Reflecting on Shattering the Glass Ceiling: Q&A with JLL’s Barbara Liberatore Black

The Miami Herald sat down with Barbara to find out how she has used determination, smarts and a thick skin to confront gender bias and succeed in a field that remains dominated by men. Here’s just a snippet of their interview:

When Barbara Liberatore Black got her start in commercial real estate in the 1980s, women in her industry were a rare breed. At the time, a small number of commercial brokers nationally were female and bias against women was common in the workplace.

Since then, Barbara has overcome the odds on the way to building a successful business, counseling large international corporations doing business in South Florida, and achieving a leadership role with one of the world’s largest commercial real estate advisory firms.


Q: You got into a career dominated by men in the early 80s, when women in commercial real estate were a rarity. Did you face obstacles based on your gender?

Gender bias in commercial real estate hit me even before I launched my career. When I applied for my first brokerage job after earning my real estate license in Washington DC, the manager who interviewed me made it clear he would hire me were it not for my upcoming wedding. He felt I would always be distracted by my personal life and encouraged me to focus on my family. I pushed back and he offered me a job as a secretary, but I went on to join another company. Years later, he found out I was getting divorced and called to offer me a brokerage position.

Women brokers were virtually non-existent in commercial real estate in the 1980s. We made up a very small percentage of the industry nationally, and even less in South Florida. When I arrived in Miami, there was one woman in residential real estate moving into commercial, but I was the only female on the commercial side. We’ve come a long way as an industry, though challenges still exist.


Q: Gender bias has been a hot topic recently.  How has this issue impacted your career?

I’ve learned that breaking through the so-called ‘glass ceiling’ and earning the respect of my male counterparts means working harder and taking myself more seriously than they do. The vast majority of my colleagues have been gentlemen, but there are a few examples of men stepping over the line.

In my early days as a broker, I thought I nailed my first major business pitch. I left the room confident and ready to get to work for the client. The next day, the prospect called and I was certain he was going to hire me. Instead, he was calling to ask me out on a date. It was deflating to my morale, but it was a sign of what I was up against in commercial real estate.

Gender bias in the workplace has long been a constant in business, and recent events have put the issue in the public forefront. I’m hopeful that employers and employees will learn from this high-profile example and be more mindful of their words and actions.

CREW Miami panel on gender bias: Moderator Cynthia Demos, Fairchild Partners' Maria Juncadella, Florida Bar President Bill Schifino, GrayRobinson's Mayanne Downs, Bilzin Sumberg's Al Dotson, JLL's Barbara Liberatore Black
CREW Miami panel on gender bias: Moderator Cynthia Demos, Fairchild Partners’ Maria Juncadella, Florida Bar President Bill Schifino, GrayRobinson’s Mayanne Downs, Bilzin Sumberg’s Al Dotson, JLL’s Barbara Liberatore Black

Q: Much of what we’re talking about speaks to company culture. As you have formed and led your own teams, what kind of cultural standards have you sought to create? How has that changed over time?

When I co-launched Cresa South Florida focusing on tenant advisory in the late 1980s, we were working in silos and each of us concentrated on serving clients in different industries. As we began to build our firm, we realized we needed to adopt a collaborative, team-oriented approach. This shift allowed us to deepen our client relationships, pursue new businesses opportunities together, and become more well-rounded as a firm.

Overtime, our revenues grew from $3 million a year to $15 million a year and we were widely recognized as the market’s top tenant advisory firm. Our partners put a great deal of thought into joining JLL before finalizing the sale last year. In the end, we were attracted to JLL’s collaborative culture and the similarities that our teams shared when it comes to building and growing relationships both within the firm and in the community.

Q: How do you diversify your business, since a one-faceted business may have limitations here in Miami?

JLL’s Florida expansion isn’t about growing for growth’s sake. We’re building a statewide firm that delivers service, market intelligence and results that are a step above our competition – and we’re targeting clients that represent a diverse cross-section of industries. Locally, JLL has the deepest bench of talent in South Florida and we are backed by a global platform of capabilities, so we have the resources necessary to achieve market dominance.

One of our firm’s major strengths is our robust landlord leasing practice, where we represent the most prominent office towers in South Florida. We’re also working with the region’s premier new-to-market tenants and existing companies expanding or relocating. We provide other specialized services, including property management, capital markets, project and development services and corporate solutions. Our team is on the front lines in the key sectors in commercial real estate, from office to industrial, retail, hospitality and multi-family.