5 Notable Women in Real Estate

Studio Gang’s Twisting MIRA Tower Tops Out in San Francisco

Fine Art and Real Estate Broker Anna D. Smith celebrates Women’s History Month by honoring 5-notable Women in Real Estate.


CEO Sparky Harlan

Sparky Harlan has been CEO of Bill Wilson Center since 1983.

She is a nationally recognized leader in youth services and was honored by The White House as a Champion for Change in 2012.

Sparky’s expertise includes working with runaway and homeless youth, foster youth, and youth involved with the justice system.

Sparky Harland has many awards:

The White House honored Sparky Harlan as a Champion for Change in 2012 for making a significant difference in the way communities combat homelessness among children and youth. The Champions of Change program was created as a part of President Obama’s Winning the Future initiative. Additional recognitions include: • 2020 Non-Profit of the Year – Rainbow Chamber of Commerce • 2015 Women Moving Forward – Multi-Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame, KeyPoint Credit Union, The City of Redwood City and the Domini Hoskins Black History Museum in association with the NFL Alumni, Inc • 2012 Mover of Mountains Award – Dr. Martin Luther King Association of Santa Clara Valley • 2012 Community Service Award (Provider) – Santa Clara County Mental Health Board • 2011 Human Relations Commission Award – Santa Clara County Human Relations Commission • 2011 Partner of the Year Award – Job Corps • 2010 Outstanding Agency Administrator Award – National Safe Place; • 2007 Executive Leadership Award of Excellence – National Network for Youth • 2006 Community Partner in Success Award – Volunteers In Parole Mentors • 2004 National Best Practice Model – Bill Wilson House – Federal Runaway and Homeless Youth (RHY) • 2004 Youth Development Award – Western States Youth Conference • 2004 LACY Honors Award – Legal Advocates for Youth • 2003 Project Cornerstone Award – YMCA • 2001 Lifeline Award – San Jose Magazine • 1998 STAR Award – United Way • 1993 CREST Award – City of Cupertino • 1989 Vida Award – United Way (first recipient)

The benefits of social service safety nets such as Bill Wilson Center are numerous. Bill Wilson Center services not only address the various needs of individuals in our community, they also equate to long-term economic savings at the State and County level.

The origins of Bill Wilson Center go back to 1973 when a prominent Santa Clara citizen, Bill Wilson, Jr., worked with troubled youth in addition to owning Wilson’s Jewel Bakery and serving as a Santa Clara City Councilman (1963-1971), with a term as mayor in 1965.

Bill collaborated with faculty at Santa Clara University on a proposal for a counseling center which would combine counseling of students in the local secondary schools with a family therapy program. Wilson’s credibility with both the counseling professionals and Santa Clara political and business leaders was an important factor in creating this community-based service.

Webster Center, as it was then called, opened its doors in the fall of 1973. Bill Wilson continued to be involved as an active member of its Board of Directors. He later earned a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology and volunteered as a counselor at the Center.

In May 1977, after a brief illness, Bill died at the age of forty-one. The staff and the Board of Directors made the unanimous decision to change the name of Webster Center to Bill Wilson Center in memory of this very special person and one of the founders of Bill Wilson Center.

With an emphasis on ending youth and family homelessness, Bill Wilson Center programs focus on building self-confidence and developing personal assets. With these tools, we believe youth and families can permanently change the direction of their lives.

A key component of Bill Wilson Center’s philosophy encompasses a strength-based approach to improving the lives of the youth and young families in our communities. BWC’s staff and volunteers identify the strengths in each individual and family group and build on those strengths so they are empowered to make positive changes in their lives.

While the agency was founded to serve youth … creating a healthy, safe community requires that people in all age groups receive the support they need. For this reason, Bill Wilson Center continues expanding its depth of services for adults and families.

Bill Wilson Center provides services to more than 5,000 children, youth, young adults and families in Santa Clara County through our various programs. Additionally, we reach more than 30,000 clients through our Street Outreach and crisis line programs. Bill Wilson Center programs focus on housing, education, counseling, and advocacy. Bill Wilson Center is committed to working with the community to ensure that every youth has access to the range of services needed to grow to be healthy and self-sufficient adults. Bill Wilson Center has been providing services to run away and homeless youth since 1973.


Michelle Miller [https://thefarmbabe.com/

It’s not often the women of agriculture can get together, but a recent event gave the ladies of the sweet potato industry a chance to do just that.

The second annual FarmHER event, put on by the North Carolina SweetPotato Commission (NCSPC), was a cause for celebration. Women in the industry gathered in the Barn at Broadslab to celebrate their roots, raise money for a good cause, and enjoy a sweet meal.

Keynote speaker Michelle Miller, known in agriculture circles as the Farm Babe, delivered the keynote address. She shared her story of becoming an advocate for agriculture, including influencing Burger King to change a negative agriculture campaign. While she is known online, Michelle emphasized that’s not the only place we can share our story. Whether it’s the grocery store, church, or our own table, she encouraged everyone to share their story because each of us has a different story. Michelle concluded with the challenge that if we don’t share our own story, who will?

With an average social media reach of 2-3 million per month and 200K followers, Michelle has made a name for herself as a dedicated myth-buster in the food industry and has influenced corporations as powerful as Burger King.

Michelle brings a unique perspective as a big city globetrotter turned farm girl, and plants the seed inside the minds of those looking to understand the truth about modern agricultural production. With one of the most popular and vibrant food and farming social media followings, the Farm Babe™ is the real deal.


As part of the event, the NCSPC partnered with the Pretty in Pink Foundation. This group provides funds for women who are uninsured or underinsured to pay for breast cancer treatment. Since this year is the 60th anniversary of the commission, they set a goal of raising $600 for the Foundation. A live auction blew that goal out of the water, raising almost $10,000. That amount is increasing as the commission is selling limited edition NC Sweetpotato Farm Babe T-shirts, with the proceeds going to the foundation.

At an event for women it seemed fitting that many of the vendors were women-owned businesses and connected to the industry. Flowers at each table were grown by Eryn Godwin, the granddaughter of one of the commission’s founders. 

SJ’s Sweet Creations made wonderful cupcakes that combined two great North Carolina foods – sweet potatoes and bacon. Cookies were made by the Scripted Leisure. Artwork celebrating the 60th anniversary was created by The Middle Monkey. The event was planned by the four women who work for the commission, and it was supported by many agribusinesses who are part of the industry. 

It’s hard to get away from the farm, but the FarmHER event gave women a few hours away from the field to spend time together, enjoy a meal, and outbid each other for auction items that raised money for a cause close to many attendees’ hearts.


Jean Gang [Studio Gang]

Jeanne Gang is the founder and leader of Studio Gang, an architecture and urban design firm. Her style of architecture goes beyond building structure and cities and instead embodies the building of relationships between human beings and the built world. She considers her architecture a catalyst for change. A good example of this is her Polis station concept which aims to improve how civilians interact with law enforcement by fusing police stations with civic recreational centers. Some of her most notable projects include Aqua Tower in Chicago.
“For Jeanne, architecture is not just a wondrous object. It’s a catalyst for change,” writes Anna Deavere Smith in her Time 100 tribute.


Kelly Otavka

Parallel Capital Partners

My main role at Matter as a real estate paralegal is providing support to our leasing team and helping manage lease negotiations with tenants. I typically step in once we have a signed proposal and work towards getting a signed lease, then set the tenant up in our internal systems and pass the baton off to property management to ensure the tenant has a smooth move-in at the project.

Back in 2012 I started working for OliverMcMillan (a developer based in San Diego, CA), where I was introduced to and fell in love with the world of commercial development. Watching the design of large-scale, mixed-use projects come to life was fascinating to me, and from then on I did my best to be exposed to any aspect of the development process that anyone would let me in on. I learned a ton being in an environment that allowed me to sit in on meetings for the sake of learning. Touring projects we were building around the country and getting involved at a high-level introduced me to aspects of the field I was interested in; the leasing and construction processes.

I took my experience from working at OliverMcMillan, mixed with my paralegal background, to The Corky McMillin Companies, where I started off as a legal assistant. I worked closely with the development, leasing, and asset management teams and quickly integrated into each platform. With the company expanding, I was given the choice to further develop my career in any of the three departments I was working with. With the award of a parcel of land in Little Italy, San Diego just waiting to be developed, I decided to take the route of honing my project management skills and building a 99-unit apartment building in the heart of San Diego. Eighteen Ten State Street was a wild ride, and the most incredible learning experience I could have asked for. We had a wonderful project team, and I learned how to turn a hole in the ground into a building occupied by excited residents in one of the city’s most desirable neighborhoods. I’ve never been more proud than I was when we received Temporary Certificate for Occupancy for the project and started moving tenants in. After closing out the job, I was then given the opportunity to manage the sale of the majority of the commercial portfolio owned by The Corky McMillan Companies, giving me transaction management experience that I will forever be grateful for. With my development and legal background, it paved the way wonderfully to where I am today!

I cannot sing the praise of my previous boss, Joe Haeussler, enough. From day one at The Corky McMillin Companies, we had a great working relationship and he was a great coach/leader on every project we worked on together. To this day he’s always just a call away if I ever need advice, whether that be career or life related. I’ve also been fortunate to cross paths and work with some wonderful women who have never hesitated to help me reach my goals and provide anything from career related support to a sounding board to bounce ideas off. Kymberli Clement of KC Design + Development has been a great resource!

What would you tell other women who are interested in careers in real estate development, fields that are heavily male dominated, or companies/industries that have the “boys club” reputation?

If you dive into your passions and you’re confident in your abilities, you won’t even notice if you’re the only woman in the room.

Being a woman in this industry tends to allow me to automatically connect with other women in real estate development. Joining the Urban Land Institute and networking with other women has helped me form a camaraderie in my life I’ve grown fond of. I enjoy being a part of the crew who shows that you really can be involved in an industry you’re interested in if you work hard and keep working towards your goals.

There are some days I really need to have thick skin. I’m a bubbly, positive person but that isn’t always a productive demeanor and it’s something I’ve worked to temper in the workplace when necessary.


 Laura Berg 

Get Beyond Adversity Caring for yourself and your agents starts with getting off of autopilot and setting goals that matter to you. 

When Laura Berg decided to find her birth parents a few years ago, she never expected they’d reject her. When they did, she turned to YouTube to tell her story. The response was cathartic. “So many people thanked me for sharing,” says Berg, a psychotherapist, professor, and author of the new book, Thriving Life: How to Live Your Best Life No Matter the Cards You’re Dealt. Her YouTube channel, Laura Berg Life, now has more than 100 million views. “Bad things happen in life, but they do not define who you are or the greatness you are capable of achieving,” 

Berg says. “Each new day offers up a chance for you to not just survive but thrive in life.” If you’re not where you want to be in life, Berg suggests doing a written evaluation that answers these four questions: What does your daily work life look like? What do you enjoy? What’s working and what isn’t? What will help you do your job better? Ask your agents to do the same. This will uncover where new plans and strategies are needed to help everyone thrive. 

If your list feels overwhelming, break it into smaller segments or tasks. End the negative thoughts. When you focus on what your life or business is missing, it distracts you from reaching your goals. “We all get stuck and go on autopilot,” Berg says. A quote she lives by: “If you do nothing, nothing happens.” Sharing struggles about her own past helped Berg heal, she says. She offers this advice for helping your agents move past adversity: Find time, a place where both of you can relax with no distractions.

⦁ Be patient if they’re not ready. Let them know you are there to listen. 

⦁ Be present and validate their feelings. If they open up, listen actively, maintain good eye contact, and use body language that is welcoming. 

⦁ Share your own vulnerability. Empathy and commonality let people know you understand.

 ⦁ Establish a culture at your brokerage that mental health is not taboo. 

Explain that the company values mental health, and offer resources, such as a list of resources agents can call for help. Above all else, love yourself. This is mental work that you must do every day to fully believe in yourself and feel that you are worthy of love and success, she says. “Put yourself first,” Berg says. “Then you can be that good business leader and friend.” 


Women’s History Month is a celebration of women’s contributions to history, culture and society and has been observed annually in the month of March in the United States since 1987. Women’s History Month 2022 will take place from Tuesday, March 1-Thursday, March 31, 2022. 

The actual celebration of Women’s History Month grew out of a weeklong celebration of women’s contributions to culture, history and society organized by the school district of Sonoma, California, in 1978.

Women’s History Month is a dedicated month to reflect on the often-overlooked contributions of women to United States history. From Abigail Adams to Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth to Rosa Parks, the timeline of women’s history milestones stretches back to the founding of the United States.

Want more of this kind of content? Be sure to read my February’s blog for Black History Month, “5-Notable African Americans in Real Estate.”

Visit the Home Page to shop for over 200 Art prints by C-Note, the world’s most prolific prison artist.

In honor of Women’s History Month, BestColleges.com curated a guide on women of color’s contributions to women’s history. Our guide covers Black women who transformed history, Native American women who transformed history, Asian American women who transformed history, and Latinas women who transformed history! 

Take a look below:

If you know someone whose Women’s History Month story should be told, tell me and my audience about them in the reply.

If you have additional information, my audience and I would love to hear about it. Tell us about it in the reply.