HGAR’s Commercial & Investment Division Hosts First-Ever Women in Commercial Real Estate Panel
Mary Prenon | June 2019
Diversity, challenges and a new perspective for the future were the prevailing themes at the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtor’s first-ever “Women in Commercial Real Estate” panel discussion held on June 6 at HGAR’s White Plains headquarters.
Describing the panel as “the forefront of the commercial real estate community,” Patricia Valenti, moderator and executive managing director of Newmark Knight Frank, introduced the speakers at the association’s Commercial and Investment Division breakfast seminar that attracted more than 100 attendees.
The four panelists included: Sarah Jones-Maturo, president, RM Friedland; Jacqueline L. Novotny, first vice president, CBRE; Bonnie Silverman, president, Silverman Realty Group; and Joanna Simone, vice president of leasing and property management operations, Simone Development.
While all four revealed they had no female mentors, most credited their fathers or close friends for helping them achieve success in this often male-dominated industry. All agreed that being female did create a diversity in opening some doors, however, sometimes their gender did create a few challenges.
“On the positive side, phone canvassing was a bit easier because when someone’s getting calls from 10 men in a row and then I call, it’s different and sometimes easier to get the meeting,” said Jones-Maturo. On the flip side, she has also experienced gender bias, during her early years in the industry. “When I was two months pregnant, I was standing in a broker’s office and he said, ‘I know you just got married last year, but do me a favor—don’t get pregnant because then you’ll be totally unreliable and we really need you around here.’”
At the time, she didn’t’ confront him because her pregnancy was still a secret. “I know that a man whose wife was expecting wouldn’t receive that same type of treatment,” added Jones-Maturo. “It was disappointing, but I used that as an opportunity to come back after my baby was born and prove that guy wrong.”
For the most part, Novotny has had optimistic experiences. “I had heard that commercial real estate was going to be difficult for me, but I found brokers welcoming,” she said. “It’s very competitive for anyone and you just can’t allow anyone to treat you differently because you’re a woman.”
Novotny also cited recent studies of some Fortune 500 companies indicating those who had women on their teams experienced a higher success rate as well as revenues.
Simone left the fashion industry to work with her family’s business. “It was very different coming from a female-dominated business to almost all males,” she recalled. “In the beginning, I didn’t get the initial invites to the golf or cigar events, but that caused me to find a network of professional women in this industry. I do believe, though, that commercial real estate is becoming a lot more diverse now.”
Like Simone, Silverman works in her family’s business. “I started going to buildings with my father when I was six years old,” she remembered. “I was groomed by my dad to take over the business. I’ve lived this life since I was a child.”
Silverman believes one of the biggest challenges to the industry today is the Con Edison gas moratorium in Westchester County. “This affects new development, renovations, and extensions,” she said. “It could cause some businesses to avoid Westchester.”
For Novotny, affordable housing continues to be an issue, especially in Westchester, where it’s often difficult for people like teachers, nurses, police and firefighters to find a place to live. “There’s a misconception about who is going to live in affordable housing, so we need to educate municipal leaders and residents that affordable housing is actually good for the community. It will allow people who support the county to actually live where they work,” she explained.
All agreed that trends are continuing to change in commercial real estate, with many large offices being repurposed for fitness and wellness centers, medical facilities and residential apartments. Experiential centers featuring various types of recreation are also growing, as well as gourmet food retailers and discount stores.
Simone Development is currently embarking on a project to redevelop 104 Corporate Drive along the I-287 corridor. The 118,000-square-foot building will be redeveloped into a pediatric ambulatory care facility for Montefiore Medical Center. Meanwhile, Silverman Realty Group is building a commercial structure in Downtown Stamford, CT and renovating a 50-year old building in Long Island City. In Westchester, the firm is busy renovating all of its lobbies.
Novotny notes that CBRE will be marketing space at the Gateway Building at 1 North Lexington Ave. in White Plains, which is undergoing a major lobby renovation. In addition, the company is selling a commercial building in Larchmont that had been converted from rentals to condominiums. RM Friedland, meantime, will focus on building up its investment sales, industrial and office divisions.
All four panelists offered tips for anyone considering a career change into commercial real estate. “There are a lot of different areas—leasing, investment sales, tech, legal—so you have to focus on one and specialize in it,” suggested Silverman. “Whatever you decide, it’s also important to get out there and meet people all the time,” added Simone. “Networking is the key to this business.”
The event was sponsored by Allan Block Insurance and Webster Bank.