We recently explored why having more women in CRE can be a very good thing for business, and how brokerages can make themselves more attractive to women. Today, we’re taking a look at it from the opposite angle, with thoughts on how aspiring female brokers can position themselves to be more successful in the field.
For today’s insights, we turned to Joanna Chango-James, Phd., a psychologist and leadership consultant who helps women maximize their potential in the workplace. Here’s what she had to say.
1. CRE is a very male-dominated profession. What’s your advice for women who want to be successful in a field where they aren’t as well-represented?
Unfortunately, it’s all too common for women to be in the minority, especially in higher-level roles. Across many industries, you’ll see a relatively equal split between men and women at the mid- level, but when you get to the upper end, the senior positions, that’s where you tend to see men outnumber women.
In these situations, it’s important for women to build coalitions of people who support their advancement, because a collective voice is always more powerful than an individual voice. Female brokers can start by building coalitions with other female colleagues in the field, and they can recruit men who also support and champion their success. (A great place to start building this network is through organizations like CREW).
2. This is an industry built on relationships. How can women make the most of this kind of environment?
Women actually have a significant advantage in industries like these, because they tend to be more relationship-oriented. And if they’re tuned into these strengths, they can use them to their advantage.
For example, studies show that women tend to do better than men in negotiations when they’re negotiating on someone else’s behalf. So if female brokers have a chance to negotiate on behalf of clients, that’s a real competitive advantage they can capitalize on. Women tend to do better when they’re fighting for someone else; they want to see people they’re aligned with do well.
3. You’ve said that some of the career advice people give women can be detrimental. Can you tell us more about that? And, what would your advice be to women instead?
Yes. One great example is confidence: people tell women that they should just be more confident and go for what they want. It sounds good on the surface, because how can confidence be anything but a good thing?
Well, if you’re a woman, it’s actually a double-edged sword. Women frequently pay a social price for acting with more confidence, standing up for what they want, and speaking up. They don’t tend to do these things as often as men, but when they do, they are frequently labeled as bossy, pushy, and overly aggressive—even if their behavior is on par with what men display.
In an industry like CRE, confidence makes all the difference: you have to be able to get out there, win clients, and aggressively grow your business. But women have to do it in a very sophisticated way, without triggering those negative biases.
In my coaching practice at Movius Consulting, I show women how to build emotional poise so they can speak with confidence without coming across as overly aggressive.
One strategy I teach, for example, is the “Negotiator’s Mentality,” which is a way for women to approach situations from a negotiator’s mindset in order to create value for both sides. It’s a subtle shift in thought and behavior that allows women act with confidence without attracting negative backlash.
I also show them how to become more shrewd observers of their own (and others’) emotions, which is one element of poise. For example, we know that naming our and others’ emotions is empowering, calming, and correlated with better performance. Sometimes people associate emotions with weakness, but in fact the opposite is true—if you know how to respond productively to them.
The takeaway is that when it comes to women in the workplace, saying “Just go for it!” or “Be more confident” isn’t enough. You have to be aware of the very real social costs attached to these things, and act in a way that overrides them.