“Hard work doesn’t go unnoticed. It’s important to be aggressive and vocal, but respectful. People won’t always agree with you, but in a relationship business, upholding your reputation is essential.”
Conquering a Male-Dominated Industry
These words of wisdom have helped propel Stefanie Stewart through her ascent in a traditionally male-dominated industry.
A finance and real estate major in college, Stefanie worked in student housing, which sparked her interest in commercial real estate.
A professor helped connect her with ING (now Voya) and she started as an analyst eleven years ago, working her way up through the ranks. Seven years back, she moved from an analyst to a production role with her own territory, which she names as the professional achievement she is most proud of so far – her success in exceeding production goals.
“That win was particularly sweet,” said Stefanie considering an experience she had prior to joining Voya – where she has enjoyed being supported throughout her career.
“I was given an interview as a courtesy. At the end, the male manager said, ‘The commercial real estate industry is a good ol’ boys network, I don’t think it’s a place for a young woman.’” Stefanie used the experience to motivate her.
“It is a male-dominated industry, and when I made the transition from analyst to producer I wondered if I would be as successful as the guys at building external relationships. Typically, at first, you start with people lending their relationships, but then you have to build your own book of business,” she notes. Stefanie is proud that she’s been able to succeed and build a reputation for herself in the industry, with the support of her team.
Building Relationships to Build Your Career
A member of Path Builders early on in her career, she has also taken advantage of a variety of women’s networking events.
Stefanie has found sponsorship to be important in her career, with managers who have been committed to putting her in front of senior managers. She says she was fortunate that she was part of the mentoring program while making the transition, which was great timing to help her navigate the waters professionally and even politically.
She also credits much of her growth to managers in the group who have given her opportunities that she acknowledges she often wasn’t yet ready for – some of which filled her with fear, whether it was being in front of senior managers, a complex deal or participating on a panel. In hindsight, each was pivotal in her career. “They have only made me better, and now I look forward to some of these situations that make me uncomfortable, because I know they will give me the opportunity to continue to grow.”
She has had many role models along the way too, and knows that sometimes they can serve as a model of as much what not to do as what to do. “I’ve learned a lot by observing how people handle things under stress or react to criticism, and it has helped me remember that you can always learn from positive feedback.” External role models who are navigating similar challenges, from different sides of the equation, can also be helpful as a sounding board.
Her experience in the real estate program at Florida State University prepared her well for the real estate business, and she now serves as a mentor for recent graduates of the program, as well as visiting to provide case studies for the classes and sitting on a real estate trends conference planning committee. “If I can help a 22 year-old find their way, that is very gratifying to me,” she says.