In celebration of International Women’s Day (May 8), we are honored to highlight Better Housing Coalition’s all female C-Suite: Greta Harris, President & CEO; Julie Hovermale, CFO, and Monique Johnson, COO. These three women head up a $19M community development corporation, successfully lead 75 employees, and are instrumental in shaping the affordable housing and equity landscape for our region. We asked each of them some questions about their career path and their hopes for the future.
It’s pretty uncommon to have an all-female Chief Suite, especially in the field of real estate development. What attributes do you have that can help other women achieve a Chief position?
Greta: Authenticity and Compassion. I think the two most important traits that have helped me rise into leadership ranks are authenticity and compassion. Over the years, sometimes more successfully than others, I have learned to be myself. Each of us is unique with a multitude of gifts to share with the world. When you present your true self, you feel more confident and stronger to move forward towards your personal or professional goals. Compassion helps to lift up our humanity and, at the end of the day, making a positive difference for others is our ultimate purpose in life.
Julie: Tenacity and Boldness. I worked really hard and was never shy from taking on the tough jobs or the jobs that no one wanted to do. I was never intimidated working with men or those that had more experience than I did. I always wanted more. For me numbers, accounting and how they relate comes easy for me. The more challenging the transaction the more excited I become.
Monique: Confidence and Curiosity. I have always followed my curiosity and refused to be defined by anyone but myself. I wasn’t always confident about this approach and oftentimes, ‘felt the fear and did it anyway’. My non-traditional training (civil engineer with an MBA and a PhD in public policy) and diverse professional experience enables me to see problems and solutions from divergent perspectives. That, and a motivating desire to help others realize their potential, has positioned me for leadership opportunities.
Compassion helps to lift up our humanity and, at the end of the day, making a positive difference for others is our ultimate purpose in life. – Greta Harris, President & CEO
The theme for 2021 International Women’s Day is “Choose to Challenge.” What action do you pledge to take to challenge gender bias in our society?
G: My action this year would be to continue to provide greater opportunity access for the families BHC serves. Since most of our modest income residents are female-headed households, the more workforce opportunities or more quality, affordable housing that we can provide ultimately helps our families to thrive and find their success.
J: I challenge women to have strong opinions and let their voices be heard. Women are not expected to have strong opinions, and if they do, they are considered mad, difficult or hysterical whereas opinionated men are considered strong, dedicated and driven. Never let anyone (male or female) intimidate your ideas or thoughts.
M: I pledge to support and sponsor the next generation of minority women leaders in traditionally male-dominated industries (commercial real estate).
– Julie Hovermale, CFO
Each of you have worked/studied in traditionally male dominated fields. Did you experience gender bias, and if so, how did you overcome or cope with it?
G: I could write a book on the experiences I’ve had in the architecture, construction and real estate development industries. There have been comments, actions and policies that certainly didn’t always make my path easier, but I was always fortunate to find allies and advisors that helped me navigate those choppy waters.
J: I have never thought about this before. I am not sure if I ever experienced gender bias in a job but I have been asked inappropriate and illegal interview questions. Some included – if I was planning on having any more children. How old were my children. If I was married.
I definitely was aware that the top positions in accounting were male dominated. I think woman are looked at as not as committed as men because they may be parents or are young and of child bearing age.
M: Whenever I felt like I didn’t belong (particularly early in my career) I thought about my grandmother Phoebe Williams. She was a direct descendant of slaves and the strongest, most resilient woman I have ever known. When I am nervous, I reflect on her legacy and on whose shoulders I stand. I now deeply understand that I deserved to be in every room and have a unique and valuable perspective to share.
– Monique Johnson, COO
What is your hope or advice for the next generation of women leaders?
G: The most important champion I had was my mother who always encouraged me to dream big and to never give up. I would share that same advice to the next generation of women leaders. Our world needs us to be bold so that more lives can be improved to unleash their fullest potential.
J: My hope is one day we will not have to have an International Women’s Day. Women will be looked on as equal to their male counterparts.
M: Be authentic and live your own truth. That may change over the course of your career which is perfectly fine. We are created to evolve.
What is your go-to female empowerment song?
G: “I’m Every Woman” – Whitney Houston
J: “Roar” – Katy Perry
M: “Girl on Fire” – Alicia Keys
For more songs recommended from BHC staff, volunteers and followers, follow our Spotify Women’s Empow-HER-ment Playlist