HGAR Explores How Women Can Navigate Real Estate Industry to Achieve Success

HGAR Explores How Women Can Navigate Real Estate Industry to Achieve Success
From left, Jana Currier, Interim Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer of HGAR; Crystal Hawkins-Syska, HGAR Past President and Associate Broker, Keller Williams NY Realty in White Plains; Kenyatta Jones-Arietta, Broker-Owner, R2M Realty Inc. in Nyack; Cheryl Williams, co-chair of HGAR’s DEI Committee, and Michelle Pfeffer, Director of Career Development, Howard Hanna | Rand Realty in Nanuet.

WHITE PLAINS—On March 29, the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee hosted a presentation that featured women leaders from across the real estate and economic development industries in the Hudson Valley who frankly shared how they navigated some of the unique advantages and pitfalls that exist for women in real estate.

Hosted by Cheryl Williams, co-chair of HGAR’s DEI Committee, the presentation held at the HGAR offices in White Plains featured Kenyatta Jones-Arietta, Broker-Owner, R2M Realty Inc. in Nyack; Crystal Hawkins-Syska, HGAR Past President and Associate Broker, Keller Williams NY Realty in White Plains and Michelle Pfeffer, Director of Career Development, Howard Hanna | Rand Realty in Nanuet. Jana Currier, Interim Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer of HGAR was the moderator of the roundtable discussion.

Syska, who began her career as an Assistant Property Manager for the Greenwich (CT) Housing Authority, got her real estate license in 2003 and began practicing real estate in 2004. In her first six months in the business, she concentrated on cooperative sales. In that time Syska got a wealth of experience on the intricacies of cooperative real estate, including securing approvals from cooperative boards. Shortly thereafter, Syska brokered the sale of a 12-unit building in Ossining.

She related that at that time she began marketing her services in her native Bronx, Yonkers, Mount Vernon, White Plains and Hartsdale.

“I took time out and I actually learned about different neighborhoods, I made friends and got to know the Building Departments in each of the towns,” she recalled. During and after the 2008-2009 financial crisis and housing downturn, Syska became involved in short sales.

“I think that is where it really changed my real estate career,” Syska said. “Getting involved in short sales was when I understood the level of predatory lending that took place and who were the targets.” She added that helping those who were victims of predatory lending became her mission “because many of them were hurting. They had been taken advantage of.”

Pfeffer, an admitted “Army brat” began what she termed has been a “meandering” career path first as an entrepreneur, then into marketing and eventually into the economic development field. Pfeffer was a founding partner in an international importing and distribution firm based in southeast Georgia. Over 10 years, she and her partners grew the company to produce more than $5 million in annual revenue with more than 40 employees. During her tenure, she served as national sales manager, chief financial officer, and chief of operations. After selling the company, she worked in multimedia advertising and marketing consulting, before accepting a position as director of economic development for the Economic Development Authority of Claxton & Evans County in Georgia.

The panel discussed their different career paths and some of the obstacles
they had to overcome to succeed in real estate.

Pfeffer, a single mother, returned to the Hudson Valley in 2016, where she joined Rand Realty as a full-time residential real estate agent, then achieved her Real Estate Associate Broker’s License. She also served as the Director of Communication at the Orange County Arts Council in Goshen and later served as the Vice President of Marketing and Communication for Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress in Newburgh. She was appointed Howard Hanna | Rand Realty’s Director of Career Development in September 2022.

Pfeffer explained that her position with Howard Hanna | Rand Realty involves training small business owners to streamline their operations and run their businesses more efficiently, which she noted is “something I am really passionate about.”

Jones-Arietta related that she was a single mother at an early age and moved from her native Detroit at the age of 19 to New York “chasing a dream” and began work as a nightclub dee-jay. She subsequently met Realtor Robert J. Douglas who got Jones-Arietta her first apartment. He later asked her if she wanted to try real estate and she worked in the industry for several years while keeping her dee-jay job.

Admitting that she was impatient, she subsequently earned a degree in interior design at the New York School of Interior Design and worked in that sector for a time. She later married and relocated to Rockland County, where she found the commute to New York City difficult.

“When we started having kids, I dreaded having to get on the bus and go down to the city every day because I was away from the kids,” she recalled. She related that the children went to daycare so she would sometimes miss them in the morning and her kids would be in bed by the time she came home from work. “It was not a life for parenting,” she said.

After her husband Rudy suggested she would be well suited for real estate, she took the test for the license and began working part-time in a real estate brokerage. However, it was the death of her friend Sean who she worked with in the furniture industry, who passed away in his 30s, that changed her perspective about her career choices. Jones-Arietta, who named her youngest son after her dear friend, remembered him as a dynamic individual. “But he was doing his 9 to 5 and he wasn’t living his best life and I decided at that moment I was not going to die doing something I didn’t love,” she said.

After working for a number of real estate firms and earning her Associate’s Broker’s license, she had what she called an “Aha moment” and decided it was time to open her own brokerage R2M (Ready to Move). The firm is now 10 years old and has offices in Nyack and Pearl River that boasts approximately 40 agents and services three states. Among her many talents, Jones-Arietta is also a contributing columnist for Real Estate In-Depth.

HGAR’s Currier interjected that the association did a survey of its membership two years ago that found its membership consists of 70% women. However, when it comes to Brokers there is a dichotomy as the membership is split 50%-50% between men and women.

Jones-Arietta explained part of the reason for the lower Broker numbers is likely because women are usually involved in the raising of their children and cannot devote the time necessary to operate and manage a brokerage firm.

“It’s challenging and kind of scary to step out of that and create a business,” she said. “And I think the more of us that do it, it’s kind of giving examples to other women that they can also do it.”

Syska noted that more work needs to be done to assist women in advancing in what has been a male-dominant real estate industry and also addressing the disparity in pay and the “unconscious bias” that prevents women from elevating themselves to leadership positions in real estate.

Pfeffer said that HGAR’s women participation numbers are in fact better than national employment figures where women make up 42% of all small businesses and 20% are employers.

She noted that to make the switch to broker and to commit to the amount of time it takes to run a business is difficult. “I see it as an opportunity for growth,” Pfeffer said. “There are some needs that need to be met for women to have the opportunity to do that, whether it is child care collectives or support in egalitarian households, I think those are the things that will make the difference” to foster future growth in more women becoming Broker-Owners.”

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