How tough can it be for women to be successful in business? Consider this: Emilee Collins switched from a successful career in residential real estate — a sector popular with women — to the male-dominated commercial real estate side so she could better balance her professional role with her role as a parent of three children. Collins’ decision immersed her in an industry rife with “good ol’ boy” networks that make it particularly difficult for women to make their way in and succeed.

This is part of what makes her 20-year career in commercial real estate impressive. What’s more remarkable are the skills she’s acquired throughout her professional career that have enabled her to be well-equipped to handle nearly every aspect of the real estate sector.

“I was a branch manager at Wells Fargo in Durham,” Collins said. “I learned management, teamwork, oversight. And then I did mortgage lending for 10 years and then went into residential real estate. With all those things you learn to be a good reader of details, you learn to dot your i’s and cross your t’s and you learn how to negotiate in all situations. You learn how to work together and to collaborate. All those things that I’ve done, it’s just been a perfect journey to where I am now.”

Where she is now is a commercial and residential real estate agent and broker with Prickett Sprouse, a West and Woodall Company. She has been with the company for a little more than a year, and has established herself as an asset to the firm. She said she feels well supported by it. Collins said her range of experience was a key part of why she was brought on the Prickett Sprouse team.

“My work partner, Mark Neil, has been stellar, and always treating me as his equal,” she said. “He presents me as his equal, and that has set the stage, which is how I am received in relationships and transactions that we’re working through.”

Still, she said there still are stereotypes. “I do feel that sometimes that I am perceived as the paper pusher, or the one just helping out around the office, or whatever.”

But Collins is hardly someone who is just ‘helping out around the office.’ Along with establishing herself as a leader in real estate, she has been a member of the Durham Rotary Club and is now serving as president of the organization. “I love working with people, and what I do now has been a lifelong journey of great opportunities that came up. Every job I’ve had can be attributed to just keeping my eyes and ears open for a good fit.”

Collins said one of her favorite parts of her job is learning about the different businesses in Hillsborough, what they’re doing and how they can work together. She believes it’s important to educate herself about the companies in the area so she can better meet their needs.

“I do feel like that I am a matchmaker, because of the relationships that I have (in commercial real estate). I know a lot of people in this community, and I like to connect with them. It gives me an advantage when connecting property owners with tenants,” she said.

And what advice would she offer to someone starting out in business? “Don’t stop learning. Be a constant learner. The more you know, the more confident you will be. Surround yourself with people who fit the model you want to be. And keep your faith front and center. God is there to listen to your cares and worries. Do good in your community,” she said. “I’ve been blessed to have worked with so many people of great character and work ethic. They have all shaped who I am as a wife, a mom, and a professional.”