Bernadette Reyes is making room for women in her industry while helping Public Storage provide 142 million square feet of space for its customers across the United States and Europe.
“For us, storage is an extension of your home,” says Reyes, vice president of design.
Although it’s an industry that’s been historically dominated by men, Reyes was inspired to enter “tight nucleus” of the construction and design world early on in her life. As a kid, she often joined her father, an HVAC foreman and mechanic, at his shop. “I remember wanting to know more about the buildings and how they were built,” she says.
Both her father and mother were from Guatemala, but they immigrated to the United States to pursue better economic and education opportunities. From an early age, their strong work ethic inspired Reyes, who later earned bachelor’s degrees in political science and architecture from the University of Southern California and an MBA from the University of Michigan.
Reyes began her career as a design assistant and technical coordinator at an architectural design firm and entered the construction industry as an office engineer. Today, she oversees Public Storage’s brand presence and department of architecture for thirty-eight states from the company’s headquarters in Glendale, California.
In addition to inspiration from her father, professional mentors proved to be a crucial influence on her career development in the niche field, despite the fact that it might have seemed difficult to find a mentor.
“I was always told to find a woman mentor,” she says. “But in the construction and design industry, there’s not that many women to go around. We haven’t had a backlog of mentors available to us. I’ve learned not to shy away from men’s mentorship because of it.”
Reyes challenges the notion of finding one perfect mentor. She’s developed what she calls a roundtable team of mentors, composed of men, women, leaders from in and out of her industry, former clients and bosses, and even college friends.
“The more diverse group of people you reach out to for advice, guidance, and feedback, the better,” Reyes says. “Your inner circle should expose you to different values and experiences. Some people are better at interfacing with colleagues, while others have more negotiation skills or are more finance-driven. And as your career changes, so do the seats at the roundtable.”
Reyes herself pays it forward by mentoring young women who are seeking to advance their careers in design, construction, and development. It’s a step, she says, toward combating the gender imbalance in the industry’s leadership roles.
“Companies are trying to do better, especially with corporate compliance,” she says. “Women also need to stay proactive and apply to the jobs that may be out of their comfort zone. They can’t be afraid to raise their voice and do more.”
Gaining the right technical expertise is an obvious must, Reyes says, but women also need the soft skills necessary to navigate office politics. For Reyes, that means staying informed and not acquiescing your perspective because someone may be resentful or jealous. “Don’t listen to the noise,” she says.
In fact, empowerment is the primary component of Reyes’s leadership style.
Before joining Public Storage in May 2017, Reyes served clients—which ranged from the federal government to Disney to the higher education industry—as Austin Commercial’s director of preconstruction for the western region. Prior to Austin Commercial, Reyes worked her way up from office engineer to senior design manager over a decade at Clark Construction. Those experiences exposed her to the mechanics of the architecture world, from construction to engineering to design.
Over the course of her career, she’s also learned how to manage direct and indirect reports, including architects who were twenty years her senior and independent contractors.
For Reyes, that meant learning how to adapt her leadership style by reading the audience to deflect any preconceived notions about female leadership. Throughout her career, she has striven to empower her teams by giving them autonomy.
“Over time, I realized I grew when I took full ownership of what I was doing,” she says. “I didn’t like to be micromanaged, so why would I do that to my team? I find that empowering my team helps them be more innovative and focused. More importantly, it builds camaraderie.”
In 2006, she cofounded a strategic real estate investment venture, Traza, and she continues to implement those savvy business principles into her role at Public
Storage. Reyes spent her first year at the company streamlining processes and creating a cohesive, cross-functional team.
“We’re going to serve our facilities group better by applying the same language and design principles used for new construction to existing properties,” she says. “We’re making it more convenient for our customers to walk into any property and get the same experience.”
Looking ahead, Reyes will further strengthen the brand presence through the build environment for one of the largest landlords in the world. In doing so, she cites the advice of her grandfather: “Do what you love to do, but make sure someone will need it. It will be valued, which brings about a higher level of fulfillment.”
Off the Clock
After her mother died unexpectedly from heart disease, Public Storage’s Bernadette Reyes jumped into the Go Red movement to help women. “I feel very passionate about spreading the story of what I experienced to help prevent someone else losing a loved one or even themselves,” she says.
Today, she serves on the Los Angeles executive leadership team of the American Heart Association’s Go Red campaign, a social initiative empowering women to take control of their heart health. Heart disease affects one of three women, and that number is even more startling when it comes to Latinas.
“I found it very startling that one out of two Latinas are likely to die of heart disease,” Reyes says. “It’s the number one killer of all Latinos, even compared to all other cancers combined.”
Reyes cites language and cultural barriers as factors that instill a hesitation in the Latino community to see doctors for help. Yet, she likens the importance of self-care to airplane safety: passengers are required to put on their own oxygen masks first before helping others.
“It sounds counterintuitive for the Latino culture—we put family first—but it’s so important to take preventative action,” Reyes says. “I got involved to promote better heart health decisions for women’s sake; all the mothers, sisters, and Latinas.”