Women of Influence 20th Anniversary Special
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This is an expanded version of an article that ran in the July/August 2013 issue of Real Estate Forum. To see the original story, click here.
Ask most people to name successful women in institutional real estate, you’d be hard-pressed not to find Collete English Dixon and Soultana Reigle on that list. Dixon, a principal with Prudential Real Estate Investors and co-leader of the firm’s national dispositions program, oversees a team that completed over $9 billion in portfolio asset sales since 2008. PREI managing director Reigle is responsible for defining and executing the investment strategy and portfolio management strategy for a $2.2-billion value-added real estate portfolio. Dixon and Reigle work in separate offices—Chicago and Madison, NJ, respectively—but they share a common cause, which is to help the industry diversify its ranks. They also share a unique relationship as part of an ad-hoc support system both to each other and other women looking to advance their careers.
SULE AYGOREN: Had you always pictured yourself with a career in commercial real estate?
COLLETE ENGLISH DIXON: This was not even a thought for me. I had no inkling of what this industry was about when I went to college. I actually went to college with the intent of becoming a lawyer, and wanted to be on the business side of law. So I got a business degree from the University of Notre Dame, decided at the last minute that maybe I needed to take a break and not really go to law school right away, and started looking for a job.
I went to a couple of job fairs, and I just ran into Prudential. So strangely enough, I’ve worked for the same company basically my entire career—doing a lot of different things, but the same blue rock has been on my business card since I got out of college. I really only intended to take this little gig for a couple of years and leave and go to law school, which had been my original plan. Somehow it didn’t quite work out that way.
SOULTANA REIGLE: My situation was also accidental in terms of getting into real estate. I started right after college, and the opportunity was an excellent hybrid between the two major pockets of jobs that were available at the time, which were either quantitative investment-banking-type opportunities or management consulting. There’s also a more tangible element to real estate; it is much more people-oriented and very relationship-based. That was really what drove that decision out of college.
AYGOREN: Commercial real estate has been and still is considered, to an extent, an old boys’ club. And maybe not so much in your field as it is for development or especially commercial brokerage, but did you encounter any challenges that you would attribute to your gender, be it any sort of bias or people underestimating you?
ENGLISH DIXON: I’ve been in this business a lot longer than I care to admit, and I have to acknowledge that the industry’s gone through a lot of changes in that time. I believe that my experience is probably impacted by both my ethnicity and my gender. Joining this industry in the early ‘80s as an African American female in the South was an interesting combination of things.
There were a lot of times when people were a little surprised when I showed up at meetings, not necessarily having met me before but having talked to me on the phone. Then suddenly I show up, and they’re thinking maybe I should be somebody’s admin assistant. It took being engaged and having support from the people I reported to that really allowed some of those surprised looks to at least be hidden better than they might have been initially.
But I do think that the industry still has a lot of challenges with respect to the advancement of women and taking some of the hurdles out of the way. CREW Network’s done a lot of work on this looking at the advancement of women and pay and career satisfaction, and the objective feedback says that there is a gap there, that women are not ascending to the top levels in parity to their representation and experience in the industry.
REIGLE: I’ve always been on the investment management side, so I have not personally experienced it. But men tend to dominate the industry, and as a result, there is by the nature of numbers, an imbalance that exists. What we’ve determined internally as well, when we have discussions regarding gender in the industry, is that some of what people may perceive as a gender bias, an old boys’ club, is a little more generational. As you get a new generation of leaders, that whole gender bias will continue to improve, just because it’s out of the network now.
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