Carol Epstein discussed women’s successes and struggles at the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce’s Women’s Leadership Luncheon at the Hollywood Casino Ballroom on Thursday. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik

When Carol Epstein started in commercial real estate in the 1980s, men on the other end of the deal refused to work with her because she was a woman. Although men eventually started to accept more women in the workplace, painful comments and stereotypes were still prevalent, she said.

Epstein has managed some of the biggest commercial real estate deals in the Bangor region, but she said women working in her field are still an “anomaly.”

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On Thursday, business community members gathered at the Hollywood Casino Ballroom for the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce’s Women’s Leadership Luncheon to hear from Epstein, who discussed her experiences in business with Deb Neuman, the chamber’s president and CEO.

A Bangor native, Epstein has been an active commercial broker in Maine since 1984. She formed Epstein Commercial Real Estate in 1987. She also manages her family’s development company, Epstein Properties, started by her late father, Sidney Epstein. Her recent deals include the sale of the former Lowe’s building in Ellsworth to The Jackson Laboratory in 2012 and the former Bangor Daily News building to Cross Insurance in 2014. She also has handled a number of high-profile commercial leases for retailers in Bangor.

Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

Although the ranks of women in commercial real estate have grown since the 1980s, Epstein admits they have “a long way to go.”

For Epstein, what it took for her to be successful in the field was to embrace change, think outside the box and challenge assumptions, and have people trust and believe in you. Epstein advised women to be tough and battle adversity, which she noted can be lonely and confusing.

“You have to stay strong and be tough,” she said. “But it’s not a bad thing.”

Epstein emphasized the importance of taking the high road in conflict and continuing to learn throughout her career.

“Sometimes you need to learn these lessons, and sometimes they need to be relearned,” she said. “You need to keep learning.”

Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik

Epstein said her parents served as influential role models, and she said she hopes to continue to have a business that allows employees to grow and challenge themselves.

She also addressed Saturday’s shooting that killed 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and reminisced about growing up as a Jew on Bangor’s West Side in the 1960s.

At the time, many community organizations did not accept Jews, and they were often separated from others in public places. Although Epstein said she felt different, she never felt any hate.

“Our acceptance of other people is something we are all pondering,” Epstein said about the days following the attack.

The chamber started its quarterly Women in Leadership Luncheon to introduce attendees to a woman in a leadership position and let them hear her story.

“We live in such a world of sound bites,” Neuman said. “We get a real conversation, and we don’t have enough of that. It’s open, honest and vulnerable, which makes it so special.”

The Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce’s continues its women’s leadership series Friday, Dec. 14, at Hollywood Casino with Joan Ferrini-Mundy, president of the University of Maine.