Even though the real estate industry is predominantly female, women are underrepresented in leadership positions at the brokerage and senior management levels…

Even though the real estate industry is predominantly female, women are underrepresented in leadership positions at the brokerage and senior management levels.

In California, of the top 100 brokerages, only 14 are run by women. The goal of the California Association of Realtors (C.A.R.) Women’s Initiative — WomanUP! — launched in early 2017 is to create a community where mentors and leaders can communicate, collaborate and support one another.

(C.A.R. and Inman are teaming up to bring a special afternoon of WomanUP! programming to Inman Connect New York, taking place January 22 through 26 at the New York Marriott Marquis Times Square — register here.)

C.A.R.’s 2017 membership survey — along with one-on-one interviews conducted with a cross section of 25 of California’s leading women brokers — underscored how many women are frustrated with business models where their voices were often ignored and there were limited seats at the table for them.

The research indicates that women are pushing past this barrier by ditching corporate real estate careers and large brokerage models in favor of forming their own boutique companies where entrepreneurial change can flourish and they can fulfill their vision rather than that of someone else.

Why women start their own brokerages

Twenty two of the 25 women we interviewed opted to start their own brokerages.

Their three primary reasons were:

  • I wanted a company/brand that reflects my vision and my values.
  • It didn’t work out with the company where I was working.
  • To accommodate child care needs.

Women reported repeated incidents of gender, racial and age discrimination, but rather than allowing these obstacles to define their path, had found solutions to forge ahead and climb the ladder.

Given that leadership roles are often dominated by males, Rainy Hake Austin, executive vice president and COO of Alain Pinel Realtors observed: “Women often think that they must demonstrate masculinity to be a successful leader. I pride myself on being a balanced leader using my intuition and empathy as much as my prudence and intellect. I think that people have a variety of gifts to bring to situations and roles.

“If you lead from your natural strengths while refining your areas of weakness, you are likely to be successful. All in all, be passionate, be focused, and be yourself.”

Colleen Badagliacco, senior vice president, broker associate, Legacy Real Estate and Associates, echoed a similar sentiment: “No one should rely on their gender. In fact, I never felt my gender held me back. If I did or didn’t accomplish something, it wasn’t based upon my gender.”

In addition to founding their own brokerages, these women actively fought against discriminatory behaviors, formed groups to support the unique needs of their local communities, while also taking proactive steps to stop redlining, and to educate mortgage professionals about the realities of the neighborhoods they serve.

As Vanessa Bergmark, owner-president of Red Oak Realty observed, “If you’re going to be a leader, you must show up for all of it — your people and your company depend upon it.”

Leveraging strengths

Women don’t have to “muscle up” to be effective leaders. Instead, they can to leverage their unique skills as women and lead from their strengths.

According to the C.A.R. white paper, the five categories that best describe women’s leadership styles are supportive, authentic, upbeat, strong and collaborative.

Five additional takeaways from this part of the study were:

  • Be authentic, stay true to yourself and walk-the-talk.
  • Hire, fire and coach to your company’s values.
  • Keep to your vision, do the work and avoid being distracted by the noise.
  • Clear communication is vital — listen, and ask questions. Adapt your communication style to fit the other person.
  • Avoid reacting — seek to understand instead.

Coping with failure

An optimistic, positive mindset is what allows women leaders to persist, even in the most difficult of situations. Nevertheless, when faced with failure, they advise:

  • Embrace your mistakes — they lay the groundwork for future successes.
  • If you are failing, fail quickly.
  • Learn from your mistakes, or even better, learn from the mistakes of others.

Balancing business and personal lives

Juggling family and child care responsibilities, running a brokerage, and in many cases, being involved in association leadership positions at the local, state or national level, often takes a major toll on women trying to do it all.

Lessons learned in this area include never sacrificing your family for your work and creating strong boundaries around your family time.

As Irma Vargas, founder and broker for Tierra Properties suggests, “Schedule your family and personal time like you would any other important appointment — put it on your calendar, and treat it as a client appointment that you keep every day.”

When women did face major life challenges, however, their “business family” was often the primary source of support that helped them navigate through the difficult time.

When asked about the challenges she was facing and what keeps her up at night, Barbara Lynch, owner broker of All California Brokerage (ACB) Real Estate, said, “Nothing keeps me up at night — there are benefits of age. I understand that you don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff.

“After [my husband] had his aneurysm, survived lung cancer, and then had prostate cancer … now he’s cancer free — that’s what I think about at night, but I don’t worry about it.”

Being a woman in leadership

Whether it was through charitable work or serving in leadership roles outside of the company, the women interviewed all had a strong commitment to helping others.

Tami Pardee, owner and principal broker of Halton Pardee and Partners, shared how she is using her position to help her local community: “Being a woman leader in general excites me. I can use where I am in positive ways.

“For example, I’m on the board of the Santa Monica City College Foundation. I like working with women to move them forward. This gives me a voice and a platform to be heard and allows me to help as many people as I can.

“Part of our value proposition is that we donate part of our profit from every transaction back to our community. We support three different local charities and have donated over $995,000 to our local community.”

WomanUP! — taking the Women’s Initiative Forward in 2018

On June 8, 2017, C.A.R. held its first WomanUP! conference. It expected about 100 attendees and had to close registration a week early at 335. The event was a whopping success.

Leslie Appleton Young, C.A.R.’s SVP and chief economist and Sara Sutachan, vice president of industry relations and strategic initiatives, have spearheaded this initiative. In 2018, they have been tasked with:

  1. Developing a national roster of women brokers and owners who are willing to mentor other women leaders, especially those who are broker owners, team leaders or managers.
  2. Building a formal mentoring structure that helps foster mentor-mentee relationships and personal growth.
  3. Creating a national female speaker directory.
  4. Holding additional WomanUP! events to foster a community where current and aspiring women leaders and mentors can collaborate.

With the rapid rate of technological change, the demographic shifts and the ongoing challenges related to maintaining brokerage profitability, the pressures on women brokers are greater than ever.

The women in this study have weathered the worst of life’s adversities both in their businesses and their personal lives by banding together to support each other, to innovate and to create new and more efficient ways of doing things.

By creating a formal venue where these types of relationships can exist and flourish, C.A.R. is taking the next major step in facilitating this process now and for many years to come.

Join us Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 24, 2018 at Inman Connect for the next WomanUP! event and again on June 28-29, 2018 at the Los Angeles Marriott.

Download the white paper here.

(Full disclosure: I’ve worked with this initiative on research and the white paper, and my new company will handle the training and consulting side of the business; I’m working in concert with them, though separately with similar goals in mind on upcoming projects including the launch of BrokerageUp!, a training and consulting company that will launch in January.)

Bernice Ross, President and CEO of BrokerageUP (brokerageup.com) and RealEstateCoach.com, is a national speaker, author and trainer with over 1,000 published articles. Learn about her broker/manager training programs designed for women, by women, at BrokerageUp.com and her new agent sales training at RealEstateCoach.com/newagent.

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