Corporate America has made almost no progress in improving women's representation, as women are underrepresented at every organizational level. 

According to the Women in the Workplace 2018 study, the largest comprehensive study of the state of women in corporate America put out by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, women are especially outnumbered in senior leadership. Only about one in five C-suite leaders is a woman, and only 1 in 25 is a woman of color.

With that perspective in mind, I began interviewing women executives to glean personal accounts of what it's like to navigate the testosterone-heavy world of male-dominated industries, like tech.

Meet Maureen Waters. She was recently appointed President of Ten-X Commercial, a tech platform that oversees 90 percent of all online commercial real estate deals in America.

Maureen has held just about every executive role you can imagine in nearly every area of real estate, including a stint as head of real estate and asset management at Bill Gates Investments. She ​is an industry leader with several high-profile honors to her name.

As impressive as she is "on paper," she's a better human being for her display of character, integrity, and resilience in a man's world.

Ten percent of tech C-suite positions are held by women

Maureen works just as hard to empower women in "PropTech," a unique sector that straddles two industries -- commercial real estate (CRE) and technology. As it stands, only 9 percent of CRE C-suite positions and 10 percent of tech C-suite positions are held by women. This is alarmingly low, and although there are plenty of women making strides in both industries, very few sit at the executive table.

I wanted to tap into how women aspiring to become leaders in a man's world can rise to the top despite the fact that the numbers are against them.

Let's dive into the conversation, and hear about the biggest lessons that one of the top female tech executives in the country learned along the way. 

Tell us about your journey breaking into the "Boys' Club"? What did you see and experience along the way?

Maureen: Breaking into the "boys club" was difficult.  I worked twice as hard as some of my male counterparts for less pay. Unfortunately, gender discrimination and misconduct are not new to commercial real estate and I have had my fair share of experiences. I believe they've made me stronger as an individual and professional, more empathetic and passionate about leading change.

Breaking down the walls and having a voice was one of my greatest challenges and one of the most character-defining moments in my journey.  It required patience, openness to taking risks and the courage to speak my mind.

I was fortunate to have mentors along the way who were men that helped me navigate the waters. Unfortunately, I didn't have any female mentors as there were very few female leaders in real estate. Having their guidance as well as providing me with opportunities helped me grow my career and skillset. 

As a woman, does it get easier once you break the glass ceiling?

Maureen: I wish I could say that once you're "in" it gets easier, but it doesn't always. I still find myself in situations where having a voice and being given the same opportunities as men is a challenge, and I am sure other women do too. According to a study by the CREW Network, there's a 23.3 percent average total income disparity between men and women, and harassment and discrimination continue to be in the spotlight today. In the last 10 years, we have seen substantial change within both the commercial real estate and tech industries and I am hopeful that we'll continue to see progress for women.  If we are going to disrupt, we will need to support growth for women and minorities because it will change the business dynamic and the perspective. I will certainly continue to do my part.

How can women rise to the top despite the fact that the numbers are against them?

Maureen: I firmly believe that women have to stick together, something I preach to every woman who will listen. In addition to paving your own path, women supporting one another is one of the things that I believe would make the biggest difference. It is women advocating not only for themselves, but also for each other.

What would you say are typical biases that lend to women not being able to fully express their voices?

Maureen: One common obstacle--and an incredibly frustrating one--is being overlooked in meetings or being talked over. If women supported one another, amplified and repeated each other's ideas while giving credit to the woman who came up with the idea, it would go a long way to helping men acknowledge that women have just as much to contribute. 

What were the biggest lessons you learned along the way to the C-Suite?

Maureen: One of the biggest is that women don't have to entirely distance themselves from emotion, which I know is contrary to advice women often receive. Emotional intelligence is key to building stronger teams with higher engagement, influencing others and establishing trust, negotiating and navigating the workplace, and taking smart risks. By leveraging emotional intelligence, I learned to take time to examine decisions from multiple angles and ultimately make decisions that lead to the best outcomes. Anyone, male or female, can benefit from taking the time to think through decisions and avoid snap judgments. 

You've become a champion for fighting for equality. How do you use your position to your advantage?

Maureen: I am very passionate about fighting discrimination. I was fortunate enough to receive opportunities along the way that got me to where I am today. I want to pay that forward and ensure that I provide opportunities that increase diversity and inclusion. As one of the few female leaders in PropTech, I have a platform and a unique position to advocate for women and increase diversity. I want to take advantage of this opportunity to make real change in the industry. 

Let's expand on that. How has your platform helped other women advance?

Maureen: When I started at Ten-X, I was the only woman on our executive leadership team. By making diversity and inclusion a priority, we now have four women on our executive leadership team (including myself). I currently make time to mentor young women in the commercial real estate and tech industries. I'm partnering with a PropTech influencer, Michael Beckerman, to launch a "Women in CREtech" networking group to continue to bring positive change to the industry. We're also launching a "Women at Ten-X" group internally to help connect women within our company and provide mentoring opportunities. The contribution and intellect of females are undervalued as companies who have invested in female talent have experienced better returns.

What's your most important advice for young women trying to navigate a career in a male-dominated industry?

Maureen: My advice is to find a mentor early on and don't be afraid to ask questions or take risks.  Reach out to female leaders and request a mentoring relationship: Many women in CRE and other industries are happy to be a mentor. It's also important to find a network of people that you can trust and count on and as you grow in your career, and to make sure you're actively supporting other women. 

In closing, what would you say are the key leadership competencies both men and women need to have to bring out the best in people?

Maureen: As I mentioned earlier, it's important to leverage emotional intelligence as a leader. Being emotionally intelligent is not unique to just women, but it is a skillset that people are encouraged to grow throughout their lives. For example, being transparent, communicative, and self-aware enables me to better connect with people and build smart, diverse teams. I'm a firm believer in finding the smartest person for the job and building diversified teams. I don't feel threatened; I listen and learn more than I teach, and am a better leader as a result. I also work to create opportunities for employees to share and receive feedback because I believe it leads to overall growth. Providing feedback and engagement opportunities is critically important to building cohesive teams.   

Published on: May 20, 2019
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