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CREC Women Coffee Chat 2021 Spring Series

Authored by Priscilla Wongso ’24, The Hotel School at Cornell SC Johnson College of Business

This 2021 spring semester school year, the CREC Women’s Advisory Board and the Cornell Real Estate Club partnered to commence the CREC Women Coffee Chat series. This series aimed to connect Cornell undergraduate students with female leaders in real estate to hear from their unique perspectives and share their advice and insight into the industry. Held bi-weekly in March and April, students had many opportunities to meet with industry leaders from our very own CREC Women’s Advisory Board and CREC Board of Directors. The series was created and coordinated by Emily Wu, a current Junior in the Hotel School, a member of CREC Women’s Advisory Board, and president emeritus of the Cornell Real Estate Club; Andrew (AJ) Mackey, a current Sophomore in the Hotel School and VP of Membership and Diversity & Inclusion for the Cornell Real Estate Club; and Priscilla Wongso, a Freshman in the Hotel School and intern for the Cornell Real Estate Council.

The series was kicked off by Lynn Gray, founder of Campus Scout, who sits on the advisory board of the Cornell Real Estate Council and chairs both the Women’s and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Boards. As an individual that began in psychology and law and did not know much about real estate coming in, Ms. Gray shared her own insightful experiences emphasizing the importance of allowing yourself to be open to new experiences and opportunities. She echoed that the finance and real estate industries are challenging places for women, but as times move forward, it is important for women to stand up for one another and for themselves amidst the challenges they may face. To aid with this progress, she emphasized the importance of mentorship and guidance and starting the conversation which this series aimed to do. Finally, she highlighted the power of being a Cornellian and how the diversity of the institution can play a substantial role in the development of the industry. Overall, Ms. Gray’s coffee chat was an intimate, insightful, and strong start to the series.

In the next Coffee Chat, we heard from Jenny Wang, Principle in Blackstone’s Real Estate group based in London and a member of CREC’s Board of Directors. Ms. Wang’s genuine personality showed through her coffee chat as she answered each question candidly and honestly. She began by sharing her background of how she went from the Hotel School to Blackstone, explaining her current role in the company that she has been with since her graduation in 2012. When asked about any challenges she faced as a woman in real estate, she detailed that though women often feel imposter syndrome, it is important to not self- select yourself out because of your differences. She advised to remind yourself that you are in the position you are in because of your capabilities, not because of gender or other differences you may have. Ms. Wang went on to also provide advice on working internationally and highlighted leveraging the connections you make with people all around the world. Finally, attendees were given a sneak peek into Ms. Wang’s exciting future career plans involving entrepreneurship further emphasizing the importance of having open and curious mindsets and jumping at opportunities when they are presented to you.

The next Coffee Chat featured two wonderful speakers, Kamilla Rodrigues and Teresa Liang, both Cornell Hotel School alum and members of CREC Women’s Advisory Board. Ms. Rodrigues is a current Associate at Herrick Feinstein Real Estate Law. As a Cornell Hotel graduate in 2008, before pivoting into real estate law, she began in the food and beverage industry. She shared with us how her relationship-oriented experience within food and beverage prepared her for her current career in law. Ms. Liang is currently an analyst at LaSalle Investment Management and a recent graduate of the Hotel School in 2020. She shared her experience joining the workforce amidst the pandemic. Regarding their advice on being a woman in real estate, they advised to never doubting yourself or apologizing for factors that may be out of your control. As both members of the Women’s Advisory Board, Ms. Rodrigues and Ms. Liang both emphasized the importance of mentorship and reaching out to people to have genuine conversation and learn from them, especially when you want to get your foot in the door in real estate. Finally, and most importantly, they highlighted the importance of being true to your values and being loyal to yourself before you are loyal to a company.

Brigitte Oviedo was the series’ next feature. Ms. Oviedo is currently the head of professional development at Cooper & Cooper Real Estate, and she provided attendees insight into the world of residential real estate. Having studied Human Development at Cornell, Ms. Oviedo began her professional career practicing law. However, with her amiable and outgoing personality, she soon realized she wanted something more client facing. As a result, she began her new endeavor within residential real estate, building her career in NYC within a dynamic and exciting market. Though it was a strenuous decision to switch career paths, she felt that she had made a thoughtful analysis of herself and her interests, and in turn she advised attendees to trust in themselves and the process. Through her perspective on women in residential real estate, Ms. Oviedo shared that the particular industry was in fact more female dominating. Even so, there is still room for improvement on an executive level and it is important to learn from people of all backgrounds in the field. Further, she shared how residential real estate is a service business that demonstrates the parallels within the hospitality and real estate industries.

The next installment of the Coffee Chat Series featured two speakers, Amy Yao and Lily Li. Ms. Yao and Ms. Li are both Cornell Hotel Alum and members of CREC Women’s Advisory Board. Ms. Yao is a current Senior Associate at The Carlyle Group and Ms. Li is a current analyst at Brookfield Asset Management. As they both currently work within Real Estate Finance, they provided many complementary experiences and advice. As a recent graduate in 2019, Ms. Li shared her surprisingly smooth transition from university to a full-time job and how her time at Cornell’s Hotel School prepared her for this transition. Ms. Yao echoed this sentiment emphasizing how the Hotel School’s pre professional environment prepares you for the work force. Having been involved in the Cornell Real Estate Club during their time at Cornell, they reminisced and further emphasized the importance of mentorship and taking advantage of the opportunities to hear from experienced speakers. With both having experience working with international deals, both women shared the benefits of getting to work with people and assets from all around the world. It has allowed them to make connections with countless people and provided knowledge about many other markets. For their insight on being in a male dominated industry, they highlighted to not be shy to speak up and ask any questions you may have especially early on. It is important to remember that diversity should not just be a statistic and that all around, diversity makes better decisions.

The final event in this semester’s CREC Women Coffee Chat series featured Dempsey Banks, a current analyst at Starwood Capital since 2019. She previously worked at Duff and Phelps in the advisory group where she realized she wanted more ownership. As an individual four years out of college, Ms. Banks was candid and shared her early experiences in her professional career. In regard to her experiences as a woman, she reflected that the world is changing, and women are beginning to be much more recognized in the field. Even so, it is important to not hesitate and speak up whenever you feel the need to. As a member of the CREC Women Advisory Board, she loves being a part of a strong network that advocates for all of its members. When discussing mentorship, Ms. Banks echoed that a mentor can be anyone and is not limited to a particular gender. We all need each other and can learn from each other regardless of our differences. She suggested that the first step to bridging any gap is starting the dialogue and creating awareness.

This CREC Women Coffee Chat Spring 2021 series embodied the CREC Women Advisory Board’s mission of advocating for greater equality and representation of women within the real estate industry by actively beginning an essential conversation. The series connected alumni with students to create a sense of mentorship that CREC aims to build. We hope to continue this series next semester and bridging the gap by continuing to connect alumni with students interested in the field of real estate.