Updated: Jun 24
WHERE INSTITUTIONAL REAL ESTATE MEETS UNPRECEDENTED FEMALE LEADERSHIP.
In recognition of Women’s History Month, in March 2021, Alliance Global Advisors connected with leading female investment officers from three of the world’s most influential investors. The institutional real estate sector is a place where the voices of female and diverse talent remain underserved. Today, Alliance is confident the industry is progressing as leaders are taking strides to improve Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
Heather Border and Jennifer Stevens, Co-Founders and Managing Partners of Alliance Global Advisors, continue to lead conversations with investors, investment managers and industry participants about the importance of building a diverse workforce. Recognizing that there are now more women investors, Jennifer and Heather are grateful to those who paved the path before them.
In addition to the dynamic women on Alliance’s Independent Advisory Board, Jennifer had the privilege of working alongside several influential female investment officers, consultants and investment managers over the last seventeen years. Jennifer noted her admiration for Chief Investment Officers such as Molly Murphy at Orange County Employees’ Retirement System, Liza Crisafi at San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System, Betty Tse from Alameda County Employees' Retirement Association and Janice Murphy at Kaiser Permanente – all left a lasting impact on her definition of success and determination to see more females and young women in investment and portfolio management roles. Some of the most challenging questions Jennifer faced as an investment consultant at Townsend were asked by women on the Boards or investment staff for leading global pension funds.
Heather recalls the impact of boardroom confidence, transparency and mentorship from Micolyn Magee at Townsend as defining moments in her career. Over the last 10-15 years, Heather witnessed the industry recognizing the female voice and thought process as essential to elevating investment management success, thus increasing the demand for female executives at every level. Heather believes in leading with transparency in all aspects of work to gain respect, trust and loyalty among industry leaders, and most importantly, mentorship, female leadership giving back time to female-focused organizations whose work supports those excited to continue to break barriers.
Alliance had the pleasure of discussing female leadership in investment with Julie Donegan, Real Estate Portfolio Manager at California State Teachers' Retirement System, Jennifer Wenzel, Investment Manager at Teacher Retirement System of Texas and Roberta Waxman-Lenz, Head of Real Assets at United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund. These women collectively represent real assets under management of approximately $62 Billion and have diverse backgrounds in consulting, investment selection and investment management. These attributes make them uniquely qualified to dive deeper into the topic of DEI in the workplace.
YOU HAVE MASTERED COMMUNICATION WITH BOARDS, THOUGHTFUL INVESTMENT SELECTION AND THE SPIRIT OF PARTNERSHIP IN YOUR CURRENT ROLE. WHAT SKILLS ARE MOST IMPORTANT IN STRIKING THE BALANCE NECESSARY TO BE A SMART INVESTOR, A GOOD NEGOTIATOR AND A COVETED PARTNER?
Julie Donegan: Being a smart investor, a good negotiator, and a coveted partner, to me, center around a very simple yet often overlooked skill – listening, truly listening. In my mind that means not “talking” in your head or preparing a response while someone else is speaking. It means taking the time to consider what is being said and why it is being said and acting accordingly. As a smart investor, it is important to understand what you don’t know and to listen to others who know more than you so that you can make good well-informed decisions. Being a good negotiator also requires listening skills and when combined with approaching negotiations with positive intent, meaning that you are seeking to find a solution that works for both parties, is usually a solid foundation for good negotiation. Regardless, if you don’t listen to what the other party is saying, you can miss key needs or goals from their end. And finally, in my view, a coveted partner is one where you have a solid level of trust and understanding. I believe this trust stems from someone who meets their commitments and that begins with fully understanding the other partner’s needs which also starts with listening – full circle, if you will.
Jennifer Wenzel: Being authentic and direct. Coming into difficult situations with curiosity. Keeping the bigger picture in mind. Knowing when to use the leverage of your position but also knowing how to stay humble.
Roberta Waxman-Lenz: As a starting point, the reputation of your institution truly provides you the platform as a coveted partner. Always keep in mind that your professional behavior contributes to your institution’s reputation. You are fulfilling a role on behalf of your constituents (e.g., the beneficiaries of a pension plan), and so you owe it to your institution to stand behind them and represent them well.
The negotiation process is a chance not only to ensure good terms for your organization, but also a chance to develop a relationship with your counterpart. It’s a dance that allows you to probe their integrity and their ability to be responsive to your organization’s needs. It also allows them to see the serious approach you take to managing your portfolio and each investment. Use the negotiation process to hammer out important terms; but also keep in mind the importance of asking questions to understand the underpinnings of your counterparty’s perspective.
WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WOULD HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY DURING YOUR CAREER, AND WHY?
Julie Donegan: At one point in my career, I left a firm because I felt that I was not being supported and that I did not have a voice at the company. I took the easier route of finding a different job and leaving. Looking back, I often wonder if I could have done something different in that situation. What if I took the initiative to have a conversation with my manager or those senior to my manager to express my feelings of not being supported and not being able to see a clear career path? I realize, in retrospect, that I should have had that conversation even if it was uncomfortable and made my voice heard. It is one of the reasons I am passionate about leading and having active conversations about career path progression in my current role. I am hoping to make a difference to someone who may be sitting where I was and help them navigate their career journey.
Jennifer Wenzel: Focus even more on people and relationships. Develop better systems for staying updated and keeping up with information overload.
Roberta Waxman-Lenz: Investing critically is a developed skill that starts with skepticism. We say we “peel back the layers of the onion” to analyze the viability and potential attractiveness and risks of an investment. One can dive into the transactional elements of investing and lose sight of the importance of the relationships in this business. If I were to change one thing in my approach to my career, I would have weighed more equally building out relationships at an earlier stage. Remember, you are always in service to others in this business, not only those you report to or those who benefit from your investments. You are also in service to all of the people with whom you work, at some level. Quality work is important, but equally so are the constituencies you are building within and outside your organization.
AS A FEMALE INVESTOR, WHICH CHALLENGES HAVE YOU OVERCOME AND WHICH STILL REMAIN FOR OUR INDUSTRY?
Julie Donegan: Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to ask women this question? I am hopeful that not too far from now it will be irrelevant if an investor is male or female or any other identifying characteristic and simply viewed as an investor. I am proud to be the first female portfolio manager in real estate but would rather be known as being a member of the team. I am buoyed by the diversity I see here at CalSTRS where our leadership team is 54% female, and more than half of our investment staff identify ethnicity other than white. I am seeing this progress in our industry, slowly but surely, change is happening. Investors should be asking themselves if their teams reflect the diversity of their constituents and the communities they serve. I truly believe those firms that embrace diversity and inclusion will perform better than those that don’t and ultimately that will change the face of our industry and by extension help to remove challenges for women in our industry.
Jennifer Wenzel: Learning how to navigate situations where being female can be embraced and used to my advantage versus when it felt like I needed to “fit in”.
Roberta Waxman-Lenz: To be heard at a meeting, bring your voice a notch lower and talk slowly. Gravitas carries a lot of weight in a room filled mostly with men (in the investment industry). Keep an ear out for opportunities to be supportive of a colleague during a discussion. Seconding the thoughts of a fellow employee (especially a woman) can go a long way in that point being heard. Keep in mind that it’s not the challenges that bring you down. How you navigate those challenges shows your grit and determination and moves you forward.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU OFFER WOMEN THAT ARE EARLY IN THEIR CAREER WHO SEEK TO ACHIEVE YOUR SUCCESS?
Julie Donegan: I would challenge women in the early years of their careers to take a risk and lean in when they may not think they are ready. It may be social conditioning, but I believe most women wait to apply for that next job or their dream job until they feel they are ready and have lots of experience. I have seen male colleagues take a risk and stretch when applying for jobs with the mindset that they can do it, or they will figure it out, even if they don’t have all the experience or training needed to fill the role. The “imposter syndrome” unfortunately seems to be alive and well. Just imagine if we as women did not hold ourselves back or opt-out due to our own choices or mindset – it would be amazing! I highly encourage women to take those risks and even if they are not successful, the process alone will teach them something that they would not have learned if they did not try.
Jennifer Wenzel: Try to understand the whole picture and how all the different sides of our business fit together. Stay positive. People will gravitate more to you if you are proactive and energetic.
Stay focused. There are always several directions you can take, but if you take on too many of them at once, clarity and quality suffer. The earlier you can “cut out the noise,” the sooner you can advance.
Curiosity as an approach to learning, conducting difficult conversations, and discerning solutions goes a long way.
Dig into the details and data to understand a project or investment from all angles, but stick to the larger picture when presenting. Senior people most often don’t want the details. They want complexity simplified.
SHARE YOUR SOURCES OF INSPIRATION –A MENTOR, A BOOK, A PHILOSOPHY?
Julie Donegan: I am inspired by so many people and experiences. I think of my Mother who spent many years working in the Aerospace industry and at a time when not many women were in the field. It was the dinner table conversations that, while I didn’t realize it at the time, helped to shape my world view – you can be a working mom and be successful. I am inspired by my Daughter who is a fearless competitor and athlete. Seeing the world through her eyes has taught me more than I could have imagined. Outside of my family, I am incredibly inspired by Ruth Bader Ginsburg and was saddened by her passing last year. “Fight for the things that you care about but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” I think of that statement often and reflect on how change, real and lasting change, can be made simply by following those words.
Pat Herron - commercial tenant rep broker I worked for in college- she showed me a model of a strong female in the business and was a TOUGH negotiator
Anne Raymond - same as above - calm confidence
Kyndel Bennett - not afraid to take on a challenge and come up with creative ideas, speak softly, but carry a big stick; inspired me to focus on philanthropy and involvement in my community
Steve LeBlanc - relentless in seeking knowledge - never get to the end of a conversation without him asking a question; embrace openness, candor and teamwork; big ideas and lead with the future in mind; focus on building people everyday
Britt Harris - 5 “F”s - Faith, Fitness, Friends, Family, Finances
Howard Marks letters
Evolve over time - try to think of life in phases and don’t get burned out
We are what we repeatedly do
Maya Angelou quotes
“The Adventure Continues” - where one door closes, another door opens
Gratitude, Grit, Kindness and Respect
Roberta Waxman-Lenz: We’ve all seen how important flexibility is as life and work situations perpetually change. With this in mind, don’t be afraid to re-invent yourself every few years. I’ve found this approach keeps you on your toes, enables you to take on new challenges, and builds on the skills you’ve acquired over the years.
A mentor in my life: Steve Furnary, Executive Chairman of Clarion Partners, has been a true mentor in the real estate industry and in business management. Over the years, he’s taken the time to have open and insightful conversations with me that have highlighted some of his successful approaches to working with peers, clients and even competitors. He’s been able to bring his company through several daunting situations with agility and integrity. We’ve discussed how important it is to listen to others, hear their concerns, and be responsive to these concerns. Steve has navigated difficult situations and made careful choices in selection of senior staff. He’s been generous enough to share his thoughts on how he’s built a strong business and insights into doingbusiness in general. I’ve greatly appreciated his mentoring.
Alliance Global Advisors looks forward to inspiring a new generation of talent and encouraging diverse portfolio management and leadership teams on both sides of the table. Thank you to Julie, Jennifer and Roberta for helping us do so!
ABOUT ALLIANCE GLOBAL ADVISORS
Alliance Global Advisors is a women-owned consulting firm focused on empowering the institutional investment community to elevate best practices. Advising clients with approximately $105 billion in assets under management, Alliance partners with organizations to provide an independent perspective and innovative approach to critical strategic initiatives. Our partnerships allow senior management teams to focus on what matters most: diligently managing client capital, creating value and delivering exceptional returns in a performance-driven market.
Disclaimer: This blog was originally published on April 15, 2021, and will be updated periodically to reflect changes in the industry. The content may contain or cite personal and/or professional opinions that differ from the views of Alliance Global Advisors.