"Global research continues to show that the link between companies with women in Executive and Board positions and financial performance is strong and if you want your company to outperform, I hope you are finding a way to engage and involve qualified women in leadership in your organization."
- Mandy Newton, CREW Vancouver President 2016
For many women, entering a male dominated industry like commercial real estate can be an intimidating move. For yet many others eager to take the challenge, seeking the right support and resources can be a crucial step for success. And for those in either category, as well as men who are excited to support the success of women as real estate professionals, Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) offers many resources to help you maximize your career success.
CREW Vancouver is a dynamic network committed to promoting business development and advancing women as leaders in the commercial real estate industry. CREW offer a series of speaker series, real estate education events, and networking and social events throughout the year - all of which provide an incredible opportunity for women to meet and propel each other toward career success.
We had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle Child, UBC BCom '14 graduate (Real Estate) and Senior Account Manager at Laurentian Bank. Michelle is an active member of CREW Vancouver and shared some of her experiences and advice with us.
Q: What led you to become a member of CREW? How has your professional life changed since becoming involved?
Michelle: Real estate is very relationship based and when I joined the industry I worked for a company that had two employees: me and my boss. It was initially quite hard for me to build a network and meet people because I was attending most events alone, which can be very intimidating and I was shy. At the time I didn’t have enough work experience to become a member of CREW (minimum 2 years are required) so I joined as a volunteer. Attending the events became a lot less intimidating when I was working them because it gave me an ice breaker for conversations and a purpose when I was feeling awkward. Initially, volunteering helped me build a network of CREW members, but more importantly it helped me become more confident, which then allowed me to build my network outside of CREW.
I specifically chose CREW over other associations because I wanted an opportunity to connect with women in the industry. When I first joined the industry I worked for a commercial mortgage brokerage and now I work for a lender; both are very male dominated, as are most areas of Real Estate. Since I didn’t have any women within my companies, it was important for me to find a support network of females. I have been fortunate to have met a lot of amazing men in this industry who have supported me, but having the advice and support of females has been crucial to my career.
Q: Why is becoming a member of an organization like CREW beneficial to students, specifically?
Michelle: Becoming a member of a professional organization is beneficial in a number of ways besides helping you build confidence and become more comfortable in the industry:
- It exposes you to people from a number of fields in the industry, which allows you to have a better understanding of the industry as a whole.
- It makes your job easier because most entry level positions will require a lot of market research. Most of the information is not available online, instead you can gather it from calling consultants, but people aren’t always willing to offer you the same information if they don’t know you. Having a network of people who work in different fields, however, gives you a database of people you can call for help and information.
- They hold a variety of networking events throughout the year that are all a little different so you can find which type of networking works best for you.
- They offer a number of courses and formal mentorship programs. This year I was involved in a mentorship program through CREW. When I started the mentorship at the beginning of the summer I was an underwriter at the bank and I was ready for a transition, but was having trouble making the next step. In the coming months I ended up accepting an Account Manager position in our Toronto office, which was a change in both position and location. Having the support of a mentor helped guide me through the process of making that move. As you start your career you are navigating completely new situations from salary negotiations to how to have tough conversation with your boss or colleagues and a mentor can be a great resource as they have all been through these same situations.
Q: Can you tell us about a female real estate professional, whether involved with CREW or not, that you admire, and why?
Michelle: The woman I admire the most in this industry is my mother. She has since left the industry to start her own business, but when I was child, she was a broker. She joined the industry about 35 years before me at a time that was very hard for women to break into real estate. On top of that, she juggled her work with being a single mother of two. She was a true trail blazer and that has always inspired me through my career. The most important advice she gave me when I was starting out was to always take your place at the table. Make sure you are a part of the important meetings and make sure your voice is always heard. It's easy as women to sit back in meetings because we feel over powered and we don't have any other women to look up to, but it is important to remember our voices are important. A good book on this topic for any females starting their career is Lean In by Sheryl Sandburg.
Q: What tips do you have for students who are new to networking?
Michelle: In my first year in the industry, in addition to joining CREW as a volunteer, I went for a lot of coffees. I wanted to meet more people on the lending side, but I didn’t have any connections in Vancouver so I started in Victoria where I knew a few bankers. They ended up introducing me to their connections in Vancouver and I was able to build my network from there, but I probably ended up going for about 60 coffees in a span of 3 months. I remember think how inefficient I was being because they weren't always real estate focus but every connection I made has benefited me in my career whether it be directly or by helping me building confidence. Learning from people in different fields and professions is incredibly beneficial as well because it gives you a broader understanding of business.
So my advice would be to never be afraid to reach out to someone and reach out to people often, but make sure you are always thankful for their time. I am so grateful for everyone in this industry who has given me their time whether it be to give me advice or just tell me about their experiences but it's important to remember their time is valuable. If you meet for coffee, something as small as buying their drink as a token of your appreciation can go a long way.
Q: Have you been or are you a member of another real estate organization (similar to CREW)? In addition to its focus on women, how does CREW differ from this/these other group(s)?
Michelle: CREW is the only association I have ever been involved in. It differs because it specifically supports women in a male dominated industry. In my own experience I have worked very little with women so having a platform that allowed me to find strong women in the industry was crucial to my career growth.
Like Michelle, many CREW members have been eager to engage with women aspiring professional careers in the commercial real estate industry. On top of offering advice and support as speakers and panelists, many participate in UBC REC's events throughout the year.
UBC REC's second semester will feature two large-scale networking events: Real Estate Alumni Night in February and our Signature Annual Industry Night in March. Take the opportunity to expand your network of inspirational and incredibly supportive women in real estate!
For more information, visit https://www.crewvancouver.org/.