It was 2012 when Diane Burnette, who at the time was working for Kansas City, Missouri, not-for-profit Midtown KC Now, received the news she had been waiting for: she was selected as a recipient of the Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) Prologis Achievement Award. Since Burnette could not afford to attend the ULI Fall Meeting without the award, she was grateful for the opportunity. She was also eager to take ideas back home that she could implement at her local district council.

“It was fantastic,” Burnette says of the experience. “I thought I was the luckiest person in the world.”

The annual awards are given to women who are ULI members with at least seven years of real estate experience. They must have exhibited leadership in their district councils or on the national or global level to be selected for the award, which funds the winner’s participation at the ULI Fall and Spring Meetings.

Once back in Kansas City, Burnette helped kick off WLI at ULI Kansas City, as well as other programs. A tsunami followed.

“The next thing I know is we always applied,” she says of ULI Kansas City. “We never let a season go by, or a Fall Meeting or scholarships season go by, where we did not submit because it’s like, don’t miss this opportunity.”

That sentiment is what Gayle Starr, a WLI Executive Committee member, hoped for. Starr, now a Prologis consultant, was managing director of capital markets at Prologis and a member of the company’s Breakthrough advisory council, made up of senior female leaders, when she helped identify the need for such a program.

“I took on that responsibility, and I looked around at what organization would do the best at trying to promote this,” Starr says. “That’s when I got involved with ULI.”

Prologis, a San Francisco–based real estate investment trust, was looking for ways to introduce more women to senior levels of real estate, Starr says. The company also wanted to find more ways to increase the representation not only of women in the industry, but also people of color, says Colleen McKeown, chief human resources officer at Prologis.

“Anything we can do to help encourage and sponsor women and others to be in the industry, even if they don’t work for us, is a great thing for everyone,” McKeown says.

Starr says that working with WLI was the perfect fit. Diane Hoskins, co–chief executive officer at Gensler, agrees.

“WLI as an umbrella is really important to ULI and to the real estate industry,” Hoskins says. “Then when we talk about the Prologis scholarship program, it just brings even more action or more actual kind of investment in the next generation of women leaders in real estate—through professional development, through professional networking, exposure, and opportunity.”

Opening doors to help diversify the industry is a goal of the WLI Prologis Achievement Award. White men hold more than 75 percent of senior executive jobs in the commercial real estate industry nationwide, compared with 14.1 percent for white women, according to a Bella Research Group and Knight Foundation study. In addition, 1.3 percent of these jobs are held by Black men and less than 1 percent by women of color. In contrast, women represent more than 50 percent of full-time employees at the junior level, according to the “Global Real Estate DEI Survey 2021,” in which ULI was a participant.

“One of the goals of WLI is to raise the visibility of women leaders, and the scholars program is just an absolute perfect way to do that,” says Ellen Klasson, WLI chair. “It’s taking women who are already leading in their companies—they are already leading within ULI, whether locally or at the Americas level—and giving them the opportunity to be on a product council, which is incredibly hard to get a spot on.”

“The opportunity for participation that the award provides is important to the overall strategy of accelerating the representation of women of color in the industry and as leaders at ULI,” adds Sonia Huntley, senior vice president of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) at ULI.

Misty Staunton, who is in the current class of WLI Prologis scholars, is grateful for the opportunity. She has witnessed the lack of diversity firsthand after attending a WLI reception at a previous ULI Fall Meeting.

“When I went there, it was intimidating because there were a lot of white women, and I’m half black, half Mexican,” Staunton says. “The women were very pleasant and they were very nice, but I definitely saw [and wondered], why aren’t there more women like me here because we’re definitely in the field, but why are we not at WLI?”

Staunton is chief of staff in the Houston Planning and Development Department. After not being selected as a WLI Prologis scholar the first time she applied, now that she is a recipient, she is thrilled.

“I was shocked and also extremely nervous when I saw the other women that they chose, who are amazing,” Staunton says. “I just looked them up on LinkedIn. You know sometimes you sit there and you’re like, am I this good or did they accidentally just say, ‘We’ll give her a chance’? I don’t know, but I’m just overwhelmed with excitement to meet everyone.”

Staunton is also looking forward to having a mentor. All the participants will be matched with mentors and participate in product council activities at the ULI Spring Meeting.

“The review subcommittee truly has a tough job in selecting the winners,” says WLI director Mankaa Ngwa-Suh. The recipients are ambassadors for the WLI network and demonstrate the leadership traits and commitment that strengthen the industry, she says. “These women represent a wealth of knowledge and experience—and to be part of growing their career, WLI is benefiting, too.”

“The scholarship winners join their mentor as a guest at their product council,” says Emma West, a member of the WLI Executive Committee and the subcommittee for the program. “This benefits the winner in many ways because it helps them understand what product councils are, how the system works, and then [they] can make strong connections at the Council Day.”

Ayako Utsumi, a member of the current scholar class and co-chair of WLI at ULI Los Angeles, is looking forward to attending the Spring Meeting in San Diego. Having spent two decades working in health care and more than a decade in affordable housing development, Utsumi is interested in expanding the intersection of health and the built environment, she says. “I want to work specifically in the space of complex care management integrated into housing for vulnerable adults.”

Her goal as one of four members of the California Integrated Care at Home Working Group is to adapt the Support and Services at Home model to California. It focuses on helping vulnerable individuals navigate the health care system and receive continuous care while being able to stay at home.

“I want to meet people in ULI who can listen and learn about this model and advise me on how and who to talk with to make this happen,” Utsumi says.

Elizabeth McMillan, a former WLI Prologis scholar, is proof of the impact the program can have. It has offered her experiences through networking with other women and given her a better understanding of the inner workings of ULI.

“It’s been a great thing for me as a female in the real estate industry,” says McMillan, who is project executive at Crescent Communities in Charlotte, North Carolina. “I’m a member of a product council now, but that really kind of introduced me to that and what ULI could be beyond the local district council.”

Burnette credits the program with her success. She became the chief administrative officer at the Broadway Area Community Improvement District in Kansas City, was a ULI district council chair and chair for mission advancement, and is now vice president of District Councils at ULI.

“When we talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion, what this does is it gives people that opportunity,” Burnette says. “Not everybody has this chance.”

For more information about the WLI Prologis Achievement Award and to view eligibility criteria, visit americas.uli.org/programs/leadership-network/womens-initiative/wli-programs/wli-awards-grants/ or email wli@uli.org.

Presenting the 2022 WLI Prologis Achievement Award Winners

Lisa Cholmondeley, AIA, NOMA, LEED BD+C, CDT
Principal, Gensler

Lisa began her architectural career at Cornell University. After graduating, she had incredible teaching opportunities in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C. Following graduate school in London at the Architectural Association, she spent several years at a variety of firms across London before joining Gensler in 2008. Prior to joining the Gensler San Francisco office, she was part of the Gensler team that delivered a 6 million square foot (557,418 sq m) portion of a large mixed-use development in Qatar. She has delivered projects in the U.S, the U.K., the Middle East, and Africa. She has spent almost half of her career working on interiors, but most recently has been focused on large scale, mixed-use commercial projects in the Bay Area.

Susan L. Hill
Senior Managing Director, JLL Capital Markets, Americas

Susan L. Hill is a senior managing director in the Houston office of JLL Capital Markets, Americas. She joined JLL as part of the HFF acquisition with more than 34 years of experience in commercial real estate. She is primarily responsible for originating debt and equity placement transactions throughout the southern United States across all property types. Over the course of her career, Susan has completed in excess of $15 billion in commercial real estate transactions.

Ra’eesa Motala
Vice President, Rokos Advisors

As an industrial and corporate solutions advisor, Ra’eesa Motala provides her clients with transparent and measurable results for their commercial real estate requirements. Her primary focus is within corporate headquarters, industrial manufacturing, research and development, and med-tech uses. She provides clients with counsel on lease negotiations, site selection, acquisitions, incentive programs, development opportunities, and investments.

Through her cost reduction focus, Motala has earned a leading reputation in the industrial sector and established a portfolio as an owner herself. Within her time in the brokerage industry, she has closed transactions totaling over 4 million square feet (371,612 sq m) which equated to around $50 million in total consideration. These transactions have included multiple headquarters site selections, expansions, and continued value and protection of her client’s real estate interests during merger and acquisition activity.

Motala earned a Bachelor of Science in Developmental Child Psychology and Pre-Medicine at the University of Minnesota and an M.D. from St. Matthews University School of Medicine.

Monika Rau
General Manager, Ratio.City

Monika Rau (B.A., M.Sc., M.B.A) has over seven years of experience working on complex real estate development projects in both Toronto and Vancouver and has worked in all facets of the real estate industry from brokerage to planning, development, and proptech. She has extensive experience with industry involvement and leading fundraising campaigns revolving around responsible land use, holding leadership roles with ULI British Columba, CREW Vancouver, and Salvation Army Nine Stories of Hope.

Paige Ritchie
Development Manager, Bosa Properties

Paige Ritchie has eight years of real estate development experience and is currently managing the planning, development, and construction of a portfolio of projects in the Lower Mainland (Vancouver, British Columbia) as a Development Manager for Bosa Properties. Bosa is a family-run company that has earned a reputation for quality, integrity, and innovation in real estate development and construction. Ritchie spent nearly five years as a member of British Columbia’s ULI Young Leaders group before co-founding the Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) in 2019. She currently co-chairs the WLI BC and has managed to grow her committee from 3 to 16 members in three years. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Geography with a specialty in Development & Sustainability. In her spare time, Ritchie volunteers as a board member with a local non-profit whose mission is to provide women recovering from addiction with a safe and healthy environment.

Amanda Rhein
Executive Director, Atlanta Land Trust

Amanda Rhein is executive director of the Atlanta Land Trust, a non-profit committed to creating and preserving affordable housing in Atlanta.

Prior to joining the Atlanta Land Trust, Rhein led the transit oriented development (TOD) initiative at MARTA, the nation’s ninth-largest public transit system, resulting in the redevelopment of over 35 acres (14.1 ha) of underutilized surface parking at eight heavy rail stations.

Rhein graduated from Boston College with a B.A. in sociology. She earned a Master of City and Regional Planning from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Rhein is an active member at ULI where she is co-chair of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council and a member of both the Livable Communities Council and Atlanta District Council Advisory Board. During her tenure as the inaugural co-chair of the ULI Atlanta Center for Leadership, she designed and implemented an innovative leadership program for real estate professionals, which now serves as a national model.

Misty Staunton
Chief of Staff, City of Houston Planning and Development Department

Misty Staunton is the chief of staff for the City of Houston Planning and Development Department. She works with community leaders, developers, and consultants to shape the growth of the city. She has contributed to the city’s public policy oversight of Extraterritorial Jurisdiction releases, Foreign Trade Zones, and Management Districts.

Misty has strengthened public and private partnerships from the neighborhood level to a regional scale, driven by her belief that these partnerships are the basis for resilient cities. She is committed to being a liaison between the regulatory aspects of urban planning, marrying community-driven priorities expressed through public engagement with the vision of long-term growth and development in Houston.

Misty is the recipient of the 2017 ULI Rose Center Scholarship and the Outstanding Collaboration Award from the City of Houston Planning and Development Department.

Misty holds a B.A. in Family Community Service and a Master’s in International Planning from Michigan State University.

Aida Stoddard
Director of Development, GemdaleUSA

Aida Stoddard is the Director of Development for GemdaleUSA in New York where she manages Development teams and works closely with the Acquisitions group. Ms. Stoddard periodically serves on the USA Investment Committee, and is an active member of GEMS, Gemdale’s internal women’s organization.

Stoddard has been working in the construction, design, and development fields in New York for more than twenty-five years. Prior to her role at GemdaleUSA, she has managed development teams most recently at Jonathan Rose Companies and Twining Properties. Stoddard is an active WLI/ULI member having served on the WLI-NY steering committee for two years as co-chair of the Scholarship committee and is currently a member of the New York Mixed-Use Development Product Council [Blue].

Stoddard received her B.A. from Columbia College and Masters of Architecture from Columbia University.

Ayako Utsumi, MPH
Founder of Valon Consulting, Affordable Homes Development

Ayako Utsumi prides herself in being the only full-time real estate developer with a public health background. She founded her consultancy in 2008 after 17 years in healthcare business development in inner city hospitals, Federally Qualified Health Clinic (FQHC), and venture capital backed national medical groups. She was also a management consultant for companies like Deloitte Consulting in health systems strategy and operations. Utsumi pursued her dreams of entrepreneurship and set out to expand the intersection of health and the built environment. Building safe, healthy, affordable, and accessible housing is the foundation of creating vibrant communities. Valon Consulting provides small, non-profit clients with business development and project management services to build affordable homes. She has a Master of Public Health in Health Policy and Management from University of California, Los Angeles and a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences from the University of California, Irvine.

Gina Wieczorek
Principal of Casitas Development

Gina Wieczorek is the Principal of Casitas Development, a turnkey multi-family Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) development and consulting firm. Casitas was started with the goal of assisting multi-family owners and investors navigate the design, permitting and construction process to build ADUs on their properties. Gina is also part of the consultant team that was awarded contracts with the City of Pasadena and City of West Hollywood for each of their affordable ADU pilot programs.

Gina has over ten years of development and construction experience working on numerous commercial, retail, and multi-family projects. Before starting Casitas, Gina was the director of development for Urbaneer, leading design, entitlement, development, and construction efforts for the portfolio, including multifamily value-add, adaptive reuse and new construction properties.

Gina holds an M.B.A. with a focus in Real Estate from New York University and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.