Celebrating Women of Influence: Karen Whitt

by | 08 August 2019

Following Real Estate Forum’s 2019 Women of Influence issue, this series follows up with Colliers’ female honorees, who discuss mentorship, how CRE has changed for women over the years, what it means to be a woman of influence and more.

What does being recognized as a woman of influence (WOI) mean to you? ​

It’s a special honor to be recognized because my peers were responsible for the nominations. I think it’s important to build strong relationships and support the women we work with, from their first jobs to leadership roles, and it’s very fulfilling to see my friends and colleagues have the same outlook. We’ve made big advancements in gender equality, both as a country and an industry, but there is still progress to be made and I think we are the best advocates for each other.

Did you have a mentor that greatly influenced your personal and professional development?

Two women took an interest in helping me develop my career early on, and we’re still close. We run important decisions in our lives and careers by each other and just discuss our feelings and observations — it helps to have sounding boards for things we experience on a day-to-day basis. I also helped establish a regular lunch meeting for female real estate executives. We discuss the same sorts of issues that I discuss with my mentors, but it also gives attendees a chance to network and get to know each other so we’ll have friends in the room at the different events and meetings where we often run into each other. You can never know too many people or have too many friends.

What unique attributes do you think women bring to the commercial real estate industry?

Male or female, everybody is unique and brings their own skillsets to their job. At work, the biggest challenge that many of us face is trying to find out how we can leverage our education, experience and expertise to be as productive as possible and helping our peers and colleagues do the same. I think the most important message is that women are equally suited as men for commercial real estate jobs and should be given the same consideration for any job. Often, adopting this mindset helps employers find more qualified candidates for jobs more quickly because they double their candidate pool and the women they include have had very different life experiences than men.

As a woman in CRE, how have you seen things change for women in the industry over the years? ​

When I was managing properties, I was once denied a raise that would bring me to parity with a male counterpart that was overseeing less space because he “had a family to look after.” That mindset still exists, but it’s found in fewer and fewer places every year. Not only are women working against the spread of these stereotypes and practices, but men are joining us and becoming advocates as well. Gender inequality isn’t seen as a problem just for women anymore, it’s a problem industries are recognizing they need to address as a whole. There are more women in leadership roles in commercial real estate than there have been at any other point in history, and I think that’s a huge step in the right direction.

What can women do to uplift other women in the industry? ​

First, any woman can join an advocacy and network group like CREW Network. The bigger those organizations are, the more effective they can be, and they carry a lot of career benefits for their members. Second, women that are advancing in their careers can take on mentoring roles with other women in their companies or industries. They don’t have to become part of official programs, though that helps distill the time you have to the most meaningful elements in mentoring. It’s just important to pass on the knowledge that women gain throughout their career to people that haven’t had those experiences yet. Lots of young professionals have boundless ambition but no resources to help them make the most of their time and energy. It also helps them develop meaningful networks that they can use to make advancements in the future, or become leaders in the companies where they feel someone took an interest in their futures.

What’s next for you in your career?

How about a trip to the beach? All kidding aside, between raising my son, fostering pets for Lucky Dog Animal Rescue and leading Real Estate Management Services (REMS) for Colliers, I stay very busy. I’m happy with what I’ve been able to achieve here, so I plan to continue building on that success. The REMS team is working on different technology initiatives that we believe are going to play very important roles in property management, including mobile app engagement, augmented reality and cyber security, and we are always working on growing our portfolio. As a member of the CREW Network Board of Directors, I’m also focused on using my position to advance women in the industry, from helping entry-level employees develop career advancement paths to serving as a sounding board for fellow executives.

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