Women have a large presence in affordable housing. They’re developers, policymakers, advocates, and finance executives. Their overall numbers may not be large, but their impact is huge.
In recognition of that fact, Affordable Housing Finance, for the second year, profiles 10 women who are shaking up the industry, taking on the challenges of turning empty land into homes, assembling billions of dollars in funding, and pushing for key policy changes.
While women are gaining ground in the male-dominated field of real estate, the majority still experience advancement barriers, including gender bias, according to a white paper released by the Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) Network at the end of 2016. Women in the study reported that a lack of mentorship is their No. 1 barrier to success.
We asked several of this year’s influential women to share their best career advice. Their widsom is good for men and women alike.
“It’s the same advice I give to my daughters: Keep pushing and make someone else tell you no,” says Joan Dawson McConnon, co-founder of Philadelphia’s Project HOME. “Find a way to break down the barrier.”
“You have to have flexibility and creativity because there is a science to affordable housing, but there’s also a lot of art to it. Whether it’s affordable housing for the nonhomeless or folks experiencing homelessness, it has to be centered around the person. It has to be rooted in dignity of the human person, their potential, and their vision for themselves.”
To succeed in this field, one can’t take shortcuts when it comes to knowledge, notes another.
“If you don’t have the hard skills, such as finance, accounting, and economics, you should really take time to go get them,” says Mary Tingerthal, head of the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency. “If you don’t have those skills, you won’t have the same ability … to understand how affordable housing fits within the larger housing industry.”
Several women echoed the importance of doing a job you love.
“Do what you love—follow your path,” says Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “The more you’re able to align your work with your deepest values and goals, the greater your impact.”