NOLA L. SARKISIAN
It seems like several lifetimes ago for Letty Bierschenk.
The year was 1970 and she was working her way up through the investment marketing department at Coldwell Banker in downtown Los Angeles. But each day, before she began her regular work, there was coffee to make for her male colleagues. And when the brew was ready, the men would be able to take cups to their desks, while Bierschenk had to drink her coffee in an office lounge. The same rule applied for smoking.
"It was the nature of business at the time," Bierschenk recalled. "You just accepted it because that's how things were done. I would not have dreamed of saying anything or complaining. I just went along with the flow and concentrated on my work."
And through it all, she never reconsidered her decision to enter commercial real estate. "It was a time when women were slowly making strides, but there was a lot of work to be done," said Bierschenk, now 70.
As it turned out, she did it well. By 1980, she was a vice president and manager for national investment marketing activities, a position that allowed her to develop and execute programs for training, marketing and business development company-wide.
Bierschenk's story and her attitude at the time is not uncommon among women who moved into commercial real estate, a business long dominated by men. Despite the occasional rebel who would simply balk at typing or making coffee, many others managed to move up the ranks by extra education, hard work and determination often eclipsing their male counterparts.
Denise Anthony, president of Commercial Real Estate Women, a networking organization, said Bierschenk was one of those women who "had to jump through many hoops, which many younger people today do not realize. She was definitely one of the pioneers who made the industry more accessible to women."
As with many stories involving women in commercial real estate, Bierschenk, a UCLA graduate, fell into the profession by default. After college, she spent 15 years at General Electric, working in the receiving department where she tested glass tubes for televisions.
"I enjoyed my time there, but I was ready for a change. I felt like I had accomplished what I had wanted to," she said.
Opting to stay home with her family, Bierschenk began looking for part-time work but ended up starting another career at the age of 40. Hired by Coldwell Banker, she first performed administrative duties such as editing company publications with titles like "Using the After-Tax Discounted Yield to Compare Investment Alternatives."
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.