The Arizona commercial real estate industry’s longstanding identity as a “boy’s club” is slowly becoming a misnomer.

Each year more women break through within the industry as they take on greater leadership roles at various executive positions based on their respective disciplines and specialties.

These AZCREW members represent a diverse mix of disciplines from architecture to construction and property management to brokerage. They were asked to share their experiences and advice for other women in the industry trying to break through a glass ceiling in their careers.

Panelists are:

• Michelle Brown, general property manager and designated broker, Hines

• Ruth Darby and Lindsey Carlson, vice presidents, Colliers International Greater Phoenix

• Samanatha Pinkal, LEED AP, business development manager, The Weitz Company

• Shawn Rush, LEED AP, principal and office director, Corgan

AZRE: As an industry, what kind of improvements have you noticed in the workplace?

Carlson & Darby: With the increasing number of women in commercial real estate, men more frequently find themselves across the table from women. The old “boy’s club” atmosphere may still persist, but women are being recognized for the value that they bring to the table as professionals. Many companies are now actively educating their organizations about equality and fairness in the workplace and emphasizing this as part of the culture.

Pinkal: I see more diversity in my own company at all levels and that’s really encouraging. I’ve also noticed individual employees taking ownership of their own role in workplace equality, whether that’s to build up and promote others or to step up into a role that needs to be filled regardless of their age, gender or background.

Brown: Hines formed the One Hines Women’s Network and I’ve been selected as our local ambassador to organize events that will expose our Phoenix team to people, opportunities and experiences that would promote career development, build confidence and encourage discussions about gender equality in the workforce. Additionally, Hines expanded their Paid Parental Leave program to give parents (men and women) additional time off with a new child.

Rush: Within the workplace and finding better work/life balance, I see employers, for the first time, truly prioritizing opportunities and accommodations, like Wellness and Respite rooms, at every level for both genders. Additionally, there has been inspiring, powerful growth of women’s professional organizations that promote education, support and perpetuation of corporate real estate. These are invaluable outlets for young women who otherwise may not be aware of the industry, as well as seasoned professionals seeking advice and community to deal with similar issues.

AZRE: How have you overcome situations of workplace inequality in the past?

Rush: Growing women into leadership roles is challenging within an industry traditionally male dominated. However, being a woman in any business is only tough if you don’t believe in your own ability.

Pinkal: I’ve taken action instead of waiting for someone else to do something. I’ve gone to my mentors and champions to talk through situations, ask for advice and to rally support. Those can be hard but they’re important, not only to promote equality but also to build a report with leadership and position yourself as a leader within your sphere of influence.

Carlson & Darby: We have used a three-prong approach. The first is being self-confident and assertive by expressing our needs and preferences while still respecting others. The second is standing up for ourselves by confronting the offender and articulating our concerns. If the situation persists or deteriorates, the third prong is to speak with management. Ultimately, we gain respect and fair treatment by our peers by conducting ourselves with integrity and honestly, building our reputation and relationships along the way.

Brown: While I’ve faced challenges at work, I haven’t experienced workplace inequality.

AZRE: What’s your advice for women in commercial real estate?

Carlson & Darby: Take responsibility for where you are today and where you are headed. Surround yourself with cheerleaders along the way but keep in mind that you control your own destiny. Find a mentor who has been through the trenches and on whom you can depend for advice and guidance. Don’t limit yourself to a female mentor; it’s about the quality of the person you choose. Also, become a mentor to someone new to our field. Ultimately, believe in yourself as an individual, not as a gender.

Pinkal: First, find your mentors and champions. They should be both men and women, above and below you. Surround yourself with people who want to help you succeed. Second, don’t qualify yourself as a “woman” in CRE. Just be a professional in CRE. The idea of equality is that it would not matter if you’re a man or woman. And third, broaden your skillset, learn how to do more than just your job. You’ll be amazed at how much more value you can add when you’re working toward a bigger picture.

Brown: Work hard, ask lots of questions, and don’t be afraid to get involved even if you don’t feel quite ready. I’ve grown the most while working on projects that were outside my comfort zone. I would also say, speak up and toot your own horn. Women need to do a better job of promoting themselves and their accomplishments.

Rush: Purposefully build relationships with people wanting to see you win and build self-belief to break through your glass ceiling.