Diversity breeds innovation, making it an essential part of any competitive business. Allies are critical to increasing diversity and inclusion. For male-dominated fields like commercial real estate, male allies are especially important.
We talked to employees across JPMorgan Chase Commercial Real Estate to learn more about the role these supportive colleagues play.
Winston Fant, Head of Commercial Real Estate Treasury Services, started by going to the dictionary, which describes an ally as a person or group that provides assistance and support in an ongoing effort, activity or struggle.
“That definition seems reactive,” he said. “I prefer to think of an ally as a proactive advocate, in this case, to help counter gender biases and barriers that women face in the workplace and in their careers.”
Al Brooks, Head of Commercial Real Estate, views allyship as two parties joining forces to achieve an important goal. “It’s in the best interest of all to work together, rather than separately,” he said.
Being an ally takes more than words. It requires action.
Brooks views himself as a coach as well as a team member. “It is part of a manager’s duty to support and encourage interest and growth. Supporting women’s achievements in the workplace is not only the right thing to do, it is also a key competitive advantage for our businesses and our society.”
Similarly, mentorship is a critical part of Fant’s allyship. “Mentoring others is my responsibility to pay it forward, and it’s something I enjoy.”
Judy Guarino, Commercial Term Lending Northeast Managing Director, emphasized the importance of mentors. “Although much better now than historically, commercial real estate is male-dominated,” she said. As a result, men are often the ones with the most industry experience. “Women in the industry can learn from those who have experienced many real estate cycles in the business.”
For Matt Felsot, Real Estate Banking Southwest Regional Manager, being an ally means “listening more than talking, investing time to sponsor and mentor, and never assuming that I know what a woman’s career experience has been.”
“This approach has helped me stay open to learning while consciously creating an environment that promotes gender equity,” he said.
"I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for the women leaders that took a chance on me at various stages of my career."
All three men have worked alongside talented female colleagues.
“I have been fortunate to have great managers and mentors over the years, many of whom were women,” Fant said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for the women leaders that took a chance on me at various stages of my career.”
“I have seen women who are true trailblazers in the real estate industry. Women who have taken risks in their career and succeeded big,” Brooks said. “This has helped motivate me to support others. It has also helped bring together a winning, diverse and talented team.”
“Whether they’re analysts or CEOs, I’ve valued the broad range of perspectives women have brought to the table,” Felsot said. “They’ve helped me elevate my game, and this wouldn’t have been possible if I wasn’t open to working and learning from very smart, dynamic women who’ve set out to make a positive impact on others.”
The answer is simple for Felsot. “If somebody really wants to be an ally, they should seek out a woman’s perspective, ask questions, practice empathy and ask how to be a better ally.”
Fant believes allyship starts with understanding the issues. “Women have not necessarily had the same opportunities as men in this industry. In many cases, they’ve had to work twice as hard as their male counterparts to get where they are today.”
That’s why it’s important that allies not only call out sexism and harassment, but also amplify women’s voices.
Mary Ottoson, Community Development Banking Tax Credits Vice President of Portfolio Management, vividly remembers the work of one ally during her career. Modest in nature and hesitant to broadcast personal accomplishments, she had recently managed a project with a successful outcome. “My ally could have easily just congratulated me directly and left it at that,” she said. “Instead, this ally did everything in their ability to garner the recognition they felt was deserved and took efforts to advocate on my behalf to colleagues and senior leadership.”
"Supporting women’s achievements in the workplace is not only the right thing to do, it is also a key competitive advantage for our businesses and our society."
All the respondents would like to see more women in senior leadership roles.
“I think the industry would benefit greatly with more female representation in the C-suite and on boards. Research indicates that 60% of firms around the world have no female board members and just over 50% have no female C-suite executives. Less than 5% have female CEOS,” Felsot said.
And that lack of diversity could be costing them.
“I’m a firm believer that your best chance of optimizing success is to have the best team on the field with diversity of thought so the team has the most informed views in this fast-changing world. These teams typically drive higher profitability,” Felsot said.
Brooks echoed that sentiment.
“It is a win for commercial real estate and our company to be open to diversity and the best possible talent. In addition to encouraging women’s voices, it’s important to develop a ‘dream big’ mindset in the career realm.”