Vice President of Lending & Investments at Extra Space Storage
“Overcoming Barriers to Become A True Leader”
The biggest challenge Irena Edwards, VP, Extra Space Storage, has had to deal with in her career is managing a work-life balance while taking care of her children. “I am a single mom with two kids. I have often felt guilty for not being 100% with family or 100% with work. With past employers, people would criticize me for leaving the office at 4 pm to pick my kids up from school,” she says. “It didn’t matter to them that my goals were met, or that I came in early, or that I logged in from home. There is a perception that those with different or unconventional schedules aren’t working as hard, and that was hard to face.”
Over the years, Irena learned that she could not accomplish a perfect balance all the time. “There are days when I give more to my job, and then there are days when I give more to my family. It balances over the long term.” Extra Space Storage has been, hands down, the best employer in this aspect. Because of Extra Space’s flexible hour's program, Irena doesn’t feel isolated because she has to work an unconventional schedule to care for her children. Extra Space thinks of mothers in the workplace when creating policies, procedures, and workplace culture. “They’ve fostered a company culture that is supportive of all women in their careers, no matter their stage or family situation. I am grateful to work for a company that values women in the workplace.”
As a woman with 25 years of experience in commercial real estate finance, a male-dominated industry, Irena tries to mentor as many young females as possible. She believes everyone should have a mentor who can advocate for them in their career. Women leaders should also surround themselves with like-minded individuals to support their growth. She says, “as a women leader, you need to have thick skin, work hard, and remain focused.” Extra Space offers a variety of learning opportunities for their employees to participate in, like their Leadership Development Program and Job Shadow program. “Do not be afraid to let your boss know when you want to learn a new skill. Learning new skills helps you grow and makes you a valuable asset to your current and future teams.”
Earlier in her career, Irena felt that she had to work extra hard to prove herself as a valuable employee because she is a female immigrant working in the United States. As a result, early on, she sacrificed having hobbies to stay focused on her work life. “As an immigrant from eastern Europe, I had to work hard to fit in with the American culture and society. I don’t have the social or cultural benefits of someone who grew up in the States. I still struggle and get embarrassed about my accent. People often pay more attention to my accent than the words that I am saying. The first question I get when I present is, “where are you from?” I’ve learned that I have to start every presentation by telling a joke or informing people of where I’m from before people actually listen to anything I say. It’s something I had to overcome.” But, for Irena, Extra Space is a blessing with a lot of diversity and inclusion. “Our goal as leaders is to make sure we have a work environment where everyone feels valued, respected, and heard. No matter where they are from, what they look like, or what they believe,” she explains.
“We are fortunate to have Irena Edwards as the head of our lending team. She joined Extra Space Storage with nearly two decades of lending experience in the affordable housing sector. Irena’s ability to think outside the box by providing customized lending terms to meet our clients’ needs is what makes her different. The proof of her creativity and hard work is seen in the results she delivers. Extra Space’s bridge lending program grew from a nascent enterprise to now one of the largest lenders in the self-storage arena with over $400 million in new loan originations this year alone,” says Zach Dickens, CIO & EVP. IEWL
Vice President of Lending & Investments
at Extra Space Storage
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