Vicki Williams is the senior vice president of commercial real estate at Alliance Bank of Arizona, where she has worked since 2004. She is the 2014 president of AZCREW, the Phoenix chapter of CREW Network, and former chair of AZCREW’s programs committee. Williams has been the vice president on the board of trustees for Childsplay, Inc., a professional theater company that produces plays for young audiences.
Having been a part of AZCREW in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I am honored to have witnessed firsthand the evolution of both the local commercial real estate industry and also AZCREW’s evolution into a highly professional and more mature organization. In the early years, our membership was dominated by women in the fields of title and lending. Today, AZCREW is a well-known and respected part of the metro Phoenix real estate scene. We now have many more members involved in brokerage, law, architecture, asset management, construction and development. Moreover, a good number of these women are in senior leadership positions, including some who have founded and currently own businesses. That was certainly not common 20 years ago.
The quality of both our programs and networking events is phenomenal. Attracted by our high caliber speakers and timely topics that include development case studies, industry updates, financial market panels, and other topics impacting commercial real estate in the Valley, non-members and guests are coming to our luncheons in larger numbers than ever before. When we ask respected members of our local real estate community to speak, we receive enthusiastic responses. They know who we are and support our mission. I find it gratifying that we are able to have more female speakers, which is indicative of women’s increased leadership within the industry. Incidentally, other industry groups are also including women on their panels, which is great to see.
Our monthly special events are also in high demand as they include mixers at popular venues, brown bag networking lunches and an annual golf tournament where a portion of the proceeds benefit a local charity.
How does AZCREW make an effort to affect gender inequality among leadership in the CRE industry?
We champion the advancement and success of women in commercial real estate industry through four key areas: leadership, professional relationships, education and excellence. CREW Network, our parent organization, funds research into women’s representation in the commercial real estate industry nationally, including representation in leadership and managerial positions. Paid for in part through our local dues, CREW Network produces highly respected white papers that are now being referenced by other commercial real estate industry groups who are also seeking more participation by women in their own organizations. AZCREW and CREW Network also raise funds to provide scholarships for young women looking for careers in commercial real estate. Specifically, we have an annual signature Black & White event in November to raise funds for local scholarships and for CREW Foundation, which is our parent’s arm that provides scholarships at a national level.
Clearly there are challenges in attracting a younger membership to get involved and also to help them advance their careers in real estate. We continue to strive to close the gender gap by leveraging the talented and successful women leadership in our own ranks.
What is the most important thing people need to understand about AZCREW?
What people need to know most is that AZCREW is part of a national and dynamic organization with more than 75 chapters and 9,000 members in the U.S. and Canada, whose resources and influence have a significant impact locally and nationally. For example, CREW Network’s annual national convention held each fall features five-star national speakers presenting important market trends and is a great platform for building relationships and sharing ideas with women from other metropolitan areas. Open to all CREW Network members, this convention is truly an inspiring experience even for those whose business is primarily local. Last year, there were close to 1,000 in attendance. Simply promoting the benefits of our parent network to both our members and prospective members is an opportunity to increase engagement.
What was a memorable mentoring experience?
I didn’t have a mentor in the field of commercial real estate, per se, but did have a formal mentor when I got my first banking job in Arizona, fresh from NYC. My mentor was president of the bank, who provided a great example by being professional, thoughtful and respectful in his dealings with everyone equally. I was fortunate to never have felt I was being treated differently or underestimated because of my gender at a time when there were certainly other male managers with less progressive attitudes toward women in business, much less real estate. He was very patient and encouraged me to ask questions and, so long as I had done my research, to make recommendations despite my lack of experience. I felt I could ask him the “dumb” questions as to why things worked a certain way. The best thing I learned was that big, critical decisions should not be made in a rush, no matter what pressure you may feel. Looking back, I wish I had followed that advice a little more often.