• Companies will improve their financial performance if they have a better balance of men and women at the top.

  • Women tend to be put into the sales agent box in real estate without being offered opportunities for promotion.

SAN FRANCISCO — Women represent around 60 percent of the workforce in real estate, yet they sparsely populate the industry’s upper management, from boards to brokerages to associations such as the National Association of Realtors.

Leslie Ebersole, a team leader and broker associate with Baird & Warner in Chicago and moderator of Facebook group Raise the Bar in Real Estate, attributed the lack of progress by women into the upper ranks of the real estate industry to the history of how women came into real estate at Friday’s Inman Connect San Francisco session, “Climbing Out of the Pink Collar Ghetto: An Idea Worth Spreading.”

What’s history have to do with it?

When women were recruited into the real estate industry decades ago, it was for sexist reasons, Ebersole said.

“Women entered real estate sales in the 1960s and ’70s and were actively recruited during the boom of the American dream.

“Women were brought into the business because they could talk about blueberry pie, the dream of homeownership and the pitter patter of tiny feet.

“The huge influx of women into real estate was not seen in the (also expanding) software or automobile industries. That’s the genesis of what we face today,” said Ebersole.

Why include more women at the top?

Session host Joseph Rand, general counsel and managing partner at Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate-Rand Realty, asked if there was a business case for why organizations should work toward having a better balance of men and women at the top.

Companies with women in senior positions improved their performance by 15 percent, according to McKinsey & Company research, said Ebersole.

“McKinsey has coined a term, the ‘diversity dividend,'” she said.

“When companies offer career paths and have an inclusive environment, they have lower attrition, better retention and better recruiting,” she added.

In the workforce, women have a different approach to men, she explained.

“Women are considered to be, on balance, more inclusive and more collaborative. Men are faster at making decisions and are risk-takers. Women take a little longer to make decisions but when they do, they stick,” said the broker.

The next steps

Ebersole urged women in real estate to climb out of the “pink-collar ghetto.”

“The pink-collar ghetto is when companies seem to channel women into positions which will not lead to being CEO, such as HR, marketing and communication.  You need serious line revenue experience in running a company,” she said.

It’s going to take some “pretty aggressive work” to make things better, said Ebersole.

Recognition of the situation by both men and women in the industry was a good start.

Said Rand: “I try to be sensitive and cognizant, but I’m on the board of directors of Upstream and only two out of 18 on the board are women. One is Cary Sylvester, and she has the force of six or seven, but it’s something that I missed and I’m ashamed that I missed it.”

There is something else women can do too, said Ebersole.

“Sit at the table. Women like to wait until they are ready; they wait to be perfect. Do things before you are ready, ask for mentorship, ask for training. Don’t wait to be asked to the party. ”

Email Gill South

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