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The Path to Success: Empowering Women Leaders in Commercial Real Estate

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This Saturday, August 26th, marks Women’s Equality Day. On this monumental date in 1920, U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signed the integral proclamation granting women the constitutional right to vote. Thirty years from that day, women were still fighting for equality—including equal opportunity in the workforce.

Now, a little over a century later, considerable progress has been made in dismantling barriers to equality. Yet, amidst these advancements, the real estate industry remains substantially male-dominated. As an organization committed to promoting and increasing equity in commercial real estate, SIOR is constantly endeavoring to reshape the landscape toward a future that embraces inclusivity, irrespective of gender or background. As we continue on this path, we would like to take a moment to celebrate the exceptional women of SIOR. They embody the fundamental qualities of a leader—perseverance, integrity, and an unwavering dedication to guiding and uplifting emerging women in the realm of CRE. 

Unfamiliar waters

Many SIOR women, especially those who have been in the industry for a while, agree that tremendous progress has been made concerning the general sentiment around women in leadership positions. “Today, as opposed to 25 years ago when I started in this field, women have a much more even playing field,” shares Nancy Dupps, SIOR, vice president of the office team at TRIO Commercial Property Group in Louisville, Ky.

Nevertheless, this progress hasn't eliminated the existence of unique obstacles, especially in the initial phases of their careers when they were building their reputation. “Initially, it was a challenge just to get a seat at the table,” says Cara Nolan, SIOR, senior vice president at CBRE in Portland, Ore. However, once at that table, she could demonstrate her dedication to her role and contribute value to the organization. Mary Anne Wisinski-Rosely, SIOR, partner and executive vice president at NAI Wisinski of West Michigan, had a similar experience. Early in her career, her biggest challenge was "being taken seriously and trusted." She was able to overcome this by being well-informed. “If you have the knowledge and confidence,” she says, “it’s hard to not be taken seriously!”

Being outnumbered in a male-dominated field can be a daunting and sometimes lonely experience. Regarding SIOR’s regional chapter events, Carolyn Spake-Leeper, SIOR, broker at BND Commercial in Fort Wayne, Ind., shares that “it’s not uncommon to be one of half a dozen women in a group of 100.” With time, however, her consistent participation and active engagement have yielded increased networking opportunities. Other attendees now approach her, and conversations flow more naturally.

Many leaders within SIOR actively encourage women to attend in-person conferences to build trust and expand their network. In her past position as Chair of the Women’s Leadership Group at SIOR, Laurie Tylenda, SIOR, associate broker at CBRE Upstate NY, and current SIOR Board member, discovered that many women hesitate to attend conferences due to limited industry friendships. However, she found that many others feel the same way, including men. “So, if you’re wanting to get involved but not feeling confident about it,” she says, “know that you’re not alone.”

While putting yourself out there can be challenging, there is almost always a payoff to active participation. “The personal and professional rewards will be extremely beneficial to your career’s knowledge and expertise,” notes Elise Couston, SIOR, senior managing director at Newmark in Chicago, Ill.

But amidst the hustle to stay actively involved, some SIORs offer a word of caution: manage the temptation to overcommit time and energy. Amy Broadhurst, SIOR, president and principal at Lee & Associates in Pittsburgh, Penn., and incoming SIOR Board member, shares that her main struggle has been “taking a step back—whether it be for life changes or family.” She goes on to add that being aware of this hurdle has made her surround herself with people who build her up and allow her the additional flexibility needed to achieve the right balance.

Kimberly Baker, SIOR, vice president at Baker Commercial Real Estate in Jeffersonville, Ind., also characterizes her biggest challenge as splitting time between family and her drive to be involved. She states: “An advisor once said, ‘just because you can doesn’t mean you should.' Choose wisely.”

Standing out from the crowd

Embarking on a journey in commercial real estate as a woman necessitates an exceptional edge. As Kim Ford, SIOR, chief executive officer at Rise Pittsburgh, aptly puts it: “Everyone needs a differentiator, but as a woman in CRE, you need even more. You must have a solid brand.” Of course, for those hoping to pursue leadership roles, developing a unique skillset is even more essential. “Leadership is not just a role, a job, a title or position,” states Diana Whisenant, SIOR, executive managing director at Hanna Commercial Real Estate in Cleveland, Ohio, “it's a huge responsibility to help others succeed.”

In order to hone these abilities, the prevailing agreement seems to be: seek mentors, engage actively, and maintain an unceasing pursuit of knowledge.

Barb Johnson, SIOR, first vice president with CBRE in Salt Lake City, Utah, specifically underlines the importance of always learning more, having come from a past career in education. When switching careers, she “focused on commercial real estate courses and designations,” including SIOR’s Next Level Series courses, to build a foundation of investment and negotiation skills.

Similarly, it’s equally important to find colleagues and mentors in the industry that can help foster growth. “Get mentors,” emphasizes Marlene Spritzer, SIOR, vice president at Lee & Associates in Cary, N.C. Marlene goes on to explain how she mentored her daughter, who accompanied her to industry meetings. Her daughter has now become a mentor herself, extending her newly gained knowledge to numerous students interested in CRE careers. Dupps agrees, adding, “find role models that are willing to give you a minute of their time to help you be better and that want to truly invest in your future.”

“Look for your mentors amongst the great women in SIOR across the country and world,” advises Spake-Leeper. “Before you know it, you too will turn from mentee to mentor!”

Final Words of Wisdom for Emerging Leaders in CRE

“The road to leadership itself is a very rewarding experience,” says Cathy Jones, SIOR, executive vice president at Logic Commercial Real Estate in Las Vegas, Nev., and current treasurer on the SIOR Board of Directors. While it's undeniable that this journey can present obstacles, these SIORs have cherished memories that are uniquely woven into their leadership experiences.

“What I love to do is encourage young brokers (male or female) to get excited about being in this industry.” says Wisinski-Rosely. “I hope that I can inspire them to be the best that they can be in Commercial Real Estate.”

Drawing from their collective experience, SIOR women are eager to offer a handful of valuable pointers, not to be overlooked. Vanessa Herzog, SIOR, senior vice president and principal at Lee & Associates in Tacoma, Wash., emphasizes celebrating your wins. “Do not give the rewards of your hard work to anyone else,” she says. “Make that speech, take credit when you can, publish your accomplishments.”

Lynn Reich, SIOR, a past president of SIOR and industry trailblazer for 44+ years, underscores the value of humility. “Stay true to your beliefs while listening to alternative opinions,” she states, noting the importance of modifying one’s viewpoint when needed. “We are all right about something!”
Above all, a leader should exemplify selflessness: “You have to have the ability to put others first,” says Whisenant. “You have to think of your client, your company, and the people you are leading and put their needs before your own.”

Standing at the crossroads of progress and potential, the insight shared by these accomplished SIORs illuminates a path forward for all those aspiring to leadership, highlighting the progress made and overcoming the challenges that persist. As we commemorate Women’s Equality Day, we are honored to amplify the voices of these remarkable SIOR women who are not only reshaping the CRE industry but are forging a path towards a more equitable and empowered tomorrow.




Kimberly Baker, SIOR, is the vice president and co-founder of Baker Commercial Real Estate. The company is widely recognized for its market-leading presence as evidenced by the numerous Available, For Sale, and For Lease signs displayed on commercial properties throughout the area. She’s an industrial specialist in Jeffersonville, Ind. 


Amy Broadhurst, SIOR, currently serves as president of the Lee & Associates Western Pennsylvania office. Her diverse experience in the local industrial and office real estate markets has enabled her to assemble creative cost saving solutions for her clients – whether it’s during a renewal, relocation or a portfolio consolidation.


Elise Couston, SIOR, is a senior managing director at Newmark, specializing in property and vacant land acquisitions, dispositions, sale/leasebacks, build-to-suits, and 1031 exchanges. She was named a Chicago Power Woman in Commercial Real Estate by Crains Chicago Business in 2019, and she has earned multiple awards during her 35+ years as a real estate specialist.


Nancy Dupps, SIOR, is a vice president office team at TRIO Commercial Property Group, specializing in office properties working with both Landlords and Tenants in transactions. She has completed transactions locally and across the nation valued at more than $100 million dollars, totaling over one million square feet.


Kim Ford, SIOR, is the executive chief officer of Rise Pittsburgh with over 25 years of commercial real estate exclusively representing businesses in Pittsburgh and over 200 U.S. markets. She represents startups to Fortune 50 companies including advanced manufacturing R/D, office, retail, land, distribution, manufacturing, and industrial.


Vanessa Herzog, SIOR, is a senior vice president and principal at Lee & Associates, specializing in commercial land dispositions, industrial sales and acquisitions, build-to-suit site selection, leasing, and investment sales. She is a leading commercial real estate broker in the Seattle/Tacoma region.


Barb Johnson, SIOR, is the first vice president with CBRE, with over eighteen years of real estate experience, she provides brokerage and advisory services to a variety of companies including financial, technology, law firms, education, non-profit, government, and healthcare. Her area of focus is tenant and buyer representation services in the office sector and represents both occupier and agency in healthcare.


Cathy Jones, SIOR, is the executive vice president of Logic Commercial Real Estate, with over 30 years’ experience in finance and commercial real estate, with an emphasis in investment sales, receivership services, property management, leasing, real estate market analysis, contract negotiations, financing, corporate cash management, and business development.


Cara Nolan, SIOR, is a senior vice president at CBRE, specializing in industrial properties, including manufacturing and distribution facilities in the Portland Metro area. She represents buyers and sellers of both industrial properties, as well as infill development sites with transactions totaling over $518 million.


Lynn Reich, SIOR, is a real estate veteran in the industrial brokerage space. Formerly executive vice president for Colliers. She commanded extensive transaction experience on both the tenant and landlord sides. She’s an accomplished and conscientious dealmaker, Lynn consummated over 100 million square feet of transactions in the last 10 years.


Carolyn Spake-Leeper, SIOR, is a broker at BND Commercial, specializing in sales and lease transactions of all types including both investment and owner-occupied properties and has become the go-to broker for office and land in northeastern Indiana.


Marlene Spritzer, SIOR, is vice president at Lee & Associates, specializing in representing corporate end-users, both tenants and owner-occupants. She focuses her practice on life science and technology companies of all sizes as well as medical offices, law firms and other corporate occupiers of lab, office, industrial and flex facilities.


Laurie Tylenda, SIOR, is associate broker at CBRE Upstate NY. Her areas of practice include investments, tenant representation, distribution & logistics, and more. She is an officie specialist and a Member-At-Large for SIOR's Board of Directors.


Diana Whisenant, SIOR, is an executive managing director at Hanna Commercial Real Estate. Her team specializes in transaction management for corporate clients. This includes global portfolio management, strategic consulting, site selection, property acquisitions and dispositions. 


Mary Anne Wisinsky-Rosely, SIOR, is a partner and executive vice president at NAI Wisinski of West Michigan, specializing in the sale and leasing of office properties. She is on the Board of Directors of the Commercial Alliance of Realtors as President and is also extensively involved with many non-profit organizations.

Saleha Malik

Saleha Malik

Saleha is the Digital Content Coordinator at SIOR HQ. She handles digital marketing content including SIOR's social media platforms, the SIOR Pulse Blog, and the digital version of SIOR Report.