“In most markets, women feel like they are joining a fraternity” with Jason Hartman & Shay Bolton

Given commercial real estate is male dominated, in most markets, women feel like they are joining a fraternity and sometimes that lifestyle is just not sustainable. You have to carve out your own niche and find the right allies. More often than not, women do not want to deal with the power struggle of trying […]

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Given commercial real estate is male dominated, in most markets, women feel like they are joining a fraternity and sometimes that lifestyle is just not sustainable. You have to carve out your own niche and find the right allies. More often than not, women do not want to deal with the power struggle of trying to fit into the boy’s club and end up choosing different career paths. It’s not always intentional, but once habits and bonds have been created, they are hard to infiltrate, and women tend have a harder time ‘fitting in’.

As a part of my series about strong women leaders of the Real Estate industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shay Bolton.

Shay Bolton is a managing director at Savills in Los Angeles, where she develops occupancy solutions that drive productivity and profitability. She represents companies across a variety of industry sectors, including technology, media and professional services, and works with many women-led organizations. Shay serves on Savills internal Building Inclusion and Diversity board and actively participates in numerous philanthropic and professional organizations, including The W Source, The Unstoppable Foundation and The ALS Association. Shay also serves as a board member for Boss Women Media Group and The XX Project. In 2019, Shay was named to the NextGen 10: Real Estate & Finance list by C-Suite Quarterly Magazine; the members of the class are the top 10 industry leaders under the age of 40 in LA and NY.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Real Estate industry?

Igrew up with a father in the commercial real estate industry in Phoenix, Arizona who always told me, “Girl, you’ve got the gift of the gab, you should in commercial real estate.” And with that, I let my persuasive father’s insight, shift my sought-after career in law to a career in commercial real estate; haven’t looked back since!

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

I predominately work with entertainment and tech companies, so we often interact with celebrities but my interaction with Rainn Wilson at SoulPancake’s office was far from normal. I had just been hired by Rainn’s co-founder, Shabnam Mogharabi, to represent SoulPancake in its relocation. I was beyond excited as I am a huge fan of the company and Rainn Wilson (biggest office fan of all time). During our first interaction, I was taking a sip of water and Rainn said something funny and I spit it out all over the table… my most amusing/embarrassing story thus far. He was obviously a good sport, but I now refrain from spit takes.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I’m always working on new projects! Every new client brings on an exciting opportunity to act as the real estate arm to any growing company. What I am most excited about this year is my advisory board position for Boss Women Media, an organization that set out to empower, support and connect black female entrepreneurs. I am extremely passionate about these women and this company, and I really believe it will help so many women looking to take their careers to the next level.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

As a company, historically, we advocate for tenants; our organization was created around fighting on behalf of occupiers of commercial real estate to insure there was no conflict of interest, unlike many of our competitors. That attitude has remained constant over the past years, and we continue to grow and expand our offering and capabilities to properly depict what we stand for.

That same energy and advocacy exists for our internal stakeholders as well. About two years ago, Savills launched an internal board geared towards building inclusion and diversity. I had the pleasure of being a part of this initiative and we have made impactful strides in how we recruit talent, share information, communicate internally and externally and what we support and sponsor outside of our organization. Last year, we hosted an event geared towards the empowerment of women, the goal was to create a safe space for our brokers to invite female clients and provide content on the importance of investing in diversity and inclusion. The co-founder of SoulPancake, Shabnam Mogharabi, came to speak to the group about why joy is good for business. This conversation sparked so many thought-provoking conversations between the men and women on the delicate nature of how we have historically communicated with one another, and the changes that need to happen in order to evolve. It was an honor to moderate this event and be a part of the change that we are creating as a community and a company.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

As I mentioned earlier, my father played a crucial role in my career pursuit, but what I didn’t mention is he has always acted as my mentor, cheerleader and voice of reason. I faced many hurdles in my career, I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the amount of times I wanted to give up… but my dad was always there to support me and guide in the right director during those challenging times. I’ve had several mentors, some that come and go, but each one has helped with building my brand and my story. Commercial real estate is a very difficult career for women, I strongly believe having strong male and female mentors will make or break this business for many people. Have as many mentors as you can, the more the merrier! It’s always good to have numerous leaders in your corner, you never know when you’ll need to lean on someone to help you up.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. The Real Estate industry, like the Veterinarian, Nursing and Public Relations fields, is a women dominated industry. Yet despite this, less than 20 percent of senior positions in Real Estate companies are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what do you think is the cause of this imbalance?

Given commercial real estate is male dominated, in most markets, women feel like they are joining a fraternity and sometimes that lifestyle is just not sustainable. You have to carve out your own niche and find the right allies. More often than not, women do not want to deal with the power struggle of trying to fit into the boy’s club and end up choosing different career paths. It’s not always intentional, but once habits and bonds have been created, they are hard to infiltrate, and women tend have a harder time ‘fitting in’.

What 3 things can be done by a) individuals b) companies and/or c) society to support greater gender balance going forward?

  1. Individually, people can make a more concerted effort to be inclusive to newcomers in the organization. Try inviting them to coffee, lunch, drinks — just make an effort to get to know them and introduce them to others.
  2. Companies should have a committee or designated position that acts as a diversity board or officer that puts internal initiatives in place and attempt to hire a diverse team with both men and women in junior and senior positions.
  3. As a community, supporting women’s causes/initiatives and being supportive of all voices is a small start to creating a more diverse and inclusive society.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I was once told by a female senior leader at a previous company that women have a 60-second head start when walking into a room. Given you’re likely the minority in the room, all eyes are on you. This gives you a great advantage (or disadvantage) depending how you play it. A male voice/opinion is typical in most meetings, but a female perspective is relatively rare in our industry. This tends to add an enormous amount of pressure to that voice, making everything you do or say examined with a magnifying glass.

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Real Estate industry?

  1. Technology- it is drastically shifting our industry and how we perform, scale and interpret data.
  2. Talent- there are so many ambitious individuals out there that are fascinated by this industry and want to put in the time and energy to build their own book of business and find new ways to be innovative.
  3. Movements- from #metoo to Black Lives Matter, these movements continue to shift our society and modify how companies do business and how they hire. It’s a positive change we will continue to see shape our industry.

Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?

  1. Diversity- but not just with men and women but diversity of thought — to be sure we align internally and externally with the changing landscape of businesses and business leaders.
  2. Mentorship- the lack of mentorship in our industry plays a huge role on why our community lacks diversity. From a female perspective, I think it’s advantageous for all organizations to match younger brokers with senior leaders, this type of push will definitely support over all retention.
  3. Conferences- CRE conferences can be quite dull in my opinion. I think we should be collaborating with other industries that we are working with on a daily basis to make these gatherings more productive and informative. There are so many new changes we are seeing in other industries that we could adopt that would make our industry more equipped and dynamic.

What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?

Communication and transparency. You need both in order to lead a team. Juniors and seniors within this industry need to be honest and clear with one another in order to make informed and thoughtful decisions. When you don’t operate as a unit, you risk losing credibility when your leaders are disorganized. Have a clear line of communication from the top to the bottom. You must create a culture where people feel comfortable giving honest feedback in order to grow.

Ok, here is the main question of our interview. You are a “Real Estate Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the Real Estate industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each?

  1. “Sleep on it”- our industry involves high stress situations that can elicit vehement responses. I always try to sleep on any strong feeling before reacting to ensure I am being thoughtful and levelheaded in my reply. I can’t tell you how many times I wished I had put more time into a response and taken the time to breathe and process. Try not to let your initial reaction dictate how you conduct your business.
  2. “You can’t win ’em all!” — working in a highly competitive industry, your instinct is to make sure you WIN every pitch and every deal, but that is not reality. That high energy, competitive spirit will get you far, but you have to be a good loser as well. Don’t let the losses weigh you down: learn from them, pick up and move on.
  3. “Don’t take yourself too seriously”- be able to laugh at yourself! This is a tough business; you have to surround yourself with like-minded individuals that make you laugh and provide you an outlet from some of the craziness. I used to beat myself up over things that were out of my control and it almost led to me quitting the business. It wasn’t until one of my senior mentors told me, “Quit taking life so seriously, no one gets out alive.” We both laughed and I moved on to something bigger and better.
  4. “You don’t know what you don’t know” — this was a tough one for me to grasp. I was used to having all the answers and being able to intelligently answer or explain any and all questions (aka a know-it-all). There are new advances in our business every day; we never stop learning. It’s ok to stop and ask for help; it’s much better to say you don’t know something than to fake it and pretend like you do. It rarely yields positive results.
  5. “Don’t speak just to hear the sound of your own voice” — At the beginning of my career, I used to think that I had to say something (anything) during a meeting so I felt like I was adding value. This was rarely the case. It’s important to be intentional when you speak if you want to be taken seriously.

Because of your position, you are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The movement I am working to inspire is geared toward bringing more diversity into our industry. Commercial real estate has historically been a good ol’ boys club. It’s time for a change. New blood, new ideas and new faces that inspire greatness. Industries all around us are changing how they view service providers and they want their organization to be represented. We can’t take an antiquated approach to bringing in new business. The creative innovators that we want to hire us are looking for brokerage companies that align in values and our clients want to see that we are diverse and inclusive and that we are open-minded in all that we do.

How can our readers follow you online?

Twitter — @ShayBoltonCRE

LinkedIn —

Instagram — @ShayBolton

Thank you for your time, and your excellent insights!

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