The essential guide for real estate leadership on sexual harassment and gender

88.2 percent of survey respondents say real estate leadership acts appropriately, but stories of harassment stand in stark contrast to the positive overall picture.
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88.2 percent of survey respondents say real estate leadership acts appropriately, but stories of harassment stand in stark contrast to the positive overall picture.

This is one part of Inman’s five-part Essential Guide for Real Estate Leadership, which we are publishing throughout our first-ever Leadership Week. Read all the parts here. Please send your feedback to If you’re a leader who wants to join us for our exclusive Disconnect in The Desert event on March 26-28, or want to recommend a colleague, send a note to explaining why.

The allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct by senior leadership, lobbed against brokerages large and small from Washington state to the District of Columbia, stand in stark contrast to otherwise mostly positive depictions of real estate leadership nationwide. But it’s there — laid out bluntly in Inman’s first ever Real Estate Leadership Survey of more than 780 real estate professionals.

Stories of inappropriate behavior by leaders

“Constant partying and drinking,” one marketing professional in Orlando, Florida, claimed, referring to senior executives at her company. “Affairs with younger staff, who they fire when they become a problem for them. Refusing to accept responsibility for anything. Delusions of grandeur. Inappropriate use of office and corporate equipment. Wasting vast amounts of money on entertaining themselves.”

“[He] comments on my leather pants,” yet another Realtor, who is based in Long Island, New York, alleged, describing a senior executive at her residential brokerage firm. “[He] asks me who I would fuck in the office…. and so on. [He] interrogates people to get it out in a friendly way.”

“There is a culture of sexual harassment with our management,” a Seattle-based agent added.

The comments, tucked inside Inman’s wide-ranging, 61-question leadership survey and often submitted anonymously, were posted by a minority of real estate professionals who believe that sexual harassment and bad behavior run rampant in an industry led largely by older men.

Set against the wider, women-led #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and misconduct, brought on in the aftermath of dozens of allegations of sexual assault leveled against movie producer Harvey Weinstein, the claims against top-level real estate executives are unsubstantiated for now, but aren’t so easy to ignore nor explain. 

But most say leaders act appropriately

Asked if leaders within their companies engage in inappropriate behavior, only 7.9 percent said “yes,” with a whopping 88.2 percent voiced a resounding “no.” Another 10 percent said they were “unsure” if senior executives engaged in bad behavior, according to results of the survey.

Meanwhile, 76.8 percent of real estate professionals characterized their company’s position on sexual harassment as “fine as it is.” Another 4.7 percent said company policy was “not strict enough” and, somewhat curiously, a little under 1 percent said their policy was “too strict.”

“This is an old-school industry,” wrote one marketing associate for a lender in Washington. “It’s a boys club. Us women have to play the game, be like one of the boys, to succeed.”

Women remain scarce in leadership

The conversation comes as a renewed effort to elevate women in leadership positions is gaining momentum from initiatives like the California Association of Realtors’ Women Up campaign, which aims to lift women into the highest echelons of the real estate industry.

In states like California, where only 14 of the top 100 brokerages are owned by women, the lack of diversity is conspicuous. But across national franchises, too, the numbers are problematic.

Between 2011 and 2015, the most recent year in which comprehensive industrywide numbers are available, executive leadership positions among women remained unchanged at 26 percent nationwide, according to Real Trends, the Colorado-based real estate consulting firm.

Globally, the number of senior level positions held by women stands at 10 percent, according to a report release in October by Preqin, an alternative assets data provider headquartered in Manhattan and London. The report, “Women in Alternative Assets,” also found that, globally, only 5 percent of CEO positions in real estate are held by women and only 5 percent of presidential positions are held by women. At 18 percent each, the executive leadership positions most widely held by women are “chief financial officer” and “general manager.”

Prequin chart

Chart showing women in top-level positions in various industries around the world. Credit: Prequin

“We actually see real estate firms doing slightly better than, say, hedge funds in getting more women through the door and working in those companies,” said Amy Bensted, head of hedge fund products at Preqin, who co-authored the 2017 report. “We see higher levels of C-level representation. But the real picture is that females are still grossly under represented within the alternative asset world and there’s no real parity in terms of 50-50 split. What you are seeing is that these firms are actually doing better at getting women through the doors in junior levels.”

Other respondents to Inman’s survey echoed the sentiment that they would like to see more women in leadership positions.

“The leaders are all men,” one female-identified respondent wrote in from a leading real estate franchise Iowa. “They have one female broker, but she’s not an owner and I’ve never heard a word from her at company meetings. And, some of the men are silly when it comes to women–one broker wanted to “protect the ladies boobies” and have a mammogram truck visit the office. While the sentiment is there, let’s be more grown up about it. And I would question if that’s what women actually want from their broker. So, they could incorporate more women . They could listen more. And, if they could put their egos away, that would be great.”

Reasons for hope and celebration

In the Inman survey, 55.4 percent of respondents reported that leadership at their company was “very committed to diversity,” and another 30.5 percent said it was “somewhat committed to diversity” in the workplace. Only 3.7 percent claimed executives weren’t committed at all.

For Kathy Fowler, an Oklahoma City broker associate with Coldwell Banker Select who previously worked in the insurance industry, her transition into real estate was a breath of fresh air — especially with regards to equal footing among her male and female colleagues.

“I was with an independent agent that wrote a lot of commercial and oil and gas insurance, and the females in that industry were expected to be the secretaries and the customer service reps and take care of everything,” said Fowler, who also serves as president of the Oklahoma Association of Realtors. “And then the guys went out and wined and dined all the clients.”

“In real estate,” she added, “I can wine and dine just as much as my male counterparts.”

Email Jotham Sederstrom