For Women’s History Month, March 2022, Duke Realty hosted a Q&A session with four of our top female market leaders — Nancy Shultz, regional president of Duke Realty’s West Region, Susan Bergdoll, senior vice president and regional leader for Duke Realty’s Chicago, Minneapolis and Indianapolis markets, Stephanie Rodriguez, senior vice president of Duke Realty’s Florida Region and Kate Ems, vice president of leasing and development, Indianapolis. The discussion centered on being a woman in what has historically been a male-dominated industry.
What is the best advice you have received that has made you a better leader?
Susan: The best advice I have ever heard actually came from my sweet mother-in-law who quoted Maya Angelou, poet and best-selling author. “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This is especially true for a business like Commercial Real Estate where so many deals are made through trusting relationships with brokers, tenants and fellow colleagues.
Stephanie: A mentor once told me that the best leaders listen. She told me to listen carefully, with no distractions, and without formulating your response. This is something I work on every day. Listening to customers you learn their needs and how you can meet them, listening to the people you manage you learn how you can help guide their careers and listening to company leaders and industry experts you can garner best practices.
Kate: When in doubt, do the loving thing in the loving way. So often we get caught up in reacting without really thinking of the consequences. However, if you think of how to react in a more thoughtful way, it gives you the time to slow down and react more generously for others.
What would you tell your younger self about building a career in a male-dominated industry?
Nancy: If I were doing it again, I would say being extra prepared certainly helps. And just closing your eyes and putting yourself into situations you don’t necessarily feel ready for is key. Trust in your intelligence and that you’ll make good decisions. If you make a bad one, you can always come back from that. Finally, be authentic. Don’t try to be something you’re not or fit into a man’s world socially when it’s not natural. There will always be opportunities to connect. ‘Persevere’ has always been the word in the back of my head driving me. I am pleased to have such a lasting career in a field that has a more diverse make up today than when I started.
Susan: Stay true to yourself and your brand. I chose this field knowing what it was like, so I never expected the industry to acquiesce to me. I adapted my behavior to fit in with the industry while still being true to myself.
Stephanie: I would tell myself to put my head down, be humble and open to learning, and not spend any time thinking about my gender. When you focus on being the best in your field or industry, then gender becomes irrelevant.
What makes this a great time in history to be a female leader?
Stephanie: Over the years, some very influential women paved the way for my generation. These women demonstrated that females could lead successful teams — helping create an acceptance of women in leadership roles. Organizations are now intentional about building diverse leadership teams. Women are now recruited and no longer an after-thought. This has opened up a world of opportunity for my generation and generations to come.
Nancy: The fact that women are no longer forging the path for the first time and breaking the glass ceiling makes it a great time in history to be a female leader. At this point in history, women can take leadership positions and it’s not a novel idea. They can spend more of their time and energy focused on the business at hand rather than devoting energy to overcoming bias on top of achieving their goals. As women and minorities take more leadership positions, and gender and race or ethnicity aren’t a consideration anymore, the world will simply benefit from the best of all leaders.
Susan: It’s comforting to know there are other women in the same position who can act as a resource to talk things out or even just vent. I love my Girl Gang!