Last week, I was invited to be a panelist at an industry educational event, where the topic was land development and brokerage. I have had extensive experience on both the development side and the broker side of land transactions and build to suits, and was asked to weigh in by sharing my perspective from both sides. The moderator, Nancy Surak, did a great job and her insightful questions elicited great information from all three panelists, and great questions from the audience. I was in fine company, joining JD. Porter/ Wiregrass Ranch and JP of the Sembler company.

A longtime friend was in the audience and asked me a question that nearly left me flat footed. Basically speechless. Her question was, “What advice would you give young women entering the business, which remains male dominated, even in 2016?”

I literally was silent for what seemed like five minutes. All the while, I was sifting through the variety of visceral responses I could speak about, and jettisoning many of them as I considered the audience and the circumstance where I was speaking. My chosen answer: bring a man with you to all meetings and presentations. Try not to go solo, and don’t bring another woman. My reasons were simple: two eyes and ears are better than one, and mixed gender teams have higher probability for the prospect of connecting with either the male or the female on the team.

Later that day, my friend said she was surprised by my response, having anticipated I would demystify this question with a more feminist angle. Rather, I shared my most successful adaptation that I know will yield results, for nearly all women in commercial real estate, and per chance, in most business situations.

It’s a few days later and I have replayed these few minutes over and over. Given the appropriate forum, here are the points I would emphasize to anyone that might ask that question again:

1. Go for it.

Don’t wait until you are fully qualified for a position or an assignment. You are resourceful and can find the missing information, data, person, etc with ease. Believe in yourself and say yes, without hesitation.

2. Wear feminine clothes.

The right kind of feminine clothes. Beautiful well-fitting clothes on a well-groomed woman will usually get you through the door. Play your feminine card in all the right ways. Don’t cross the line, and know where that line is at all times.

3. Don’t take poor behavior on the part of a colleague sitting down.

Sexual harassment takes many forms and in today’s world, nearly everyone has been exposed to training along these lines. Many managers will turn a blind eye, don’t allow them to brush this off. In my world, this also comes in the overt form of being taken off a promising listing, or having your share of the fee reduced without your consent. Not fair and everyone involved knows it.

4. Hold your ground.

I tell my two daughters that when you stand for something, you stand for it. Principles are not a sometimes thing, they are an always thing. So, if you find something needs changing, step up and do the heavy lifting. Back in 1997, I found myself in a very uncomfortable situation. I was rejected for membership in a prestigious real estate organization. They claimed I conducted myself in an unethical manner as reported by fellow real estate brokers in my market. I had been called aggressive, assertive and a whole host of other adjectives, yet unethical was never one of them. I asked for clarification from the membership approval committee, and they said they did not open the file once someone had been rejected. I appealed to their sense of fairness and encouraged them to back up the claim. They agreed to open an inquiry, the first time something of this nature had been given its due. This process of exploration and clarification took about 8 months, with both me and the organization sharing a variety of details with one another. At the end of the day, the organization transformed their application and approval process, reducing the weight of input provided by peer brokers.

Apparently, there had been many other complaints about the process and end results that warranted a wholesale change. I was approved for membership and was an active, vibrant participant in that organization for many years, adding to the prestigious reputation of its members. In fact, once I was attending one of the national meetings and two male brokers were seated at my table. They were whispering between themselves and then asked me if I was THE Nancy, the one that had raised the questions about membership qualifications. I chuckled to myself and then said yes, that was me. They both thanked me, sincerely, for having the mettle to take on the topic. They agreed it was long overdue and repeated their thanks.

5. Join or create a mastermind group.

In its purest form, a mastermind group is an informal board of directors, probing for and solving some of your most daunting business challenges. The most popular model is a group comprised of up to 6 people, preferably not in your same industry, who meet once a month for about 2 hours. One of the members is the focus member of the month and as the focus member, you select a topic that resonates with you for lively discussion, fellow member input and action steps to be enacted in the next 30 days. This group tends to become a wonderful personal support group as well. Being part of a high level group like this has huge advantages, that repeat nearly every month that you participate. It is hard to hide in a mastermind group, so expect to be held accountable every month. It’s like having a date to go to the gym: you don’t want to disappoint your work out partner, and you grow stronger by doing the work out. Same results in a mastermind group.

6. Join or create a networking group.

I have participated in networking groups since the first year I was in business. One of my largest transactions, ever ,came from meeting someone at my very first networking meeting and receiving a referral to a company that wanted to build a 30,000 SF office/warehouse on 5 acres for a distribution center. That client wound up being Zephyrhills Bottled Water, a division of Perrier; they still occupy that facility, some 29 years later.
Networking groups don’t always produce a viable lead every month, or every six months. So why do it? Mainly, it’s because you can surround yourself with the highest caliber professional from a variety of complementary businesses, that will enable you to better serve your client. In my world, I affiliate with an insurance broker, a telecom provider, an office furniture dealer, a moving and storage company, a general contractor, a commercial lender. You get the picture: I match up with nearly everyone in my group, as my own real estate process progresses. I am thrilled to refer these partners to my clients, and do so willingly, as they deliver beyond expectation.

7. Be a lifetime Learner.

What are you reading? What are your colleagues reading? Here are three of my favorites books, two for business and one for real life. Read the book Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office 101. This book is about unconscious mistakes women make and how to avoid them by Dr. Lois Frankel. This is the Bible for all working women! Read it now and read it again every year. This book has great answers on how to get out of fetching coffee for the group and cleaning the conference room after meetings. Plus, how to ask for more pay, a promotion, and bigger assignments with skill and poise.

And Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg, Women, Work and the Will to Lead. This book was terrific, I was cheering as I read it. Finally, a book written by a business woman willing to put all of the modern working women issues into one book. It is comprehensive and compelling. The last book is indeed one of my favorites. It is the book that balances our work lives with being a daughter, a sister, a wife, and a mother. A Gift From the Sea by Ann Morrow Lindbergh. After you read it, let’s have coffee! I want to know which chapter you liked the most.

8. Find out where your line is.

As in, where is the line you cannot cross without losing it! I tell my daughters to envision their day like a rope; tie a knot in the rope at 75% of its length. When you get to that point, it’s time to start shedding non-essential items on your to do list. Or delegate those items. No one ever needs to go to the end of their rope. Knowing where your 75% mark is provides an early warning to you, so you can recalculate what’s in front of you. Of course there are going to be those times when you have no choice and will be overwhelmed for a while. Try to minimize those times!

9. Learn to Meditate.

Life will be overwhelming at times and meditation can often reduce the stress. I learned TM a few years ago, and aim to make it a regular activity in my day. Learn to nap, as a 10-20 power nap can be critical to your mental and physical health. Try both! This is one of those ideas where you have to slow down to speed up! Think about it.

10. Join a Board.

Get involved in the community by joining a board of a local non-for profit, as a way of giving back. You may think that you are too busy to even complete the work at hand, and are reluctant to add this to the already long list of To Do’s. I wish I had done this sooner in my career, as I missed out on some really great experiences. Cultivating leadership skills ought to begin immediately. The benefits from assisting the organization, growing new relationships and growing yourself far outweigh the extra time spent to get involved.

11. Pick your lifetime mate carefully.

It is the most important decision of your life. Sheryl Sandberg makes this point in her book and I want to call your attention to that chapter. Read it twice.