“You should be careful so no one mistakes you for a criminal while door-knocking.” “You would look sooooo good with your hair straight!” “You probably don’t have a college degree.” “This is your property? But you are young, a woman and Black!”
These are just a handful of the invalidating statements I’ve heard over the 16 years that I’ve been a real estate investor, agent, broker, and international trainer and coach. To make matters more convoluted, my first name “Lee,” with its spelling, to many seems like a man’s name for an older person, and “Davenport” does not announce my race as Black.
In this online age, I’ve been privileged to connect with potential buyer and seller clients along with tenants for the properties I’ve owned by email. I’ve been able to build a faceless rapport and establish credibility as a resource leader.
However, when they met me in person, I was and — and often still am — greeted with audible gasps. I have even had some audacious prospects follow up their gasps of disbelief with statements like:
“I didn’t know you were a woman by your emails.” And, “I didn’t expect you to be so young. How can you have enough experience?” And, “I never thought you would be Black.”
In hearing those statements, I felt like I’d hit the holy trinity of what some would consider a losing jackpot, which was probably evident on my face. So as a consolation, they would sometimes quickly and other times grudgingly throw in a statement similar to: “But you are so savvy and resourceful, I still want to work with you.”
Shut the front door! This hurts. If it were just once in a blue moon or a blue house, perhaps I would not remember these instances. Unfortunately, these were regular occurrences as I worked in the sales field.
These sentiments haven’t gone away even now as I work more in the office, away from the field, in training, development and coaching. At times, neither my photo nor bio are included in workshop promotions by different firms and associations, which never bothers me since the topic and the continuing education are what most people care about and need.
The result, however? When seminar attendees get an opportunity to chat with me on breaks, I always hear at least one of the following statements:
“I thought you would be Asian.” “You look too young to have this experience.” “Do you call yourself Dr., like Dr. Dre? You couldn’t possibly have that degree…”
What the fudge! It’s like I’m on a never-ending episode of the TV show The Voice, but instead of my singing career, it’s my livelihood — and perhaps my life — that’s at stake when my face is revealed. I never hide my identity, yet it seems people don’t connect the dots either.
In the beginning, I resigned myself to thinking that maybe there was just something about me individually that random people from all walks of life will barrage me with comments that attempt to disqualify me. Regardless, I wasn’t going to let comments derail my personal ambitions.
That was until I was asked to mentor a new agent to the realty firm where I was then working as a fairly new agent myself. I was scared to mentor. How could I help someone else at the beginning of my career?
That was until the prospective mentee told me her story of how her previous team leader used verbal abuse and fear, telling her she “couldn’t do this without him.” At that moment, I realized I wasn’t the only one being minimized in pursuit of my real estate dreams. I recognized then — and am driven by this today — that there have to be voices that inspire us since there are inevitably voices that diminish us.
The book, workshop and coaching series, Profit with Your Personality, (based on my real doctoral research) were birthed from this epiphany. It was a desire to help as many real estate professionals understand that we can grow our business with our innate strengths because ultimately, we are all creative, resourceful and whole people who likely just need strategy development.
We don’t have to be cookie-cutter professionals or treated like incompetent buffoons. The nerve of some people! So, I’m determined to have the nerve to encourage and expand others.
This is just my story of microaggressions in the real estate industry that over time did more than sting — they have wounded me very deeply. It often feels like “death by a thousand cuts.”
Yet, I know any of you who have been on the receiving end of naysayers — perhaps not because of your race, gender or age but something else — likely have your own involuntary The Voice experiences like my first mentee, who happened to be white.
Let’s commit to not standing in the way of others shining. One way is to normalize people showing up with whatever external cover they were born with, have aged into or perhaps have chosen. This means we do not start sentences — even if it is meant as a compliment — with “I didn’t know you were…” followed by a physical description.
It often goes off the rails. We will likely find that our businesses and even life will be enhanced and enriched by people we might have disqualified and discounted on the surface who ultimately have “the voice” — as in, interesting and useful insight and perspective.