Mentoring helps women break barriers in commercial real estate

Cheryl McGlothlin is starved for information on how to make her way in commercial real estate.

That's why she's involved with the Fort Worth chapter of the networking organization Commercial Real Estate Women and the Greater Fort Worth Real Estate Council.

McGlothlin, director of marketing and business development at Empire Roofing Co. in Fort Worth, is considered an up-and-comer in the industry. She said she wants to learn as much as she can to eventually operate the real estate investment company her parents started, which owns and leases out about 70 office/warehouse properties.

More than a year ago, McGlothlin began investing with them.

"Everyone has been very helpful to me," she said. "I'm here to learn."

Keri Redford, a senior analyst with Integra Realty Resources in Fort Worth, was recently named one of 20 up-and-coming industry leaders by the national CREW. Redford, 31, is a commercial property appraiser with experience in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, California, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Michigan and Virginia.

She said her success has come from networking with other women in the profession, having a good contact list and having the confidence to know that she could succeed.

"Women self-impose their own barriers," Redford said. "I've learned there's never a stupid question."

She's now mentoring women who are starting out in real estate.

More women in the field

McGlothlin, 27, and Redford, who began appraising in 2001, represent the next generation of women in an industry that's still dominated by men.

Five years ago, CREW conducted a survey to find trends affecting women in commercial real estate. The organization recently repeated the study and found a 7 percent increase in women in the profession, which crosses several disciplines from brokerage to development.

The increase was fueled by more women staying in the profession for 20 years or more, and by entrants with less than five years' experience, the study says.

Longtime commercial real estate professional Nina Petty has mentored McGlothlin and says she demonstrates a exceptional eagerness for success.

Hard work

Petty, who oversaw the construction of RadioShack's headquarters in downtown Fort Worth and is now vice chancellor of real estate and facilities for Tarrant County College, started out as an office-leasing broker with Coldwell Banker Commercial. At age 28, she was named Rookie of the Year for production, making more money than she ever had, she said.

She was one of a few women offered management positions at the national brokerage that year. She spent the next 14 years in management and earned the rank of senior vice president.

In retrospect, Petty said, she now realizes that barriers existed when she was working her way into the industry, but that she was motivated just to work hard. She said her father provided a lot of advice and encouragement.

"It was really tough," Petty said. "It was different for women, especially if you were trying to balance a family and a career in an industry that didn't always readily accept women. Women stood out. You had about three seconds after you walked into a room to make your point and be taken seriously."

Petty said women have made progress. More resources are available, and companies offer much more flexibility, she said.

In the CREW survey, 65 percent of the women said having a mentor was among the top two factors that contributed to their career success.

Perseverance pays

When Nanci Johnson-Plump moved to Texas in 1983, she was 24 and commercial real estate was booming.

Within a year, she would switch careers -- from selling pharmaceuticals to leasing office space for Trammell Crow Co., first in Dallas and then in Tarrant County. She was one of only two women at the company in that position.

"Sales are sales; it's just a different product," she said. "The thing that attracted me to real estate was the development side. You really see change."

She's now leasing property for Peloton Commercial Real Estate.

Early on, Johnson-Plump knew she wasn't being included in office meetings but still persevered.

"I didn't try to push. I didn't cross those boundaries," she said. "You have to be patient. You learn by just doing. You learn by just asking questions."

Like Johnson-Plump, many women feel that their careers have been successful. In the CREW survey, 54 percent of women reported feeling very successful in their commercial real estate careers, with 2 percent saying they felt not at all satisfied.

Mentors' importance

Barbara Fife, co-president of the Fort Worth chapter of CREW, has had a 30-year career in commercial real estate. Armed with a management degree, she started out as a construction project manager. She later become a vice president of development at Mercantile Business Park and now operates her own construction consulting business.

Fife said that she had little knowledge of construction materials, specifications or terminology, but that she wasn't afraid to ask questions.

"I've been extremely fortunate to have been mentored and associated with some true industry leaders," she said. Now, "more women are aware of the real estate industry and what it offers."

Sandra Baker, 817-390-7727