WIC: Q&A with Ryan Companies’ Liz Chester and Jamie Northam

WIC photo credit: Ryan Companies US, Inc.

In celebration of the 26th annual Women in Construction Week (March 3-9), Mile High CRE seeks to illuminate the invaluable contributions of women in a male-dominated industry.

At Ryan Companies US, Inc., a national leader in commercial real estate services with an office in Denver, two women are leading the way in development.

Liz Chester

As Senior Vice President of Speculative Industrial Development, Liz Chester is charged with collaborating with regional development teams on Ryan’s industrial portfolio and national strategy execution for the sector. Her role encompasses managing programmatic capital partnerships and ensuring that Ryan’s projects are built to Class A standards, from initial site selection to design, permitting, construction, lease-up, and sale. Recognized as a true leader and team player, Liz views challenges as opportunities and thrives on working across markets and disciplines to produce measurable results. Liz is dedicated to leveraging her expertise to foster successful partnerships, drive innovation, and create value for all stakeholders.

Jaime Northam

Jaime Northam brings 20 years of industry experience to her role as vice president of healthcare development, where she oversees development, market growth and strategy for Ryan Healthcare in the Western Division. She collaborates with health systems, physician groups, owners and operators to develop new and repurposed healthcare facilities. She facilitates growth strategies through real estate acquisitions, development, creative capital solutions and building services. A proven leader with a comprehensive and diversified industry perspective, Jaime provides creative approaches to identifying reasonable and attainable solutions.

Q: How do you deal with the challenges that come with being a woman in a male-dominated industry? 

Liz: I have been lucky to have impactful women mentors over the years who have been a strong support system in helping me grow and develop in my career. I am a large advocate of mentorship and women’s networks that can support and grow female leaders in the industry. I also have always tried to focus on building personal relationships with both male and female colleagues as I have found that these relationships have built trust, allowed for an easier flow of communication and a willingness to be more inclusive in projects and decision-making.

Jamie: I have been in the commercial real estate industry for nearly 25 years, and for a good portion of my career, I was one of only a few women in my position and role during that time. However, I have always looked at it as more of an opportunity to stand out, exceed expectations and accelerate my personal and professional growth. It has undoubtedly given me an impeccable work ethic and focus, confidence, a high level of resilience and increased emotional awareness and adaptability. Over the years, more and more women have entered the industry, which has been amazing to see.

Q: Do you feel there is an opportunity for growth within your field?

Liz: Yes, there is an opportunity for more women to be elevated into prominent leadership roles at commercial real estate companies. While some progress has been made, there is still room for improvement. Companies must recognize the significance of having women in these positions and actively work towards increasing their representation. The presence of more women in the “c-suite” not only highlights the value of diverse perspectives but also serves as a testament to a company’s commitment to equality and progress.

Jamie: Absolutely. This is very much a multi-faceted industry that provides a variety of opportunities for a plethora of different types of positions and roles.

Q: Why do you believe it is important that the industry hires more women in executive roles?

Liz: It is vital for employees to see diversity at the top of the company. When women hold executive positions, it’s a clear indication that a company is committed to fostering an inclusive, collaborative, and innovative workplace culture. Having a team of executives with diverse perspectives and leadership strengths makes a better organization. It also motivates female employees on their future growth paths and opportunities. At Ryan Companies, we are fortunate to have several prominent women who sit on our board of directors and executive leadership team.

Jamie: First and foremost, diversification of perspectives is always important. Men and women are naturally wired differently; however, this diversification also extends beyond gender. Each individual has unique experiences, upbringings, emotional awareness, decision-making styles, schools of thought, skills and characteristics that can influence how they approach leadership. It is also critical for the younger generation to have a diverse pool of leaders and role models to look up to and want to follow in their footsteps.

Q: How do you think the development field can attract more women?

Liz: There needs to be a continued emphasis on educating women about careers in commercial real estate while they are in high school and in college. Although more universities are now offering real estate courses, continuing to connect and recruit young women into the field and provide internship opportunities will enable students to gain valuable hands-on experience in the development world. 

Jamie: There are a lot of ways to do this, but ultimately, I think it is primarily centered upon increased education, excitement, and awareness about all types of opportunities in construction and real estate development. I think there are a lot of stereotypes of what a job in construction or development looks like and a lack of understanding within the community as to how many different types of positions there truly are! Also, it is important to highlight women in the industry to create more awareness for the younger generation around female success within this space and how that success can be just as attainable to them.

Q: How does Ryan Companies proactively increase diversity in the workplace?

Liz: Ryan Companies intentionally creates a diverse workplace that is welcoming to all. We are committed to exceeding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) standards through several initiatives. This includes an inclusive bias-free approach to hiring and interviewing, ensuring that Ryan looks like the world around us. Also, we have several Employee Resource Groups, including the Women’s Inclusion Network (WIN), that are open to all employees, allowing for thoughtful engagement and discourse. 

Jamie: It is embedded into the culture. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) have always been part of its core mission and how we approach business internally and externally. With a dedicated DEI task force, Ryan’s strategy is continuously evolving and adapting to maintain the highest level of standards when it comes to DEI awareness, education, accountability, impact, and transformation. Internally, you see DEI woven into several elements of our culture and externally, we are continually elevating our support of and partnership with organizations focused on DEI.

Q: What advice would you give to a woman who is thinking about pursuing a career in development?

Liz: It is the best job! I would tell anyone thinking about pursuing a career in development that it is a great and rewarding career path if you enjoy working with people and juggling multiple things at once. I think that the role of a developer is like that of the conductor of an orchestra; you are working with, and connecting, many different types of people and specialists to create value and deliver an exceptional project. It is not a linear process, and you must be an exceptional problem solver and negotiator. Maintaining a positive outlook, finding innovative solutions, and being able to assess and mitigate risks are essential skillsets for a developer.

Jamie: Go for it. Take the opportunity to learn from as many people as you can in the industry, on all sides of the business, and then focus on how you can bring value and make an impact, standing out from the rest. Listen, learn, and pave your own path. Bring what makes you unique to your position and do not get distracted by any stigmas or the “noise” of any others who might try to deviate you from your path. Also, prioritize your connections with people and the importance of positive relationships.

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