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How Female Leaders Can Create a Workplace Where Women Thrive

By Wanda Riley, Managing Principal, Orlando & Jacksonville

Twenty years ago, or even 10 years ago, you would be hard-pressed to find a majority-female management team in a corporate environment, especially in such a historically male-dominated industry as commercial real estate.  

In Florida, where Cushman & Wakefield has eight offices and more than 800 employees, we are proud to have a statewide leadership team that is 60 percent female. Our team serves as proof that women can excel to senior-level positions, especially when other women in leadership are there to support them.  

It took work to get here.   

While times are changing, women are still disproportionately represented in leadership roles when compared to men. According to the Center for American Progress, women make up 44 percent of the overall S&P 500 labor force, yet they comprise only 25 percent of executive and senior-level management positions, and just six percent of CEOs.  

These disparities are routed in systemic biases that our society isn’t going to overcome overnight. However, there are things women currently in positions of power can do to help level the playing field for others. 

One of the most effective leadership strategies I’ve picked up in my 20-year career with Cushman & Wakefield is the act of sponsorship.    

While a mentor is someone who can give advice and guidance, a sponsor has a seat at the table and can actively help other women advance by advocating for their skills and accomplishments. A sponsor can also push to hire, retain and promote more diverse talent, thereby making a direct impact in the opportunities afforded to women at their company. 

Sponsorship does not have to be a formal process. It can involve anything from making sure an eligible female employee is not overlooked for a promotion, to taking a moment to recognize a woman colleague for an achievement at a management meeting. 

Because of the way women are perceived in the workplace, we don’t always feel as comfortable talking about our own successes as men do. Sometimes we need another person to come in with the assist and advocate our achievements for us. Doing so not only helps a woman get the recognition she deserves, but can also help build her confidence, so soon enough she may find the courage to advocate for herself. 

Another way in which leaders can empower other women in the workplace is through “transformational leadership.” This hands-on style of leadership is based on offering guidance and encouragement to help employees grow, instead of simply giving orders and expecting results. Transformational leaders serve as role models who lead by example, emphasize teamwork and open communication, and invest time into coaching their team members.  

Transformational leadership contrasts with “transactional leadership,” which focuses solely on results and less on the individual development of employees. According to the Huffington Post, research shows transformational leadership is more effective in people-centered work environments, which is especially helpful in the commercial real estate industry, where people and relationships are everything. While both women and men can benefit from this approach, it’s simply another way to ensure women feel equally motivated and empowered as men in the workplace.  

Finally, women in leadership roles can help female colleagues thrive by fostering the creation of peer networks. Whether you’re already in a senior position, or just starting out in your career, everyone can benefit from having a network of other women to lean on for support.  

The Women’s Integrated Network (WIN) at Cushman & Wakefield is an excellent example of an internal platform that helps develop and support the talents of women through educational programming and networking opportunities. Leaders can also encourage employees to get involved with outside organizations that focus on the advancement of women. Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) is a great example within the real estate industry of an organization where women can go to find peers with similar career experiences and challenges.  

It won’t be long a before a majority-female management team is viewed as less of a feat and more as a given. We’ll get there faster by supporting each other. So, when you take your seat at the table, save a seat next to you for the next female leader.  

Ms. Riley serves as the Managing Principal for Cushman & Wakefield’s Orlando and Jacksonville offices, as well as the statewide Director of Brokerage Services & Operations for the firm in Florida. She oversees strategic growth and business development efforts for all aspects of the firm’s business in the Central and North Florida markets, while also ensuring the profitability and effective infrastructure of Cushman & Wakefield’s $150M Florida operation, comprising 800+ professionals in eight offices. 

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