"Unconscious bias creeps into every workplace. Although barriers to being welcome and included still exist, it is up to the individual to embrace similarities with colleagues even when they point out differences," says Colliers' Valerie Tatum.
Valerie Tatum is a senior research associate for Colliers’ Central & West Florida markets and has spent 22 years in the commercial real estate industry, with more than 15 years focused on research. Tatum is an active member of Colliers’ Women’s Network and the Black Professionals Network Group, and she mentors women and people of color in the commercial real estate industry.
This company’s community culture, supportive leaders and commitment to diversity and inclusion breed an environment of accepting an individual’s unique qualities. I started my career in CRE more than 20 years ago, and in my current role, my company’s support in mentoring, training and goal-setting gives me added opportunity for growth and development. In addition, I have excellent access to programs, courses and one-on-one time with upper management to learn more about business development. These significant benefits and drivers feed into my sense of purpose and value.
What has been the biggest challenge in your particular role? As Colliers’ senior research associate for Central and West Florida, one of the biggest
challenges I face is gathering, sharing and consolidating meaningful data across multiple markets to collect higher-quality insights faster. Solution: Since starting at Colliers in 2021, I continue to work toward establishing a culture of data, creating collaboration through multiple sources and bringing that data into a centralized data hub. This will give faster turnaround to brokers and clients expecting to receive actionable and insightful research to make quick and informed decisions.
What is the best piece of advice you have received that has helped you succeed in your industry?
A leader told me, “As long as you are passionate about a certain thing, never stop raising your hand; eventually, someone will see it.” That is how I continue to navigate my career. Not shying away from opportunities, I will raise my hand whether I am fully qualified for them or not. These opportunities have led to me being an active member of Colliers’ Women’s Network and the Black Professionals Network Group (BPNG). As a part of the BPNG, I have mentored several Colliers team members on topics such as career goals, issues of being diverse within the field and industry changes for diverse groups, which is a passion of mine. With other organizations, I’ve also been co-chair for a women in CRE group, was one of 50 participants chosen as part of a global mentorship program, was chair of an African Americans in CRE group, and have had many other opportunities that allowed me to network with people worldwide.
Would you advise any younger person to begin a career in CRE?
I would advise a younger person considering a CRE career that the environment is better today than when I started, but having a mentor within the field is still essential to help you connect with others, set goals and determine business strategy. For African American women and other unrepresented groups, there is often a mismatch between the perception of racial equality and the reality when working in a corporate environment. Unconscious bias creeps into every workplace. Although barriers to being welcome and included still exist, it is up to the individual to embrace similarities with colleagues even when they point out differences. To be successful in the corporate environment, you must have grit, backbone and determination.
Please share with us a surprising component about your journey.
One of my biggest challenges working in this industry has been getting people comfortable with me and not the world’s preconceived image or implicit biases of me as an African American female. This step, unfortunately, is necessary before I can effectively do my job and compete on the same level as my peers. African Americans are unrepresented in CRE, and that lack of diversity comes with added attention and judgment on your abilities. Rarely do you receive the benefit of the doubt, but more often, the expectation is that you overperform to prove your worth.
Where would you say commercial real estate needs to improve for women?
I have seen many women in CRE leave brokerage and go into leadership roles as Managing Directors or VPs at other types of companies, a trend I believe will continue. However, improvement for African American women will take more time, because decision-makers in CRE tend to hire people with a similar background and who look like them. To help encourage more diversity in the industry, I’ve worked with historically Black universities, meeting with faculty and staff to educate them on the many opportunities that exist in the field beyond brokerage.
How can women better position themselves for success both in general and in your specific area of focus?
Remain open to job positions. I started my career as a broker assistant, researching land sites for my CRE broker. Then, I took those skills into appraising, brokerage and data analytics jobs. Also, look for creative ways to get the attention and earn the respect of bosses, peers and clients. Earlier in my career, I did this by attending zoning, development and community meetings in my off-time and gathering key data that my bosses needed to make sound decisions. I also took a golfing class at a community college so there was no excuse not to invite me to business get-togethers on the golf course.
What, in particular, can women bring to the table and the industry comes out of the COVID-19 crisis?
During COVID, women utilized their natural ability to multi-task when everyone worked out of the house, including taking care of school-age children. The ability to work on multiple projects and juggle conflicting priorities is a valuable skill in the CRE industry.