While it was no secret that most attendees at the CREW Network Convention in Atlanta in late September would be women, experiencing the female camaraderie firsthand still had a meaningful impact on those in attendance.

The Lument colleagues who were among the 1,300-plus commercial real estate leaders attending the annual gathering described it as inspiring, invigorating, and ultimately empowering.

These sentiments came not just as a result of the networking sessions but also from educational, evening, and off-site events. That is likely because this year, as Mallory Schenk, Lument’s HR partner explained, the firm “had a more defined strategy around its intentions at the convention.” Schenk, who oversees diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategies for the company and parent ORIX USA, went on to elaborate.

“This year I worked with Lument leaders to assemble a team of employee volunteers to not only attend the convention but to work throughout the year to support and advance our CREW strategy. With this being our second year as a sponsor, we had a much better idea as to what we could expect from the convention,” she explained. “This led to an increase in booth traffic, allowing for more significant engagement opportunities with attendees to promote Lument as a company that supports the empowerment and advancement of women in commercial real estate.”

Making Connections and Friends

This increased focus paid dividends as each of the Lument attendees formed valuable new connections.

“The three-day program was stacked with strong female leaders who shared their stories and advice for career success. A lot of time was also spent networking, discovering new business opportunities, and learning about the latest industry trends. The entire conference was motivating and inspirational,” said Vanessa Howes, a managing director and head of transaction management. “It was a great venue to establish new business relationships and ultimately to build real productive friendships.”

Nicole Goodman, an associate director in production analytical support, employed a proactive networking strategy to get the most from her CREW attendance. On the advice of a colleague, she combed through the convention’s directory to find out who would be on site. She reached out to attendees of interest before the event, arriving in Atlanta with meetings already on the calendar.

“Whenever you have 500-plus people at a convention, it’s tough to know who to approach,” Goodman said. “But if you’re prepared you can really make the most of it.” 

The intentionality behind Goodman’s outreach is key to achieving the CREW Network Convention’s biggest benefits. According to “The Network Effect,” a 2023 study from Chief and Morning Consult, most women leaders report that forums that facilitate purposeful networking have helped them land C-Suite and board positions, secure raises, and find more advantageous jobs.

And the benefits cut both ways. “I met general contractors, architects, and others who I’d happily refer to construction loan clients,” said Lori Linkewer, vice president, FHA Production. Linkewer added that this exposure to women in other areas of the commercial real estate industry is particularly valuable for women just starting out. “Women work across the industry so making those connections early can pay dividends down the road.”

Purposeful Networking

Danielle Johnson, an associate underwriter in affordable housing, found added value in the educational sessions. “One affordable housing session featured a panel of three women who were brought together by one deal,” Johnson said. “To hear the various perspectives from all deal angles—counsel, developer, engineer—was invaluable because you so rarely get the intimate details of structuring a development deal unless you are directly involved.”

Howes echoed the power of networking at the event. “This event also helped deepen a relationship with one of our platinum clients, as we ended up connecting over lunch and brainstorming ideas on how to do more business together,” she said. “It ended up being the most productive networking session, reminding us to make the most of every networking opportunity.”

Following the affordable session, Johnson was able to speak with a panelist and add a great new contact to her professional network.

Johnson also made a meaningful business connection during a golf outing, where she was paired with a small business loan executive from a major bank. “I learned what she’s seeing in the lending environment, and it made me consider whether Lument can expect the same trends.”

Even competitors showed a willingness to help one another. “I met other DEI professionals and even if they worked at competitor firms, there was a level of openness and honesty,” said Schenk. “I’ve been in touch with one who’s at the advanced stages of a DEI program, so it was helpful to hear her perspective on this work.”

Lessons for the Road

A key gauge of success for any conference is whether attendees leave feeling equipped to apply ideas and strategies learned. The Lument team walked away inspired to do just that.

Johnson, a former athlete, said the general session speaker, world champion adventure racer Robyn Benincasa, reminded attendees that, although teamwork can hit bumps, “adapting is part of growth and will help you reach the next level in your career path.”

“We wanted a little piece of her determination and drive, which she made us feel like we had,” Johnson said, referencing Benincasa’s Adapt, Overcome, and Win as One general session theme. “With that we can do anything.”