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Negotiating the boys’ club

Catherine Carter

Property and construction is often considered a man’s job—whether that’s hard-hatted on site or networking and negotiating the next ‘big deal’.

But many women are challenging the male-centric ecosystem and demonstrating that, while women may take a different approach, they can add a valuable and unique dimension to the high octane world of property wheeling and dealing.

Belinda Hedley is a negotiator for CBRE. She admits that the sales and leasing arena has traditionally been a “boys’ club”, but that clients and customers are becoming more discerning.

“They are looking for solutions-driven, helpful professionals who are well educated, well informed and listen to their customers and clients,” Belinda says.

These skills apply to both men and women.

Increasingly, clients—particularly those in the public service—demand workforce diversity and want to collaborate with leasing agents that reflect their own workforces. When diversity is a driver, a sea of men in black suits no longer fits the bill.

Marcia Bowden agrees. A national leasing agent who heads up her own firm, Bowden Advisory Services, Marcia says that women bring valuable skills to the negotiation table.

“Women are better at listening, tend to leave their egos at the door, and they are good at building long-term relationships—all essential in a good leasing agent,” Marcia explains.

Women are also great communicators and negotiators, employing ‘soft power’ where might and muscle don’t work.

“In general, woman are more intuitive, which positions them better in negotiations,” argues Knight Frank’s Director Nicola Cooper.

JLL’s National Leasing Manager, Amy Castro, uses her “mediation skills and intuition at the negotiating table rather than brute force. And I collaborate. It’s a different mindset.”

Amy has honed her highly-developed negotiation skills both in the field and as a mother of two young children, suggesting that motherhood is the perfect training ground for the challenging world of commercial real estate.

“As a mother, I hope for the best but prepare for the worst and I assume final, complete accountability for the results,” she says.

“There are many symmetries between this and a good or bad leasing deal – I am with my clients for the long-term and I need to have intimate knowledge of their drivers for success,” she says. Amy also says that, while many of her male colleagues “focus on the dollar values for a one off deal”, she looks at the big picture.

Relationship building—something women are often adept at—is essential in the leasing game. But it’s less about bar hopping and more about establishing long-term connections.

“Clients connect with us on a different level to our male counterparts. We tend to interact on a personal level—it’s all about ‘how’s your family’ instead of ‘let’s go and have a beer’,” Marcia explains.

“But ultimately, if you can’t deliver the goods, it doesn’t matter how good your relationships are.”

It’s a tough game, and “not a profession for shrinking violets—whether you’re a man or a woman,” Marcia warns. But success is possible, provided you are, as Belinda Hedley says, “thick-skinned, strong, focussed and love what you do.”

Catherine Carter is ACT Executive Director of the Property Council of Australia

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Catherine Carter

A lover of books and beauty, a seasoned traveller and a creative thinker, Catherine is passionate about Canberra. Head of the Property Council of Australia’s Canberra office for more than a decade, Catherine now heads up Indigo Consulting Australia where she provides specialist business and communication advisory services with a focus on urban environments, new forms of collaboration, community building and diversity. Catherine was the recipient of the Telstra Business Women’s ACT Community and Government Award in 2010, and the National Association of Women in Construction Crystal Vision Award in 2017. More about the Author

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