Brookfield Properties powerhouses Michelle Isabel, Caryn Torres, and Denise Marsicano share lessons learned and advice to women forging their own professional paths.
In honor of International Women’s Day 2022, Brookfield Women’s Network asked some of its most accomplished leaders to talk about their journeys, challenges, inspirations, and passions at a virtual fireside chat hosted by Stephanie Brager, Senior Vice President of Property Management and 20-plus-year veteran at Brookfield Properties.
With the theme of Making a Difference, Brookfield Properties’ Michelle Isabel, VP of Business Development and VP of Partner to Empower; Caryn Torres, VP of Property Management; and Denise Marsicano, Executive VP, Leasing Retail; talked about their past, their present, and how a new generation of female leaders can find success in our industry.
Here are 7 takeaways:
1. The path to success is a long and winding road.
“I think we all shape our paths long before we realize it,” Marsicano said, noting that when she was young, she wanted to be a high-powered executive. “In my teens I became a dance teacher and choreographer, then went to college and wound up taking elementary education classes — all those things led me to where I am today. I’ve always had a passion for leading people to be their best. If you can find your passion and tap into it, it’s powerful.”
For Isabel, it was her experience on the track team in high school, working as a crew chief at McDonald’s, and serving as president of her local student council association that eventually led her to a leadership position at Brookfield Properties. “I’ve always known I’d be a leader,” she said.
2. Inspiration is all around you.
Raising three daughters — currently ages 14, 11, and 8 — is a constant source of inspiration for Torres. “It’s amazing to me the way that they see the world,” she said. “What they ask and expect is so very different from when I was their age. They will point out what’s unfair or unjust. They inspire me to question everything and be a good steward.”
While Marsicano’s family is an important source of support and encouragement, it’s the leaders she’s worked with over the years that inspire her. “I started as a buyer for Bloomingdale’s in New York City,” she said. “I started looking at the leaders there and took note of what they did right and what they did wrong. They have all inspired me and I still apply the learnings.”
3. Don't be afraid to ask.
“Get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” recommended Isabel. “Don’t let nerves prevent you from moving forward. The lesson I’ve learned is not to give up, to make sure people know who I am, meet me where I am, and know that I bring value.”
In her years at Bloomingdale’s, Marsicano said promotions were never offered: people who sat around and waited were likely to be disappointed. “I learned that lesson early on,” she said. As we train and mentor people, we need to bring that up. Don’t wait for someone to approach you — go for it!
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Don't let nerves prevent you from moving forward."
4. Passion is the key to success.
When Brager interviews job candidates, one question she always asks is, “what is your favorite mall and why?" She explained, "Everyone has a mall they were connected to growing up,” she explained. “And that’s what excites me about our industry — that we are making a difference in the communities that we serve. It’s one of the most rewarding attributes of our business.”
Marsicano couldn’t agree more. “I love that we are here to create better experiences for our consumers and our employees,” she said. “The whole process is just creative and stimulating. The experience of working with a dynamic team to create something is what excites me every day.”
5. Reach out when you're feeling challenged.
For Torres, it’s those tough days when severe incidents occur — security issues, weather issues, health issues — that remind her of the power of asking for help. “Sometimes, there’s no playbook, but there’s this great collaboration that occurs,” she explained. “Help starts coming in from across the country to build a team of crisis experts, people who have gone through it.”
Of course, not all challenges are crises. For many working women, it’s the daily grind of juggling the demands of both work and family. “I think it’s about identifying what’s important to you and sometimes it’s day by day,” Torres added. “Sometimes, it’s a work thing and I need to be there, and other times, it’s something with the girls that’s super important. It’s not all going to work out every day the way you wanted — it’s about prioritizing.”
6. Give people the benefit of the doubt.
So often, we’re quick to make assumptions about people, especially if we don’t really know them, Isabel said. “I always try to give people the benefit of the doubt first. A lot of times, we just need to remind ourselves that people are people and stop judging them based on their exterior.”
While everyone brings their own bias to the table, it’s important to call yourself out when you feel like a bias is creeping in, added Torres. “Sometimes, it’s just about assuming good intent.” In fact, said Marsicano, being open to people’s differences and what they bring to the table can bring unexpected, positive results. “Those differences fill in little parts of you and make you better,” she said.
7. Honor, celebrate, and learn from the women in your life.
“When I think of International Women’s Day, I think of a day that’s dedicated to honoring and uplifting women,” Isabel explained. “Women can be hard on each other, but it’s so important to support one another and celebrate our achievements.”
For Marsicano, it’s all about paying it forward. “I look at the strong women I met in my career and how they showed me there was no barrier in doing a great job and forging ahead,” she said. “Now we are able to show lots of women that it can be done and to push gender aside.”
It’s so important to cultivate and develop future leaders, Torres stated. “It starts with supporting women early in their careers, giving them that first promotion, that first management opportunity early on. It’s about setting the stage for the future and honoring all the groundwork that’s been laid before all of us so that continued generations can have continued growth.”
I look at the strong women I met in my career and how they showed me there was no barrier in doing a great job and forging ahead. Now we are able to show lots of women that it can be done and to push gender aside.