The discussion kicked off with Bell Partners' Chief Investment Officer Lili Dunn interviewing Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) about her new book, Off the Sidelines: Raise Your Voice, Change the World. The book focuses on encouraging women to take an active role in issues that matter to them and details Gillibrand's own rise in Congress.
Given her struggle to balance her career with the responsibilities of being a mother-yes, she has had her children in tow during important votes before-Gillibrand said she has been focused on figuring out how to unlock women's fullest potential in the workforce, a feat she believes would do wonders for improving the economy.
"Workplace policies are really stuck in the Mad Men era," Gillibrand said, noting that in eight out of 10 families, moms work, and, in four out of 10 families, moms are the sole or primary breadwinner and yet the U.S. remains the only industrialized country in the world that doesn't have paid maternity or family leave.
A group of all-female executives that included Julie Smith, president of Bozzuto Management Company; Grace Huebscher, president of agency multifamily finance for Capital One Multifamily Finance; Donna Preiss, founder and CEO of The Preiss Company; and Ella Neyland, president of Steadfast Income REIT, further expounded on many of the same themes as they related to building careers in the multifamily industry.
All of the female executives stressed how important mentoring is for advancing women's careers, particularly in the areas of finance and real estate where women remain underrepresented. Moreover, Neyland added, "We need to counsel women to not leave the workplace."
Many women take what Smith called "off-ramps" in their careers, leaving the workplace to have and raise children or take care of aging parents. However, those breaks often hobble their career potential.
“Lots of women say they are going to dedicate themselves to their kids for the first four, five years and then get back in," explained Neyland. "But it's really hard to get back in."
The group agreed that to keep more women active in the workforce through more points in the lifecycle, multifamily firms have to find ways to give their employees flexibility so they can better manage childcare, school and health pressures.
While few can deny the benefits of having a more diverse leadership, the reality is that companies have to be intentional about improving gender diversity within the industry. "It starts at the top," Huebscher told executives. "You have to put women in roles that they think are too big for them and then support them and believe in them.'
Preiss agreed, adding that "you can't manage what you can't measure." So, if people understand diversity equals better bottom lines, then they need to start looking inside their companies to figure out where women are underrepresented and why.