University of Colorado graduating senior Erica Mark left her first impression on the real estate industry when she was only 7 years old.
“I followed my dad around and pretended I was his secretary,” Mark said. “My handprints are even in the cement at one of his buildings.”
Since she can remember, Mark said she has wanted to follow in her dad’s footsteps as a real estate broker, even if it meant taking on the male-dominated industry.
Thursday, Mark was one of 198 women to receive degrees from CU’s Leeds School of Business. The school awarded degrees to 522 students, the majority of which were male — about 62 percent.
Rather than feeling lost in a sea of men, Mark and graduating seniors Wendy Ning and Cristina DeWitt, also in the business school, said being a minority provided motivation during college — a feeling they’re hoping to take with them as they move on to jobs in male-dominated industries.
DeWitt received her degree in operation and information management and said the overwhelming gender gap in her classes encouraged her drive, making her want to prove herself that much more.
“I never had pressure on me to prove myself from classmates or teachers or anything,” DeWitt said. “It was just something that I put on myself. It’s like I automatically felt this obligation to mentor or encourage other women that they could succeed in this area, too.”
When she declared her double emphasis in accounting and finance, Ning said she knew she would be one of only a few women in her classes. But that did not effect her decision.
If anything, Ning said she felt more comfortable in classes with men who were more direct and often aggressive about their work.
“I could relate to that,” Ning said. “It never bothered me and I really didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything by being surrounded by guys.”
A female adviser acted as a mentor for Ning, who said having someone to look up to and talk to about diversity concerns made her experience a positive one.
The students said their experience in the business school was positive and it gave them the confidence to continue progressing in industries that remain dominated by men.
Mark’s father had a degree in finance, which he told her contributed to his success, so she declared a finance major and enrolled in CU’s real estate certificate program, both areas that contain more male students than female.
Mark said that despite preparation from her dad, she was surprised when she entered her first finance class and saw that she was one of only four women in a class with 40 men.
“I was prepared to be the minority to an extent, but I was not expecting that much of a difference,” Mark said. “I talked to my dad about it and he told me it was a strength rather than weakness, that it made me more unique.”
When she began interviewing for internships and jobs, Mark said she took her father’s advice and began using her gender as a selling point to potential employers.
“I told them it would make some women business owners more comfortable working with a female broker rather than a firm full of men,” Mark said. “I told them I had a unique perspective that would help them be successful.”
Helen Zucchini, director of the business school’s Career Connections center, said she suggests that all students promote their unique qualities, but only if they’re applicable to the company or job they’re applying for.
While diversity can help students get the attention of employers, Zucchini said students still have to earn the job.
“At the end of the day, they want someone that has the GPA and ability and personality that fits into the company,” Zucchini said. “Being a minority, whether it’s gender or ethnicity or whatever, might give them an initial face value, but they still have to prove themselves and earn it.”
DeWitt said she is excited to start her new job at Facebook’s office in Austin, Texas, where she will remain a minority.
“I’d say about 20 percent of the people in my department are women,” DeWitt said. “It’s definitely an improvement from my major, which had hardly any women at all.”
Mark will continue to make an impression on the real estate industry in her new job at a brokerage firm in California, where she will be the first female broker and the youngest employee.
“I’m definitely intimidated and it might be difficult to prove that I’m qualified at first,” Mark said.
“There’s a lot of work ahead of me, I think, but I’m really honored that they chose me to represent women brokers at the firm,” she said. “The fact that they hired me shows that they’re moving in the right direction.”