Since joining SECO Development Inc. nearly three years ago, Rocale Timmons has played a key role in helping the company pursue its real estate development objectives as a senior executive in charge of planning and development. Renton, Washington-based SECO, founded in 1989, specializes in urban infill and high-end mixed-use projects.
Prior to joining SECO, Timmons served as a senior planner for the City of Renton, where she had to navigate many diverse and often competing interests involved with complex redevelopment projects. Timmons earned an undergraduate degree in economics and urban planning from the University of Washington and an MBA from UW Tacoma. As part of the latest Daring Woman interview, Timmons took some time to reflect on her career successes and challenges, her mentors and views on leadership, and she also shares some advice for women starting out in their careers.
Tell us about the high point of your career. What do you love about your work? Describe your proudest moment.
Having a positive impact on the built environment and the way in which we live, work and play is what I love most about my career. Before shifting to commercial real estate development, I was in the public sector for many years, as an urban planner. In that role, I experienced a significant number of proud moments, but the high point in my career path has definitely been my time working on the Southport Lake Washington development. The city of Renton is experiencing tremendous growth right now, and Southport is a major catalyst in that growth. I never take for granted the chance to contribute to this period of positive change.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in your industry? How have you addressed them?
The commercial real estate industry — especially development — is predominantly made up of white, middle-aged men. So, as a younger female executive, amplified by my being an African-American, I am an enigma of sorts. However, being an African-American female in commercial real estate hasn’t had much of an impact on my career, with the exception that there is sometimes an initial awkwardness around how my male counterparts interact with me. I don’t spend energy “proving” myself, but I do understand that it may take time for others to adjust to a different voice in the room. I count it as a teaching moment. I’m certainly learning every day. Sometimes, my presence alone helps to confront any perceived industry bias — unconscious or otherwise.
Tell us about a person who has inspired or mentored you. What key lesson did you learn from them?
My mom moved through the world with a God-given audacity and resilience I often attempt to mimic. I also credit a significant number of lessons to my brother and a core group of friends (mostly guys) from high school. They taught me the importance of loyalty, integrity, agility and humor. There really isn’t one meaningful past or present relationship that doesn’t inspire me to be a better human ― both personally and professionally.
What advice would you give to a woman getting started in her career?
Go fearlessly into rooms bigger than you. And once you get there: Be present and curious. Know you are at the table for a reason.
What can women do to improve gender equity in the workplace? What can men do?
Gender inequity in the workplace is a systematic problem not easily resolved — much like the racial and socioeconomic inequities in our society. However, I believe both men and women can take small yet meaningful steps to confront the status quo. Women in particular have to look beyond “the way things are,” and blaze their own trails. Here’s my advice: Go after that job promotion and negotiate for higher salaries. Most importantly, women should not be afraid to have hard conversations that challenge workplace biases in favor of men.
Both men and women in leadership roles can and should help to create inclusive environments where greater parity exists. First, they must identify the gender bias and then commit to solutions for improving equity. Whether that means changing hiring practices from the ground up, introducing workplace training (beyond sexual harassment), or even simply accepting female leaders, the first step is acknowledgement.
Tell us about a favorite book/show/podcast and why/how it inspires you.
Chris Voss’ “Never Split the Difference” is one of the more recent books I’ve enjoyed, and it has resulted in new methods for my negotiation style. The book is chock-full of practical lessons for negotiating. My favorite section of Voss’ book is where he states that there is a tremendous amount of space between a “yes” and “no” response, and that “no” is really just the start of the negotiation.
I also find myself returning time and time again to poems written by Rumi, the 13th-century Persian poet. His poems are not only inspirational but they’re both profound and digestible. A favorite: “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.”
Where do you find support and inspiration? How important is networking and how do you expand your contacts?
I like that these two seemingly different questions were coupled together. While I never aim to network just for the sake of networking, I do focus a significant amount of energy on developing relationships, simply because I rely on them for both support and inspiration. I don’t just want a business card to add to my Rolodex. I prefer to be present and have a meaningful exchange, if only for a few minutes. And often, these brief interactions grow into rewarding, long-term connections.
What are the most important characteristics of a good leader? What leadership traits are overrated?
I believe the most valuable leadership trait a person can bring to a company is authenticity. Authenticity creates an environment where individuals feel comfortable bringing their own intrinsic qualities to the table. I also prioritize respect of others. I believe everyone on my team is my peer, even though we have different functions and responsibilities.
In my opinion, expertise is a generally overrated leadership trait. While it may contribute to good leadership, it isn’t a prerequisite. As a developer, I am often not the expert in the room, and I rely heavily on others — architects, attorneys, engineers, etc. — to inform my decisions.
What would you do differently in your career if you had a do-over.
The story of my career is still being written, but if possible, I would turn back a few chapters and enjoy the journey a bit more. Mostly, I would have liked to have been more patient with myself. I also would have liked to grant myself a little more grace to evolve.
What would be the title of your autobiography?
Because I’m still unfolding my story, today’s title would be “The Prelude: My Heart Knew the Way.” Who knows what the title will be 10, 20, or 30 years from now! Naming the book is the furthest thought from my mind. I am most excited to write the pages.
We’d love to hear from more women across all industries who are challenging the status quo. Does it sound like you? If it does, click here and fill out our questionnaire. Feel inspired? Join us for our second Daring Women event on May 21, 2019.
Daring Women Q&A responses have been edited and condensed.