The world lost a great leader this past week in Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Regardless of your political views, I believe we can all agree that R.B.G was a woman who embodied courage in her life and career.
She was a champion for women’s rights who showed courage despite setbacks in her own rise to success. She did not accept that there were limits to her abilities. She pushed past stereotypes and restrictions of what women were viewed to be capable of to accomplish her dreams and inspire so many in the process.
Reflecting upon this great leader’s accomplishments, I was inspired to record some thoughts about being a woman in leadership that I have had for quite some time but honestly never had the courage to put into writing.
I have never considered myself a feminist. Quite the contrary; I was never one to see a distinction between what men and women were capable of.
Against my preference, my parents enrolled me in an all-girls school. I gave up fashion, makeup and boys and was granted the pleasure of wearing a uniform blue skirt day in and day out. What I did not realize, is that I was taught a very important lesson in this environment: The biggest key to my success was my effort, not my beauty or my wardrobe.
I never saw any restriction to what I was capable of as a woman — the sky was the limit. I was surrounded by other strong women who had no limits and who encouraged each other to be great by their example and high standards for themselves.
When I entered the real estate industry 15 years ago, I never questioned my ability to be successful. I did not put limits on my dreams as a woman business owner and leader.
However, as I grew in leadership in this industry, it became clear there was something missing. According to National Association of Realtors research, 64 percent of all Realtors are women. However, even with the majority of Realtors being women, only 12 percent of those serving in executive leadership roles are women.
What can we do to change this? There are so many amazing strong women in this industry, how can more of them be empowered to lead? What’s holding them back?
How women are treated in real estate
In this industry, I have experienced firsthand two distinct parallels to how women have been supported and accepted.
The first surprised me: I have experienced sexism and discriminatory treatment of women. I have witnessed sexual harassment firsthand with little accountability or notice. Women leaders are not viewed as “part of the club.” Their opinions and contributions are not given the same weight as their male counterparts. They are not afforded equal treatment or the same perks as their male counterparts.
This is unacceptable. However, one thing that dawned on me in my reflections of R.G.B. this week was this: So many have just accepted this behavior and not stood up for the alternative. I admit, I have been guilty of this myself.
On the contrary, I have seen amazing examples of the opposite parallel in this industry. Women recognized as brilliant multitaskers, heartfelt encouragers and action-based leaders who accomplish amazing things. Women who are not held back in their careers but encouraged to jump in, contribute and not have limits.
Just as important to highlighting the change that is needed to the discriminatory actions in this industry, it is vitally important to highlight the examples of amazing men and women who do it right. These examples are champions (like R.B.G.) for encouraging women to lead and have no boundaries to their success.
Here’s how we can take action, lead by example and carry on the legacy set by R.B.G.
Don’t make excuses
One thing reigns true: You may not be able to control another’s actions, but you can control your reactions to them. For so long I did what I see so many doing: simply ignoring behavior that is unacceptable.
I made excuses for why it was OK for leaders to hold women to a different standard. By excusing this behavior, we simply extend it. If our reaction to this mistreatment is to call it out and make it clear that it will not be accepted, it creates change. If our reactions demand a higher standard, we will begin to see a change in behavior.
Be the right example
If you are a leader in this industry take an opportunity this week to do some reflecting. What sort of example are you? Are you a man or a woman who lifts women up and treats them fairly, or do you demonstrate or accept some behaviors that need to change?
Remember that as a leader your influence is one of your greatest tools. The behavior you accept and demonstrate is what will be adopted as acceptable to those looking up to you. Even if you are not a CEO, president or leader within your industry and you are reading this, those around you who respect you and the work you do are watching you.
We can all be a better example of the right behavior to inspire others to do the same.
Say thank you
It was inspiring this week to see the reaction of our country to R.B.G. Men and women posted testimony on social media thanking her for the work she did for women’s rights and equal treatment of so many in our country.
It saddened me to think that this praise and appreciation may not have been witnessed before her death. Wouldn’t it be great to see that praise and gratitude extend to those around us who are doing it right now?
In her honor, I spent my morning writing notes to leaders in our industry who have demonstrated positive treatment of women. These women, and also men, have lifted women up, treated them with respect and fairness and have inspired others to lift up those around them. They are emulating the ideals that R.B.G. fought for and making our industry and the future women leaders in it better.
Lynn Wheeler serves as senior vice president for the Indy North Region for Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Indiana Realty.