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Inland’s Blueprint for Fostering Women’s Executive Growth in Commercial Real Estate

As women continue to rise through the ranks and become prominent players in today’s commercial real estate industry, company leaders are looking for ways to foster female executive growth and advancement. The companies that are a part of The Inland Real Estate Group of Companies, Inc. (collectively, “Inland”) have been leaders in this endeavor and have had a long history of encouraging and promoting an environment that facilitates the growth and empowerment of women.

Early in its establishment, Inland recognized that its highly motivated, upwardly mobile women employees were critical to the company’s long-term success. As a result, the company has cultivated several award-winning women executives recognized by the commercial real estate industry. To continue fostering this growth, a group of women executives presented Inland leadership with a formalized women’s mentoring program, in which women can share their personal and professional challenges and successes with other colleagues. Inland leadership overwhelmingly agreed, establishing the Women’s Initiative Network (WIN) at Inland.

For companies looking to start a mentoring program, the following tips from Inland’s successful experience provide a blueprint for instituting a mentoring initiative:

Define a strategic vision and goal.  Although Inland has a long history of promoting women to leadership positions and offers many career resources, its women executives wanted to create a more formalized program. Open to women within all levels of experience and departments to be mentors or mentees, the program provides traditional mentoring formats combined with reverse mentoring strategies to promote a balanced community of learning and knowledge sharing.

Understand and cater to your audiences.  A fundamental aspect of the program is to reach a wide range of women from all areas of expertise and career stages. Although every program and topic won’t apply to all audiences, creating a mix of mentors from all career levels and programs can appeal to different women’s careers and lifestyles in today’s corporate environment.

“WIN at Inland has provided women with actionable, meaningful networking opportunities that have resulted in lateral moves and promotions within Inland,” said Nora O’Connor, EVP and Chief Human Resources Officer for Inland. “With increased participation and programming each year, WIN at Inland has grown into a valuable, beneficial mentoring program that has positively impacted the women of Inland’s professional and personal lives.”  

Engage experts in various fields. Seeking outside experts with fresh perspectives and expertise can provide mentees with career education opportunities that might not otherwise be accessible within their departments or companies. These experts can be from a variety of industries and organizations, including financial experts, medical experts, life coaches, communication consultants, entrepreneurs and more.  

Try different formats. A key ingredient to keeping mentees engaged and interested is to provide compelling program topics and formats. Popular mentoring formats today range from reverse mentoring to “speed mentoring,” keynote presenters and one-on-one mentoring.  

Obtain feedback from mentees.  A crucial component to the success of any mentoring program is feedback from participants.  By tailoring each program to address the specific challenges and issues women of all levels and experience face, it will keep female employees engaged, committed and interested in continuing their personal and professional development. 

Over the years, Inland has received recognition for its many initiatives that encourage and promote an environment that facilitates the unlimited growth and advancement of women, including the “Elevate Award” from the Women’s Council of REALTORS® Chicago. In addition, Inland has received many other awards that recognize its women’s initiatives, including: The National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) “Visionary Corporate Partner Award,” the YWCA “Corporate Recognition Award for Commitment to the Advancement of Women in the Workplace” and the Oak Brook Chamber of Commerce “Breaking the Glass Ceiling Award.”