March is Women’s History Month, and we’ve been celebrating women by recognizing their achievements and reaffirming our commitment to putting people first with our internal Women at CREA Working Group. This landmark resource aims to “share the diverse experiences of women across CREA and create employee-led solutions to address the biggest opportunity areas.” While we have talented women of influence throughout CREA, we wanted to sit down with the women within senior and executive management to discuss women in the workplace, opportunities and advice. Find our Q&A conversation below with:
Arvetta Jideonwo, EVP, Executive Director, CREA Foundation, Inc. and Head of Social Impact, CREA, LLC
Jamie Irwin, Managing Director of Account Management, Acquisitions
Mary Ann Lang, Managing Director of Business Development, Syndication & Investor Relations
Katy McShane, EVP, Chief Human Resources Officer
Kelli Ozdemir, Managing Director of Portfolio Management
What do you think is the biggest opportunity for women in business?
Mary Ann: We are great at multi-tasking and listening to what a client needs or wants. When we are given a voice at the table, our ideas look beyond the day-to-day and can effect long-term change.
Arvetta: In the current environment, many women are leaving their careers to focus on other endeavors. For those that remain, I feel there are opportunities for growth and support in the workplace with initiatives centered on lifting women up. I’m proud to say CREA is working toward this goal with its new Women at CREA initiative, which is the first of many employee resource groups formed at CREA.
What have been/are your biggest hurdles, being a woman in the LIHTC industry?
Kelli: I don’t necessarily think this is specific to the LIHTC industry, but business in general tends to attract white males and even more so in C-suite positions. Golf is a standard entertainment/event/fundraiser that caters to men much more than women. I have often felt indirectly left out indirectly. While likely not intentional, it makes it hard to stay involved or have your voice heard. Fortunately, we are seeing more and more women enter our industry, especially on the investment side, and that is great movement. Walking into a boardroom where you aren’t the only woman with a seat at the table is such a welcoming feeling.
What would you say to your younger self and to women entering workforce today?
Jamie: The advice I would give to women entering the workforce is to know your worth and make the ask for a promotion or a salary increase when deserved. Too many women don’t ask.
Katy: Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.
Arvetta: I would advise women to speak up and let their voice be heard. As women, we do not always speak up if we have conflicting views or different strategies to achieve a goal. I often tell my mentees that “closed mouths don’t get fed.” We should not be afraid to let our voices be heard. Constructive criticism in a supportive environment overall produces positive results for many companies and organizations.
Kelli: The worst they can say is no. Ask for what you want. Ask for what you need. Make your voice heard. Force a seat at the table.
What qualities make a good leader?
Arvetta: The qualities of a good leader include an ability to lead and follow and be a good listener. A key component of leadership also includes a willingness to take strategic risks with a well-articulated plan to deal with positive or negative outcomes.
Katy: Passion, delegation, empowerment and inspiring others.
Mary Ann: I think the three best qualities of a good leader are: a good listener; a person who can celebrate the victories and work through the losses; and lastly, someone who is a good mentor.
What are some positive changes and influences that you’ve seen CREA make during your time at the company, specific to how it supports women?
Arvetta: I love that CREA has been intentional about its focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) through the establishment of the Inclusion Advisory Council and Social Impact through formation of CREA Foundation. Through this work, the company is ensuring that DEI and social impact is infused throughout the organization. I love that it’s not just ONE individual’s job to ensure that we are incorporating DEI into our culture, external brand, and internal business practices, but instead through the council many employees are working toward this effort, which is a collaborative and collective strategy that involves many departments in the work.
Jamie: CREA recognized that we needed to change our recruiting practices to be more inclusive. One of the initiatives that came from DEI efforts over the last year is to adjust the language in job descriptions to attract more women applicants. We learned that women tend not to apply for positions unless they meet all the criteria, so we’ve begun to include basic requirements rather than a wish list for an ideal candidate.
Kelli: Paid maternity and paternity leave! It makes it possible for people to raise a family while continuing to grow their career. And yes, I’m bitter that I was done having kids before this benefit was offered! I also am incredibly grateful for how CREA handled the COVID pandemic and the flexibility it offered to everyone, especially parents.
Who is an influential woman at CREA? How does she inspire you?
Katy: I am inspired by Kelli Ozdemir, Managing Director of Portfolio Management. Kelli is a leader, who enthusiastically manages and supports her team with professionalism and empathy. I addition, she holds a leadership role on and deeply cares about CREA’s Inclusion Advisory Council, a topic I am very passionate about.
Mary Ann: Kelli O. She balances work, philanthropy, her family and everything else that comes her way so well (marathons, training, helping friends in need). She is a great manager and really wants the best for people.
What do you enjoy most about your position at CREA?
Kelli: I am in a unique position. I have the opportunity to work with all levels of staff but also have a direct line to the directors. I enjoy observing and learning what matters most to the individuals at CREA and being a voice for them. Senior Management can be quite far removed from analyst positions, but it is important that we listen and create changes and growth that provide opportunities for all levels. I love that I get to work with so many different people and departments at CREA.
Mary Ann: I absolutely love the people I work with. They are smart, helpful and always ready to work through solutions.
Favorite quote from a female in history:
Jamie: “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Mary Ann: “I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels.” – Maya Angelou
Kelli: “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.” – Margaret Thatcher.