that I donate my time to mentor other women,” she said.
The panel was sponsored by the New York Real Estate Journal, Socialfix, and EisnerAmper.