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Chair of the Month

Elise Shapiro
Elise Shapirohttps://www.workdesign.com
Elise Shapiro is a contributing editor. Little did she know that her first job, in the facilities department at Ralston Purina, while obtaining her M. Arch at Washington University, in St. Louis would foreshadow where her career would lead. She has always been a strong advocate for providing the best possible spaces for people to work – where aesthetics meet function and drive business success.

International Women’s Day is today, March 8th, but the #BalanceforBetter campaign runs all year long. Additionally, in the US, March is Women’s History Month.

Historically, women have been outnumbered in all fields related to architecture, design, construction and facilities. Yet there are stories where the norm is now inclusive, and women are accelerating their positions of authority and managing to change the balance in our industry. A comprehensive benchmark study released in 2015, the third in a series by the CREW Network noted although there had been advances for women in the commercial real estate industry there is still room for improvement where inequalities still exist.

WDM likes to present the positive aspects of this issue. We wanted to know more about  the team from Equity Office that is managing the repositioning of the Willis Tower in Chicago. The size of the scale of the project is large, by any standards, but what is interesting is that the team leading the effort is predominantly female. How did that happen, and how does the team view this in the context of what is happening with the position of women in the industry, in general?

We had the opportunity to go right to the source and ask EQ Office CEO Lisa Picard about her journey to the C-suite and how her “girl-powered” team is advancing the role of women in construction and commercial real estate. Lisa is President and Chief Executive Officer of EQ Office, where she leads culture, vision and strategy for the company. She is passionate about curating great spaces that maximize human potential, particularly in this age of rapid automation and technological advancements. As CEO, Lisa drives the strategic direction for the organization, inspires her team to find creative solutions that challenge past assumptions and helps customers identify new pathways for success.

Lisa Picard, CEO EQ Office

The gender gap in Commercial Real Estate, (Construction, Architecture, etc.) is narrowing but is still there. What do you think are the main factors that are helping narrow the gap?

Historically real estate decisions were made by the C-suite of organizations and these positions were largely held by one demographic. As the face of business leadership is shifting to include more women and minorities, so are those in real estate. When I first entered the commercial real estate industry, I certainly worked to “fit in,” dress and talk like my male counterparts. Fortunately, I had several amazing mentors that helped me see the power in my voice, my style and point of view. More women are realizing the diverse and unique perspective they bring to the real estate discussion, and are shaping the world we work in.

From your own perspective, what do you think has been the one thing that has pushed your career trajectory to your current position?

I can’t stress how important it is to surround yourself with people who teach you things and allow yourself to be open to them. My parents placed no limitations on me or my world. But mostly, it was that moment I asked the CEO of the company why he was mentoring me. He turned to me and said, “Are you kidding? Mentoring someone who will be CEO of this company someday is a great honor.” What a gift he was in not only seeing the seed that could be the tree, but helping the seed see it too.

What are three key things women starting out in this field should be aware of in order to negotiate their way to the top of the ladder? 

The biggest limits I’ve found in women reaching or seeking elevated positions is not adopting their own belief in their pattern of speaking they carry around a position. When you don’t believe it, no one else does either. Second, always be moving forward. I used to race road bicycles and my coach said to me If you aren’t moving ahead, you are falling behind. And finally, don’t fall in love with your own ideas. In the end, it does not matter what you think. It matters what the customer thinks.

Commercial Real Estate (and Construction – related industries) can be a tough business. How do you think the increased presence of women in management positions has changed or is changing the industry?

The first city building really was something militaries performed. The language used in our profession still seems to come from the battlefield as we talk about going to war, executing documents, blowing up the deal, killing the schedule, etc. Having diverse populations enter the workforce has changed the language and thus, the way of being. My leadership at EQ remains focused on servicing the market, specifically what we can do to attract, retain and inspire talent. This requires an ability to listen, understand and empathize, which is the creative process. Having women at the table is increasing the innovative outputs.

Where do you think the best options are for career opportunities and growth for women in our industry?

I don’t think there is a limit to where women can be best. Having diverse experiences helps to solve the problems of today at all levels and all sectors of the industry. Believing you can be the best and tirelessly driving towards it is the key.

If you could give your younger self any advice upon embarking on a career, what would that be?

When you work in real estate, what you put into the environment affects people. It changes the environment and you must care. You have an obligation to the people and your surroundings. This is where I’ve been known to say…you need to give a shit.

What is your favorite part of the Willis Tower project?

My favorite part of the Willis Tower project is the addition of Catalog, which is a nod to the Sears Roebuck Company, who developed and opened the Tower in 1973. Catalog is a five-story dining, retail and immersive-entertainment experience, located at the base of Willis Tower – call it a catalog of life; a new major urban destination in the heart of Chicago.

A bird’s eye view of the five-story dining, retail and immersive-entertainment experience, located at the base of Willis Tower

Do you think your team operates any differently because of the female majority? If so, how?

When I arrived at EQ Office, I was the fourth CEO in the last five years. The organization craved vision, purpose and direction. People seemingly lived in fox holes looking for a reason to come out in safety. I would like to think that my style, not because I’m a female per se, but rather a human, has given people purpose and passion for the work we do. I’m more open, transparent and have big capacity for emotional risk taking, which is inherently more female. With that said, I’ve never once thought about acting like a female CEO. I’m just leading this company and an industry in a way I believe is most effective for the changes happening.

Learn more:


Catalog at Willis Tower

The Real Deal: Female Hardhats Breaking Barriers

CREW Network


All images courtesy of EQ Office
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