In celebration of the accomplishments of our female leaders, we sat down with Barbara Liberatore Black who is part of JLL’s leadership in South Florida to kick off our “Breaking Through” series. Quarterly “Breaking Through” articles will feature JLL’s leading women professionals providing mentorship advice to women in business.
When Barbara got her start in commercial real estate in the 1980s, women in her industry were a rare breed. At the time, a small number of commercial brokers nationally were female and bias against women was common in the workplace.
Since then, Barbara has overcome the odds on the way to building a successful business, counseling large international corporations doing business in South Florida, and achieving a leadership role with one of the world’s largest commercial real estate firms.
Barbara co-founded Cresa South Florida in the late 1980s and grew the boutique to become the region’s preeminent tenant advisory firm over 30 years, leading up to the firm’s sale to JLL in late 2015. Her focus on advising clients in finance, law, healthcare, education, tourism and banking has resulted in office lease transactions totaling more than 10 million square feet and valued at $3 billion.
Barbara has confronted gender bias head-on throughout her career and acknowledges that there’s a great deal of work to be done. Still, she points to her own career as proof that determination, smarts and thick skin can go a long way toward paving the road to success in a field that remains dominated by men.
Q: You got into a career dominated by men in the early 80s, when women in commercial real estate were a rarity. Did you face obstacles based on your gender?
Gender bias in commercial real estate hit me even before I launched my career. When I applied for my first brokerage job after earning my real estate license in Washington DC, the manager who interviewed me made it clear he would hire me were it not for my upcoming wedding. He felt I would always be distracted by my personal life and encouraged me to focus on my family. I pushed back and he offered me a job as a secretary, but I went on to join another company. Years later, he found out I was getting divorced and called to offer me a brokerage position.
Women brokers were virtually non-existent in commercial real estate in the 1980s. We made up a very small percentage of the industry nationally, and even less in South Florida. When I arrived in Miami, there was one woman in residential real estate moving into commercial, but I was the only female on the commercial side. We’ve come a long way as an industry, though challenges still exist.
Q: Do you think today’s young female professionals still face gender bias on a widespread basis?
Absolutely, bias is still evident in business and it’s by no means limited to real estate. I recently took part in an event organized by CREW-Miami (Commercial Real Estate Women) that explored gender bias in the real estate and legal professions. A study by the Florida Bar earlier this year found that 43 percent of young women lawyers had experienced gender discrimination during their career. That’s a staggering number in 2016.
Eliminating this inequality has to begin at the top, with executives first acknowledging the problem and then working together with their male and female colleagues to phase it out. Solutions like equal pay for all employees, mentoring initiatives and workplace diversity programs can all go a long way. Companies must realize that failing to address bias means risking the loss of talent, which is the greatest asset for many businesses. In other words, every company and every industry has an incentive to get this right.
Q: What advice do you have for young — or more experienced– professional women to grow their careers?
Throughout my career, I’ve seen first-hand how mentorship can make an incredible difference in helping women grow and reach leadership positions. At the time I started in real estate, my mentor was a man. He gave me valuable advice that helped shape my career, and I now put a good share of my time into coaching younger team members at JLL. I recommend finding that mentor — whether it’s a man or woman — early on.
The advice I pass along to women includes taking time to learn and understand the business that you are in as well (or better) than your male counterparts, approaching business interactions with a firm handshake, and avoiding laughing at inappropriate jokes. When someone puts you down or criticizes you, overcome the adversity with facts and knowledge.
Q: What’s the best advice you ever received?
Just be yourself. If you believe you are doing the right thing, then don’t question yourself. My daughter, Katie, does this better than I do – if it doesn’t feel like the right thing to do, then move on.
Q: What did you learn the hard way that you wished someone had told you?
I grew up thinking that the world was black and white. I came to learn that there are grey areas in life and business, and that has made things easier.
Barbara Liberatore Black is a Managing Director of JLL since December 2015. Prior to joining JLL Brokerage, Barbara was one of four Founding Partners of Cresa nationally. Barbara began this career in 1980, specializing in tenant representation and handling the real estate needs of tenants. Contact Barbara.