August 2020 Issue

Page 34

3 4 ❱ H O U S IN G W IR E

our soft skills for crisis management, without a doubt,” said Lisa Fenske, senior vice president of marketing and communications for Waterstone Mortgage, which employs 600. “We had to have creative problem-solving strategies while also considering health and safety protocols. We put even more of an emphasis on communication, not just with employees and customers but also with business partners. And that didn’t just mean pushing out emails and videoconferences, but considering the personal and emotional perspective.” “And then I started seeing a bit of a shift,” Fenske continued. “When we had conversations, and we kept bringing up employees’ situations as we made decisions, other leaders started talking about that, too. The months of March through May presented many extraordinary circumstances for us, as they did for all businesses. We relocated about 90% of our workforce to their homes, and remained sensitive to the unique emotional challenges that many of our employees and customers were facing. While we focused on making the transition seamless and flexible for our team members, we were also able to successfully help a record-breaking number of customers with their home purchase and refinance needs.” As in many industries, many women in senior housing leadership occupy marketing, communication and human resources roles, precisely the roles designed to rise to the occasion. “I held myself and the team accountable to ensure that we had virtual face time with each of our direct reports,” said Victoria Gillespie, chief marketing and communication officer for the National Association of Realtors. “We initiated best practices around virtual and consistent communication.” T he s a m e a p p r o a c h f r a m e d Gillespie’s external communication: if she was a resource for her team and for NAR, then member agents could take their cues accordingly and be re-

sources for their local communities. “We called this a resiliency plan, not a ‘COVID plan,’” said Gillespie. The nature and intensity of 2020’s events could signal a permanent shift in how the housing industry values women’s traditional strengths, according to business school academics who study gender roles in the workplace. “I’d be surprised if we went back to business as usual,” said Laurens Bujold Steed, an assistant professor of management at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. “Employers have to be more thoughtful about sick leave, taking leave, caregiving and working from home, and there are a lot of psychological impacts that employers will likely have to consider as well. Organizations may find that many of the policies they enacted benefit the organization and they may keep them.” Crisis-induced change can be good, said Elizabeth McClean, an assistant professor of management within the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management, who studies gender dynamics in leadership. Given the glacial pace of advancement for women in most industries, including housing, a radical shake-up can break inertia and propel change that has been long in coming.