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Sustainable Communities Thought Leadership

Women in the Workforce and Why it Matters: Recognizing The Leaders

By: Malory Atkinson (Shear Structural) and Delilah Wynn-Brown (HJ Russell & Company)

In real estate terms, the pandemic has been called “the great accelerant”, accelerating trends already underway leading up to 2020.  Whether it was a shift away from brick and mortar retail, the shift toward suburban town centers, or the affordable housing shortage, the pandemic created an environment where these trends expanded and moved much more quickly.  

There is one aspect in real estate and the economy more broadly, however, where we have a reversal and not an accelerant – women’s participation it the labor force and growth in leadership positions specifically. During the last half century and up until 18 months ago, women made huge strides in workforce participation rates. The New York Times recently wrote that for the first time in history, in January 2020 women made up more of the workforce than men – a statistic that was soon erased as over 5 million women were forced to leave the workforce to attend to family commitments at the onset of the pandemic. 

These headwinds come at a time when companies are facing unprecedented labor and talent shortages, which could be a prime opportunity for women to further advance their careers, particularly in real estate.

How we talk about and represent these issues are critically important in finding solutions. This is why forums like ULI’s Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) exist to give visibility to women in leadership positions in real estate industry, which in turn helps create a more diverse and inclusive industry where all women and minority groups can be heard, seen, and have their expertise and professional contributions valued.

The needle is moving in the right direction, albeit slowly because dismantling decades of cultural norms around women and leadership will take time. And if you ever questioned what the glass ceiling is – take a look at the NAREIM Diversity & Inclusion Survey 2021 which shows this invisible barrier more clearly. 

Of the women who enter the real estate industry at a junior or mid-career level – only a small fraction of those women attain senior and executive leadership positions. Taking a glass half full approach, very small gains were made between 2017 and 2021 of women in executive leadership roles and this is even with a historic exodus of women leaving the workforce during the pandemic. 

So the importance of ULI Atlanta’s WLI launching The Leaders in 2020 was a way to acknowledge and shed light to some of these systemic barriers as well as celebrate women who have made extraordinary contributions to their city and community in real estate, land use, urban planning, and housing. 

The intention is simple – to increase the presence of women in the real estate and land use industry, especially in leadership positions and board rooms, as speakers at industry conferences, subject matter experts and everything in between.

ULI Atlanta’s first cohort recognized seasoned industry giants and helped amplify mid-career professionals and emerging leaders from across the Atlanta district council 

Following in the first cohort’s footsteps, we are excited to introduce the second cohort of The Leaders 2021:

Full Name Company Title
Aisha Thomas AJT Law  Commercial Real Estate Attorney/Principal Broker
Ashani O’Mard Atlanta Affordable Housing Fund Executive Director
Audra Cunningham T. Dallas Smith & Company, LLC Executive Vice President & Chief Administrative Officer
Beth McMillan Atlanta BeltLine, Inc Vice President, Planning, Engagement & Art
Cheneé Joseph Historic District Development Corporation Executive Director
Eloisa Klementich Invest Atlanta President and CEO
Jeanie Hunter Synergy Construction  CEO and Co-Founder
Jennifer Owens Columbia Residential Vice President of Resident Services
Jessica Toal ASD | SKY Principal and Vice President
Jodi Selvey Colliers Senior Vice President and Principal
Karen Jenkins Shear Structural Co-Founder and Managing Partner
Liz Martin-Malikian Kennesaw State University Professor of Architecture
Maria Mollise Weissman PC Director of Commercial Real Estate
Maribel Koella NAI Koella | RM Moore Principal Broker
Mary Beth Cuttshall HVMG Executive Vice President & Chief Development Officer
Natallie Keiser Annie E. Casey Foundation Senior Associate, Community Economic Development
Pamela Smith Smith Real Estate Services, Inc. President and CEO
Sandra Zayac Arnall Golden Gregory LLP Partner
Sharon D. Guest The Vecino Group President, Affordable Housing
Terri Lee Atlanta Housing Chief Operating Officer
Traci Carusi Collins Cooper Carusi Architects President and CEO
Alena Green Central Atlanta Progress  Senior Project Manager, Economic Development
Alexandra Kirk Jamestown LP Development Manager
Ashley Jones Microsoft Community Program Manager
Mandy Eidson Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership (ANDP) Senior Manager
Shirlynn Fortson City of Brookhaven Economic Development Director

Our sincerest hope is that these women will become a beacon for others. By amplifying their work – ULI can help to change the perception of an entire industry for underrepresented groups  and create a more diverse table at which to sit.


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  1. Jimmy Jefferson September 29, 2021 1:08 pm

    I am a recovering addict. I have 6 years clean. I am working and would like to have my own residence. Please contact with some information on how I can get housing in the Atlanta area.Report


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