Despite the fact that we are way past the Darwinian era, the phrase “Survival of the Fittest” has evolved into a metaphor of its own. For me, it holds relevance as a key element to navigate the rigors of a predominantly male influenced industry. I was always one to shy away from intimidating environments, so it was no surprise that when I decided to venture into the field of Commercial Real Estate, it was rather challenging.
Now, keeping in mind that I was a college sophomore when I made this decision, I faced not one, but two major challenges. I was a female novice in the field, in the midst of a transition from being in the comfort of my peers 24/7, to finding the ideal balance between academic excellence and long work hours in a cutthroat environment. At that point in time, in a fragile place, I felt as if I was facing the pressure of one mistake tanking my credibility. The question was what do I do here? How do I adapt and create a worthy presence in an environment that I don’t necessarily fit the traditional bill for? Here’s my take on it.
During my first interview, I felt as if the broker was impressed by my confident demeanor and enthusiasm to excel, but with a slight shadow of doubt. I was asked that if as a woman, would I be able to stick to a career in which I would have to work long hours and prioritize my job over everything else, even ten years from now when I would potentially have familial responsibilities? I was completely thrown off guard to say the least, but my insatiable need to prove a point and the fact that I was passionate about Commercial Real Estate fueled my strong work ethic moving forward. I made strategic changes in order to create a place for myself in the male dominated culture.
On the flipside, there were many times after that when imposter syndrome would creep up on me, and my confidence would be negatively affected. I’ve dealt with the uncomfortable stares, the comments, the questions, and the awkward flirtatiousness. I wish I could say all of those things didn’t bother me at all and I could bounce back completely unfazed, but that doesn’t always happen. Over time, I developed thick skin and learned to replace my nervous giggle with a firm and appropriate response. To remedy my feelings of isolation, I found it highly valuable to be around like-minded female mentors who had gone through similar experiences. I kept putting myself out there, asking for change, finding my niche, making mistakes and experiencing rejection. But there were also times when I let the discouragement and struggles keep me on my toes. Those were the days I was amazed by my own abilities, and that created an entirely new sense of appreciation for what I do.
Almost three years later, I’ve come to the realization that there’s no exact science to thrive in a male dominated field. Ultimately, I’ve learned to take the leap, use your most advantageous traits in your favor to instigate change, and unapologetically share your perspective.