"We hire the best - dynamic, skilled, passionate… and many of them just so happen to be women."

- Gerald Divaris, CEO

Talented. Strong. Inspiring. These are the women of Divaris.

In honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, we are spotlighting and celebrating the strong female leadership and roles that contribute to Divaris Real Estate’s success. Commercial Real Estate remains a historically male-dominated industry, and has been slower than other industries to improve on gender parity. Last year, The Business Journals reported that “women comprised 36.7% of all professionals in commercial real estate.” This figure has largely stayed the same for the past several decades.

At Divaris Real Estate, we are especially proud to have many women at the helm, making up more than 70% of our team and 50% of our leadership and senior-level positions. Two of our five regional offices are female-led by Principals Loretta Cataldi and Jessica Johnson, and women were promoted in 21 of the 27 company promotions in the past year.

Across our offices in Virginia Beach and Richmond, Virginia; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Washington, D.C. we interviewed our team members to share firsthand industry advice, inspiring personal stories, and anecdotes for success. How has their career path shaped them? What are the ways they are leading change and innovation on their team?

Check out their stories through this new weekly series amplifying female voices throughout our organization, and acknowledging the many contributions the Women of Divaris make at work and in their communities.

Meet DebbieWake

"In this fast-paced world, the ability to listen closely and understand the nuances of every situation is what sets you apart. Commercial real estate is not just about transactions; it's about building lasting relationships and creating value for everyone involved." - Debbie Wake

Debbie Wake’s career in commercial real estate spans over four decades in the industry, marked by a series of notable achievements – most recently being promoted to Executive Vice President for Divaris Real Estate’s office in Richmond, Virginia. A graduate from Virginia Tech with a degree in Business Administration, Debbie ventured into the commercial real estate world through a corporate real estate market research opportunity.

Debbie’s career is characterized by her unique ability to navigate the complex landscape of corporate and brokerage real estate. Her early years in the field were influenced by a serendipitous blend of luck and opportunity, leading her from a corporate real estate market research role directly into the world of negotiating multi-million dollar real estate transactions. Over the years, Debbie has traveled extensively across the country, evaluating and negotiating deals for national retailer store expansion.

Most recently, Debbie’s career has been dedicated to representing the Commonwealth of Virginia, where she and her Team have skillfully managed the state’s real estate needs. Debbie’s approach to real estate is holistic; she understands the intricacies of both buying/selling and leasing, possessing a keen insight into the needs of her clients and the challenges they face in securing approvals for deals. This comprehensive perspective has allowed her to develop a unique set of skills, making her an invaluable asset to Divaris and the clients she serves.

“Debbie Wake joined Divaris in November 2000 and, over the past 24 years, has become a senior associate in the company, recently appointed Executive Vice President. Debbie has always been a successful producer in the company’s brokerage arm and has led the company’s brokerage account with the Commonwealth of Virginia,” said Michael Divaris, President of Divaris Real Estate, and head of the company’s Corporate Services Division. “It is a pleasure to work with Debbie. She is a hard worker and highly respected by her peers.”

CREW Ladies

Debbie at a CREW fundraiser

More from Debbie

Reflecting on my career, I believe that success in this industry hinges on several key principles. First and foremost, being a good listener is crucial. Understanding the facts and being knowledgeable about your field of expertise instills confidence in your clients and colleagues. However, it’s equally important to recognize when you don’t have all the answers. Never shy away from reaching out, asking questions, and leveraging the collective wisdom of your network.

Networking, in fact, is the lifeblood of business. It’s not just about expanding your professional circle but about nurturing genuine connections that can withstand the test of time. Work hard, but remember to enjoy the ride. Balancing diligence with a sense of fun and adventure is my mantra. Whether it’s through traveling to conventions or participating in industry events, creating a core group of relationships has been pivotal to my growth and success in this field.

As I look back on my career, I’m reminded of the importance of sharing knowledge and experience with the next generation. Serving on the Virginia Tech Industry Advisory Board for the Blackwood Real Estate Program and being a part of the Real Estate Circle of Excellence at Virginia Commonwealth University are opportunities that allow me to give back, fostering a new wave of talent in commercial real estate.

To those just starting out or looking to advance in their careers, my advice is simple: embrace every opportunity to learn, build your network with intention, and always approach your work with a blend of professionalism and passion. In real estate, every interaction, every deal, and every challenge is a stepping stone to greater achievements.

Meet EmmaClemans

“My dad and I have always said ‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.’ It’s been a great reminder when I am nervous or unsure of trying something new. I’ve found myself referring to it in my work and personal life, it’s always given me that extra push.” - Emma Clemans

Emma Clemans is a highly skilled and dedicated administrative assistant AKA primary support – right hand partner – and key collaborator. She is known as a self-motivated, disciplined, and dependable worker, Emma thrives under pressure and has earned a reputation for being a valuable asset in any workplace. Her positive attitude, organizational skills, and drive make her an invaluable member of the Divaris Richmond team.

Working closely with agents and principal Loretta Cataldi, Emma has discovered her natural talent for marketing and communications. Loretta has taken Emma under her wing, giving her the extra push to pursue brokerage. Emma’s role has expanded, and she is excelling through the company as a future leader, poised to make a significant impact on the team’s success. Currently in the process of obtaining her real estate license, Emma is dedicated to her professional growth and is committed to continuing to improve her skills and knowledge in the industry.

Trail Blazer

Emma rides her Yamaha TTR 230 at Red Oak Hollow in Danville, Virginia

More from Emma

“When I first entered the workforce, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I explored various trades – everything from fashion to banking. I couldn’t envision myself thriving in those industries and it didn’t excite me. I had always been intrigued by commercial real estate, so I took the leap!

Joining Divaris was a turning point for me as it was the first time I felt motivated and inspired to learn more about the industry, from listings to deals, and work alongside brokers.

Leaving my comfort zone to pursue something that interested me was one of the best decisions I have ever made. The pursuit of knowledge and eagerness to learn that I found at Divaris motivates and inspires me. I have set goals for myself and each time I meet and surpass them, I am driven to set new ones. This drive and passion have led me from being an admin to learning marketing and communications, and now to pursuing brokerage. My team at Divaris has been incredibly supportive and motivating, and it makes me feel proud to look back at how far I have come.”

Meet CarlottaLilly

“Always remember success takes time. It doesn’t matter how you start, just start! I have the amazing opportunity to work around several successful women on a daily basis which has been extremely beneficial to me." - Carlotta Lilly

Carlotta Lilly has been a part of Divaris Property Management Corp (DPMC) since 2009, where she oversees a portfolio of retail shopping centers in Hampton Roads, Florida and Tennessee totaling 985,430 square feet. People know her for taking initiative and demonstrating integrity in all aspects of her work, from building maintenance to budgeting, administration, tenant relations, and overseeing capital and tenant improvements.

Carlotta’s hard work and dedication haven’t gone unnoticed. She’s received quite a few awards and recognitions during her time with Divaris. In 2011, she was named the Property Manager of the Year. In 2014, she was honored with the Leadership award. And in 2015, she took home the Property Management award. She was recently promoted to Associate Director.

Celebrating 30 Years

Carlotta enjoying time with colleagues at Susan Collins’ retirement party.

More from Carlotta

“In 2002, before joining Divaris, I was granted the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of property management and accepted the challenge working as a property administrator. I didn’t let anything hinder my growth or eagerness to learn and it has certainly paid off.

I was mentored by a former supervisor who is now one of my best friends, so I feel it is my duty to positively influence and empower other women by sharing the knowledge I’ve gained from hands-on experience, education, and training so that they can accomplish their goals in this field.

My advice to other women who are just starting out in their careers is to work hard and take risks. Know that there will be challenges, but it will all be worth it. Don’t forget to celebrate your wins along the way.

Lastly, work-life balance is important too. It’s okay to say “no” and let the things that can wait, wait! Exercise is medicine so make the time for the gym or things that you love!”

Meet KristaCosta

Krista Costa

“You have to ask for what you want. As high performing women, it is important to remind each other of that  you don’t get what you don’t ask for! We must continue to push the limits of the commercial real estate industry and support one another.” - Krista Costa

Krista Costa is the Executive Vice President of Corporate Services and Office Leasing for Divaris Real Estate. She’s been in the commercial real estate game since 2001 and is a leading force in office leasing in Coastal Virginia.

Krista’s expertise of the Southeastern Virginia market is indispensable to her clients who range from local tenant representation to publicly traded REIT ownerships. Her leasing portfolio is made up of over one million square feet of office product, including a large block of Class A office space, centrally located in the Town Center of Virginia Beach, and Class B and C office spaces throughout the cities of Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Suffolk. Additionally, Krista represents both buyers and sellers in the acquisition as well as the disposition of office and freestanding retail buildings throughout the market.

Krista is dedicated to her alma mater, Old Dominion University (ODU), and stays involved by chairing the E.V. Williams Center for Real Estate advisory committee. She’s also been mentoring female college students through ODU’s Women’s Initiative Network since 2019.

Perhaps one of Krista’s most favored engagements is her work with Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) Coastal Virginia, a chapter of CREW Network. Krista is a founding member of the Coastal Virginia chapter. Since 2004 Krista has supported CREW’s mission of being dedicated to transforming the commercial real estate industry by advancing women globally.

IBI Annual Golf Tournament

Left to right: Rachel Salasky, Gwen Gilbert, Krista Costa
Bottom:
Nicole Campbell

More from Krista

“I’ve reaped the benefits of having a few great mentors including one with a vested interest in my success, who just happens to also be my boss, and the President of Divaris Real Estate, Michael Divaris. This support and encouragement have been integral to my career and has inspired me to take on a mentor role as well – both in our industry and for other young women in general.

In the office, I’ve had the great joy of building a successful team with my colleague, Nicole Campbell. I’ve also had the pleasure of being involved in the E.V. Williams Center for Real Estate at Old Dominion University, to help educate the next generation about commercial real estate. Through CREW, I have been able to network and connect with other women in the industry. This network allows us to inspire and disrupt the male-dominated industry with empowered women. It’s important to make these connections not just in your industry, but any industry – that communication and collaboration is key.

I will be the first to tell you that I’ve had to work extremely hard to get where I am today. My success didn’t just happen overnight. I am proud to work for a company that encourages women to break the glass and pushes for success in every one of their employees.”

Meet Patty Kelly

“Being one step ahead is the key to success in property management. By cultivating a proactive mindset you can anticipate potential issues and address them before they arise to keep things running smoothly for all involved.” - Patty Kelly

Patty Kelly is an integral part of Divaris’ leadership team as Senior Vice President of Property Management Services. With over 25 years of experience in commercial property management and real estate, Patty is a seasoned pro who’s worked with some of the best mentors in the business. She’s learned everything from leasing to construction from the ground up, and loves nothing more than tackling unique challenges in every new project she takes on.

Patty’s a true team player who thrives on the variety of her role. She’s a diligent, hardworking, and detail-oriented professional who knows how to get the job done right. Before joining Divaris, Patty managed over a million square feet of commercial and office space, and oversaw a portfolio of over 2 million square feet. She’s handled everything from day-to-day property management to big and small construction/redevelopment projects, acquisitions, and dispositions.

Patty and the Divaris Fitness Group

Left to right:Tahj Coleman, Judy Gerber, Jamie Short, Kelsey Eicher, Amy Campbell, Carol Aubuchon, Alexis Gordon, Kevin Lee, Kristina Townsend, Patty Kelly

More from Patty

I believe that a collaborative approach combined with individual recognition and empowerment is a recipe for success in any team or project. By recognizing and leveraging the unique strengths of each team member, and working together, we can achieve our goals more effectively and efficiently.

I have been fortunate in having the privilege of working with some exceptional mentors throughout my career who have given invaluable insights that have helped me grow my capabilities and grow strong solid teams.

If I were able to advise my younger self, I would emphasize to learn as much as you can in areas that interest you and even more in some of the areas that don’t. Expand your mind and viewpoints by surrounding yourself with people who have diverse experiences.

Most importantly, do what you love, follow your heart and stay focused. Be sure to understand the importance of the people in the process. Finally, I would tell myself to celebrate the good, find the light at the end of the tunnel and have fun!

It’s important to stay curious. I am constantly asking and wanting to know more, and our brokers always take the time to mentor me. I try to reciprocate and know that it’s important in any job to include in those questions what else can I do? What else can I help with? Those are great ways to learn, too. Always ask questions. Always be curious. Always ask about what you’re interested in.”

Meet Loretta Cataldi

“When I started in this business I was honored to work with a group of great mentors. I feel like it’s only my duty to give back to others with that.” - Loretta Cataldi

Loretta Cataldi joined Divaris Real Estate in 2020 as Principal and Managing Broker for the Richmond office. Her official start date was mid-March right as COVID-19 took hold of the United States, and the world, closed public spaces and shuttered the global economy. A self-described people-person who thrives on one-on-one interaction, this pushed Loretta to re-think how she would lead while working remotely. She creatively strategized and aptly pivoted to her clients current and future needs in a time without a playbook or past industry advice to look to.

Loretta has nearly 30 years of industry experience, and is renowned across the region for her business prowess, demonstrated consistency in year-over-year revenue growth, and focus on relationship building. With a passion for retail and development, she specializes in all aspects of sales and leasing for tenants and landlords throughout the Mid-Atlantic.

Women of the Richmond Team

Left to right, top row: Dawn Calabrese, Logan Stycos, Justine Berzowski, Sara Goodall
Bottom row: Rebecca Kohan, Debbie Wake, Emma Hardin
Not pictured: Cheryle Toy, Madeleine Alderman, Ali McCrickard, Brett McNamee

More from Loretta

“Joining Divaris Real Estate as Principal and Managing Broker was a major career accomplishment for me. The opportunity also felt like an acknowledgement of my strength as a mentor and dedication to bringing others up, offering advice to agents at all levels in their career.

I have been working toward transforming the way we think about career development, and launched a mentorship pilot program within our Richmond office, working one-on-one with rising agents at all levels. We are now expanding mentorship programs company-wide, and nationally through our partner, Realty Resources. I won’t deny working in this industry has been fruitful. I am committed to paying it forward by mentoring and empowering more women to get into commercial real estate. Together, we can share our experience, set an example of equitable gains in the industry, climb the same career ladder, and as the women of Divaris have demonstrated – be just as successful.”

Loretta volunteers with the American Suicide Foundationin memory of her brother and to help build awareness; with Junior Achievement as “teacher for a day;” and with local charities throughout the year. She is actively involved with multiple organizations such as the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), Urban Land Institute (ULI), Commercial Real Estate Women of RVA (CREW), and Greater Richmond Area Commercial Real Estate (GRACRE).

Currently, Loretta is a licensed broker in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia.

Meet Vivian Turok

"When women are assertive and speak up or stand up for themselves, we are often seen in the negative, and too aggressive. I encourage all women to stay assertive, tenacious, ambitious, and determined. We can be the expert in the room without having to be timid about it." - Vivian Turok

Vivian Turok is Divaris Real Estate’s longest standing employee, celebrating 45 years with the company. As Senior Vice President she focuses on office leasing representing both landlords and tenants and brings extensive experience and market knowledge to every transaction as if its her own.

As a graduate of the University of Cape Town, South Africa in the 70s, a young and motivated Vivian met for dinner with a family friend — Gerald Divaris, and convinced him to hire her in an administrative role on a 90-day trial basis. One month in, Gerald asked Vivian to fill in and show a prospective tenant a space. He would offer her commission if a lease was signed. Vivian was a natural fit for the task. The tenant signed a lease earning her six times her monthly salary, and the rest is the trailblazing history of Vivian Turok.

Vivian’s accomplishments and year-over-year growth certainly influenced the rise of women in more prominent roles at Divaris, paving the way for outstanding women to rise within an industry characterized by successful men.

Divaris employs the highest ratio of women in commercial real estate in Hampton Roads, setting the Divaris team apart as one of the only commercial real estate firms in the nation whose hiring and promotion is representative of such equity. When we consider the gender gap and the inroads women have made in the industry through recent decades, we have pioneering women and mentors like Vivian Turok to thank.

Vivian’s Team

Left to right: Jessica Castro, Kelsey Preble, Vivian Turok, Casey Kimmel, Amy Campbell

More from Vivian

“Different strokes for different folks,” that’s what I always say. You have to be able to read your audience to be successful in commercial real estate. Some people want me to lead, and some prefer suggestions and coming to a conclusion on their own. Making a connection, building a relationship, and finding an effective communication style varies by person, and can really make or break a deal.

I have always believed in having good mentors, like Michael and Gerald who have always been my biggest advocates. When I mentor a young person, I always offer the same advice as we focus on our goals: be honest and trustworthy, your reputation is your most important business credential. Don’t ever give up, follow up is crucial.

And finally, family first, always. In this amazing career I have won many awards, but my ultimate trophy is my family and their successes in the future. They are my greatest measure of success, and my greatest investment.”

Meet Elizabeth Napolitano

“Get involved. I got involved in our community through philanthropy and networking very young, and I am grateful for the longevity of those relationships and connections now, 10 years later” - Elizabeth Napolitano

Elizabeth Napolitano joined Divaris 10 years ago as an Executive Assistant and has grown to Assistant Vice President. She specializes in retail leasing and sale services for both Landlords and Tenants throughout Virginia, as well as North and South Carolina.

Elizabeth is a founding member and former President of Generation MOCA, an active member and former chair of the CBDX, and previously served on the executive committee of the Downtown 100. She has been recognized as a local leader and community advocate through Millenial on the Move, Top 40 Under 40, and numerous industry awards.

A Great Mentor

Alex and Elizabeth go head to head in an arm wrestling match!

More from Elizabeth

“When I was hired at Divaris nearly a decade ago, I remember saying, “Commercial Real Estate is a man’s world, and I want to be a woman in it.” And of course when you say that at Divaris, you look around and it is all women, and it’s easy to forget what a male-dominated industry this really is. It’s very motivating to be a part of such a strong roster of women.”

“I also can’t stress enough involvement as a powerful business tool. Get involved, stay involved – building relationships in your 20s and 30s that have the longevity to carry through your career is the key to building your business.”

“Because of a great mentor taking me under his wings I got my name out there. I got involved. I joined young professionals groups, I even helped form new organizations. I felt heard in business and empowered in my community. It is so important to find a mentor in your office, not only to teach you the ins and outs, but also to introduce you to the community. For me, that was Alex Divaris.”

“I was 23 when I started at Divaris, many of my colleagues were 10+ years older than me at that time. It has been so motivating to see that now I can look back 10 years later and be in that position to take someone under my wings. I want to be able to lead others and also offer that support that I was given.”

“Stay connected, and you really can have it all. COVID made us all realize the importance of connectivity, both personally and professionally. COVID hit immediately after my return from maternity leave, I have grown so much in the past year as I learned to pivot and reprioritize doing business through a Pandemic and as a mother. During the quarantine, I took Zoom calls with my 5 month old next to me and completed transactions at my dining room table. We’re often juggling being a parent, a homemaker, a wife, – it’s really a lot of pressure being a woman in this business.”

The Women of Divaris

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