Though the income differences between men and women in commercial real estate are shrinking, a significant income gap still exists along with a gender gap when it comes to opportunities and advancement. So what can women in the commercial real estate industry do to narrow that gap and create more opportunities?

AZRE talks business, leadership and what it takes to thrive in the commercial market with local executives Karen Halpert, senior vice president, head of property management of VEREIT, Inc.; and Lisa Johnson, president and CEO at Corporate Interior Systems (CIS).

AZRE: Can you tell us a little about your role today as a successful executive of a local business?

Karen Halpert
Karen Halpert

Karen Halpert: In the role of senior vice president and head of property management at VEREIT, Inc., I continuously add to a portfolio that includes 5,500 retail, restaurant, shopping centers, office and industrial properties and 145-million square feet throughout the continental U.S. and Puerto Rico. I also oversee a 55-person team responsible for management of this portfolio.

Lisa Johnson: I started CIS in 1985 with one support person. Today, CIS has 34 team members with offices in Phoenix and Tucson. With a lot of hard work resulting in market share growth, in 1991 I was approached by Knoll, a major furniture manufacturer, to be their exclusive dealer in Arizona. We have also recently aligned with DIRTT, a technology-driven interior construction company. With our partners, we continue to assist our clients with workplace solutions to their workplace

AZRE: What is your involvement with AZCREW and how does it aid you in your business/professional pursuits?

KH: I have been active in AZCREW for more than a decade participating on various committees and chairing, and was the AZCREW President in 2013. These positions require active participation, hours of volunteer time and a commitment to making a difference in the organization.  In return, AZCREW has helped provide a forum to connect with other women in the industry, develop a professional network, fine-tune leadership skills and an opportunity to give back to the community.

Lisa Johnson
Lisa Johnson

LJ: Two of our account managers are members and our Director of Business Development and Marketing Manager attend events on a regular basis. AZCREW is a great platform providing opportunities to make connections that can be cultivated into meaningful business relationships with other successful women. I also love to support other women in business whenever I can!

AZRE: What were/are some of the challenges you face as a female business leader in the CRE realm? Benefits?

KH: Most leadership positions are still dominated by men.  I have been fortunate in my career to have wonderful mentors and sponsors who have recognized, appreciated and supported my growth. It’s important that we help other women achieve parity in opportunity in the commercial real estate industry, demonstrating how to add influence and power.  We are all busy, but we need to take time from our hectic schedules to mentor the next generation of real estate leaders.

LJ: Fortunately, some women are dismantling the male-dominated CRE world; however, in my 31 years in business, I have worked primarily with men. My challenges were those most women have faced – gender stereotyping, dual career-family pressures and lack of equal opportunities. The benefits are essentially a result of my choosing to face those challenges head on. I worked hard creating a strong network with other women entrepreneurs – sharing ideas and supporting each other. I took the steps to become a “certified” woman-owned business and I stayed up to date on current issues and involved in industry organizations.

AZRE: In one sentence, what would you say to help empower another woman seeking to start a business in the CRE world?

KH: There are many paths to success and none can be walked alone.  Be sure to create a personal and professional support network to help weather difficult times, in addition to providing a trusted sounding board for resolving problems or providing a fresh perspective.

LJ: Never give up — always move forward, no matter what the setback and always lead by example.