IN a recent event, I had the pleasure of meeting up with foremost architect and planner Ame Engelheart of SOM Hong Kong and discovered that we share two passions—the Urban Land Institute (ULI) as a service to the industry and also one of its key programs—the WLI, the Women’s Leadership Initiative.
The ULI is an international, membership-based nonprofit real estate organization, representing the entire spectrum of land-use and real-estate development disciplines, working in private enterprise and public service. One of the subsets of ULI includes the WLI, formed globally in 2010, with the stated goal of raising the visibility and number of women leaders within the organization and throughout the real-estate industry.
In the Philippines the WLI was formally launched in 2017, with Tina Samson, copresident of The Net Group, as its chairman. She has long-championed women-specific events in the scope of the real-estate industry. Last year, in partnership with The Net Group, they held their first WLI event, the “Women’s Forum: Leadership and Empowerment in Business,” featuring Angela de Villa-Lacson, president and CEO of Oak Drive Capital Inc. and Atty. Allen L. Espino, president of Fora Communications. The speakers shared their personal experience and career journey to the top, within the male-dominated industry of real estate.
Samson is optimistic about WLI’s growth in the Philippines, envisioning a vibrant and robust future for the group. “I see it establishing a strong foothold in Metro Manila, gradually gaining ground [pun intended] and pervasive presence in various key cities of the country, like Metro Cebu and Metro Davao. With its growing membership, WLI will be at the forefront of women’s voices in the Philippine real-estate industry, spawning recognition from women and men alike that the women can, likewise, be experts and deemed authorities in construction, engineering, design, architecture, etc.,” Samson said.
The efforts do not stop there. For 2018 Tina has ambitioned something grander: a whole series of dinner events stretching throughout the year, focusing on intimate conversations between women. Thus, the Women in the Workplace was born.
“First, I wanted to create unconventional settings that would stimulate creative thinking and encourage a free-flowing exchange of ideas among women in the workplace,” she said when asked what inspired her to put together the program. “A ‘safe haven,’ so to speak, where acceptance and recognition of one another’s strengths are espoused and reinforced. Second, I wanted to encourage diversity as a common ground for articulate discussions and points of view among both peers and allies. In my experience, big seminars tend to promote passivity among its audiences. By and far, WLI’s approach—smaller more intimate groups, nontraditional settings and locations—has been met with nothing less than active engagements among its members, positive reinforcements, more substantial exchanges, all resulting in highly motivated and more confident members, and more important, a better perspective and attitude toward real estate.”
The dinner is exclusively for women attendees, featuring respected and recognized leaders in the field who impart and share knowledge to the other women. The inaugural session featured Amor Maclang, Globally Award-Winning Brand Architect, of GeiserMaclang, with the theme “Personal Branding and Self-Empowerment.” Supported by Habitat Manila, the first of the “Women in the Workplace” dinners kicked off to a fully booked event, with more than 20 women joining the dinner conversation. The session was hosted by Jean de Castro of Esca International Incorporated. Both women are active members of ULI.
The mission of the WLI is expressed in its four primary objectives: to promote the advancement of women, throughout their careers, as leaders in the real-estate industry, to increase the number of women who serve in leadership positions in the real-estate industry and in ULI, to increase the visibility of women leaders in the real-estate industry and in ULI, and to increase the number of women who are active ULI full members, and support the development of young women members as leaders in ULI and in their professions.
Raymond Rufino, chairman of ULI Philippines, is a huge supporter of the WLI program, considering it one of the most successful programs launched locally. “Through this program, we join over 42,000 ULI members from across the globe in promoting the leadership of women in the real-estate industry by providing opportunities for learning, mentorship and networking,” he said. “We hope to inspire and empower the current and future generations of women leaders as we Build Better Cities, Together.”
Currently, the women membership of ULI is at nearly 40 percent since the start of 2018. One of Tina’s goals as the Chair of WLI is to get 50-percent women membership—a show that women are equal to men, even in the field of real estate. Other members in the leadership of ULI include the likes of Karima Palafox, managing partner of Palafox Associates and Hannah Yulo, CFO of DoubleDragon Properties—all powerhouses who have established themselves in the real-estate field. Their presence and support of WLI has helped elevate the initiative to greater heights here in the Philippines.
Samson admited that there are many challenges for women in the industry. “When I started out in the real-estate industry, two things dawned on me. One, there were very few women leading the development side of real estate. Two, what would a woman lawyer know about construction? Women in this industry were either brokers, designers or architects,” she said. But she believed that, with discipline and the right attitude, these hurdles can be overcome. “Such an approach and perspective conveyed a certain ‘understudy’ role, eager to learn from the best and the brightest minds, among them, Mr. Jacques Dupasquier, Chairman of The Net Group. For me, discipline and the right attitude invite the best practices, resulting in an upward spiral toward even greater success,” she said.
The Women in the Workplace event series aims to fulfill the mission of WLI by not only featuring women in leadership positions, but also by providing an avenue for young women members to interact with women leaders. The succeeding event was recently concluded in March, in celebration of National Women’s Month. Sophie Lambert, the US director for UrbanPlan of ULI Global, flew in to join an intimate picnic dinner party at the roof deck of Net Lima. She shared about “Shifting Priorities,” a common change that happens in a woman’s career when her personal life diverges with her professional life. Having worked in academe, the government and now at a nonprofit organization, Sophie discussed the different career paths a woman could take.
The Women in the Workplace dinner series will continue throughout the rest of 2018, featuring more women leaders in real estate to further share and teach attendees knowledge that will help them in the career.