Women gathered to share how to move forward in challenging times — together — at WomanUP! 2023. Here’s a splinter of the wisdom they shared and why it matters so much right now.

“Together we … ” shouted the 170-person audience, as WomanUP! closed up after two days of in-person, onstage content focused on how women can come together to create a brighter future for themselves and one another.

Women from all over the country descended on The Seabird in Oceanside, California, on June 12, 2023, to gather and reset, recharge and recalibrate for the second half of the year after a challenging beginning of the year.

WomanUP! is a California Association of Realtors initiative, founded in 2017. But as the mission-driven organization it is, it brought together women from all over the country.

Its mission?

“We have a three-part mission to identify, develop, and connect women in this industry. We identify the tools and strategies you need to make bold moves in real estate. We provide you with resources and events to develop your skills as a leader. We create opportunities to connect with other amazing leaders in the national brokerage community.”

As an attendee, a speaker, and a journalist observing the event, I feel confident saying that mission was evident onstage.

This event was the next step in the evolution of WomanUP!, which began out of a need to get more women in real estate leadership and has evolved into a support system that extends well beyond the borders of the state of California.

“Seven years ago we wanted to understand why, even though women make up the majority of real estate practitioners, they were not leading their brokerage firms. Developing out of our research, C.A.R.’s WomanUP! has supported pathways for women seeking to launch or expand their own real estate firms or expand their career paths.”

WomanUP! co-founders have described the evolution to me as first convincing people to tell their story, still an ongoing process. In fact, 2023 WomanUP! data showed that the number of women in executive positions has decreased from 21 percent in 2019, to 15 percent in 2023.

The 7th annual WomanUP! experience was awe-inspiring. We sparked conversations that needed to happen within brokerages and in boardrooms. Together we are identifying ways to boost confidence. Developing skills needed to start, run, and lead real estate firms. Creating and building a community of support to connect with each other. And there is so much more work to be done.” — Sara Sutachan

Telling one’s story on the WomanUP! stage has almost become a rite of passage, WomanUP! co-founder Debra Trappen and I agreed in a call last week, and many are eager to join.

One of the beautiful things about WomanUP! is the breadth of wisdom that comes from all ages and walks of life. Sometimes even those of us who roll. Looking at you, Kathleen Black (albeit temporary) and last year’s TED-talk advocate Alycia Anderson.

On a personal note, I rarely see another woman in a wheelchair at a professional event or in life. Much less a leader. And we’re 2 for 2 at the WomanUP! events I’ve attended. That’s the magic I’m referencing.

This is the same magic that happens when people can come together in a safe space and say the things they don’t always have the courage, ability or seat at the table to say in a mixed crowd. And by mixed, I mean one in which there are differences in race, sexual orientation, gender, ability or any of the many other things that divide and other us.

Erin Morrison 

Onstage, we heard from LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance 2023 president Erin Morrison, who shared how her community fears for its safety. She wrote an op-ed earlier this week based on her WomanUP! talk, published on Inman, that details why the 400+ anti-LGBTQ+ bills working their way through government on various levels is a real estate problem.

She was kind enough to sit down with me last week to elaborate on her talk and give her message this Pride Month, as she works with a network of real estate professionals to help LGBTQ+ families flee states they no longer consider safe.

Jennifer Branchini and daughter Kate Inman

That same breadth of knowledge came together in mother-and-daughter duo Jennifer Branchini and Kate Inman. Branchini, joined by her daughter, Kate Inman, told the story of a mom-guilt-moment-turned-right. It’s an age-old battle that echoed the sentiments of many working women.

After traveling a lot for work, Branchini had a clash with her mother-in-law over what a wife and mother should (and shouldn’t) be doing. She reminded her mother-in-law that she was the higher breadwinner, she was doing something she was passionate about (which studies show can lead to having higher-achieving children), and she was showing her kids that women can have a professional and family life.

There’s a different path forward than what was handed to us, and it can be even better than the “traditional” family life that was idyllic in earlier decades. Her MIL walked away with a different outlook.

This anecdote represents the changing guard of expectation. Each generation paves a little bit more of the way into the future for the next. In this case, Gen X pushed the boundaries after the Mary Tyler Moores of the generation before found their places in the workplace.

A 2014 study reads: “Millennial Parents Are Happiest With Work-Life Choices and Proudest of Their Own Mom’s Decision To Work, Show Surprising Ambivalence on Whether Today’s Families Should Have One Parent Home With the Kids.”

Guessing that Kate Inman, Branchini’s daughter, would agree.

Gen Z, which has surpassed millennials as the largest generation, is pushing back parenting even further. “According to a survey from luxury real estate firm Ruby Home, the career aspirations of Generation Z women are being shaped by the experiences of Millennial moms,” reads a June 2022 Forbes article. “They’re increasing female labor force participation rates, but generation Z women plan to postpone childbirth and have fewer children than Millennials. According to a recent survey of over 1,000 members of generation Z, 27 percent don’t want to have kids.”

This is the next wave of working women coming into the workplace, free to choose most things for themselves. It’s a path that the women have worn before us and one that we hope to make wider for our children and their children, many attendees expressed.

Debra Trappen

WomanUP! co-founder Debra Trappen gave a talk about “radical acceptance.” One slide during the presentation read: “The heart of radical acceptance is letting go of the illusion of control and embracing a willingness to notice and accept things as they are right now — without judging.”

You’ll see several “Let them” takeaways from that talk.

The Golden Girls

On the same stage, Bernice Ross (who will probably never retire), Leslie Appleton-Young (semi-retired) and Sherry Chris (soon to be retired), slayed with sage wisdom about how great it is to get older. No, really. And how to plan for your future the right way. You’ll see quotes from all three below.

“I am thrilled that the conversation around aging and ageism has resonated with so many people. Turns out the ‘retirement’ or ‘golden years’ of past generations looks nothing like the vibrant possibilities available today to anyone who desires to leverage their wisdom and joy in a new direction. The U -curve of happiness is there for the taking, and WomanUP! is showing the way,” Leslie Appleton-Young said.

Wisdom Talks

At “Wisdom Talks,” such as the one I gave, three speakers were given 300 seconds to discuss moving forward amid challenges together, by lifting one another up, by creating opportunities for yourself and others. After each speaker sounded off, the attendees circled up at their tables to discuss takeaways, insights and other questions posed.

What we’re taking away

If last year’s event was “a moment,” a WomanUp! 2.0, time for women in real estate to take a seat at the table and make opportunities, then this year strove to answer the question: How do we move forward despite challenges?

The WomanUP! audience’s collective answer was: We do it together.

After a tough few years, fueled by the pandemic and the highs and lows that it brought (and is still bringing), speakers and attendees shared their ideas on how to move forward together.

Several answers included:

  • Together, we achieve more. — Tiffany Curry
  • Together, we succeed. — Taunee English
  • Together, we rise up. — Kathleen Black
  • Together, we are fierce. — Martha Melendez
  • Together, we open our hearts and see each other. — Irma Herrara
  • Together, we love. — Melanie Barker
  • Together, we welcome the community. — Jennifer Branchini
  • Together we can end discrimination and change the world. — Erin Morrison

In an attempt to convey a tiny sampling of the wisdom shared, I’ll share some of my favorite moments and top personal takeaways as well as stories and a-ha moments from the WomanUP! community in their own words.

“The first half of this year was tough for so many in our industry. Creating this space for our community to come together, share wisdom, invest in their lives and businesses, reset their mindset, and recharge themselves was an honor. Our team’s desire was that attendees would leave feeling equipped and excited to confidently lead into the second half of the year and I wholeheartedly believe we accomplished that! Together we inspired, collaborated, empowered, and supported each other!” — Debra Trappen, WomanUP! co-founder

My top takeaways (as they happened in real-time)


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“Over the past seven years WomanUP! has evolved from an idea to an event to a movement and now a community. A community where women at all stages of their real estate career can find support, inspiration and a forward-focused education on the nuts and bolts of running a brokerage and leading by example. The success stories are a testament to the power of women to make a difference together.” — Leslie Appleton-Young

A-ha’s, insights and opportunities from the community

Michelle Berman-Mikel

Mid-event, Michelle Berman-Mikel shared what she’d learned thus far as the CEO of her own business.


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Annette Anthony

WomanUp! 2023 Wavemaker and EXIT Realty’s Annette Anthony posted her top seven takeaways to Facebook.

Christine George

Christine George

“WomanUp! 2023 was a profound and enriching experience. The event showcased the resilience, wisdom, and compassion of women leaders from diverse backgrounds. It served as a reminder of the power we hold within ourselves and the strength we gain through genuine connections with others,” Christine George, in an article on Post and Beam.

George shared her top seven takeaways, which are as follows:

Melissa Sofia

“Don’t worry about other people liking you. Worry about liking yourself.”Melissa Sofia

Melissa’s words on overcoming disappointment and embracing self-confidence struck a chord with me. Believing in ourselves and that our self-worth isn’t tied to the opinions of others allows us to live our lives authentically.

Kathleen Black

“We don’t choose ourselves once. We choose ourselves again and again and again.”Kathleen Black

Kathleen’s keynote highlighted the importance of continuously choosing ourselves, even in the face of past setbacks and new challenges. Our choices shape our journey, and self-empowerment requires consistent reaffirmation.

Leslie Appleton-Young

“Who you are today is not who you were 20 or 30 years ago.”Leslie Appleton-Young

By far, one of my favorite conversations was Leslie’s interview with Bernice Ross and Carol Facciponti-Malcolm. These wise women advised on the increase of happiness as we age. They emphasized the wisdom, confidence, and freedom that come with maturity, enabling us to give back, pay it forward, and retire with a sense of fulfillment.

“If I receive grace, then I feel the need to extend it to others.”

Rhonda Keliipio

It was difficult to choose just one quote from Rhonda’s talk because she made so many profound statements. I chose this one because I believe it’s a great reminder that, at times, we all need grace, so being gentle with ourselves and others will allow us to move forward, together rather than alone, with empathy and the most profound connection possible.

Sabrina Brown

“Surround yourself with people who believe in you, and you can achieve anything.”Sabrina Brown

The conversation between Sabrina Brown and Kama Burton highlighted the transformative power of a supportive network. Being surrounded by individuals who believe in us can be the catalyst for achieving our dreams and aspirations.

Debra Trappen

“Let them.”Debra Trappen

Debra’s keynotes never disappoint. This year, Debra reminded us of the importance of radical acceptance. By letting others be, instead of trying to control them, we can release frustration, anger, and anxiety, ultimately experiencing a sense of liberation.

“People don’t need more instruction. They need to matter.”Tami Bonnell

Tami’s talk underscored the significance of compassionate leadership. Leading with empathy not only fosters trust and loyalty but also cultivates a culture of happiness, resulting in increased retention, productivity, and overall success.

Martha Melendez

At the event, I asked Martha Melendez for her takeaways. Here’s what she said.


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Bernice Ross

Bernice Ross

One of the things that has surprised me as I have gotten older is that I’m happier than I have been at any other time of my life. What I didn’t know about until recently is something called the “U-Curve” of forgetting. We are happiest when we are children and when we are older. The reason? As you age, your body releases more oxytocin, which many scientists call “the love chemical” because it makes us feel happier.

An important concern as you age is what you can do to stay healthy. The most important factor correlated with good health as you grow older is optimism. Before the age of 40, it doesn’t make much difference in your health whether you are an optimist or a pessimist.

After age 40, however, your health and longevity are tied to how optimistic you are. Optimists have less hardening of the arteries, less cancer, and less heart disease. They also outlive pessimists by five to eight years on average, are more likely to be hired and promoted, and outsell pessimistic salespeople by 56 percent.

Equally important, Paul Pearsall’s work with heart transplant patients has identified three factors that will help you avoid psychosomatic (stress-related) illnesses such as cancer and heart disease. First, have dinner with your family or those you love and care about five days a week. Second, give back to others. Third, laugh 100 times a day. Laughter releases beta-endorphins, which strengthen your immune system to protect you from illness. So surround yourself with happy and optimistic people, laugh and have a great life no matter what age you are.

Email Inman | Follow Dani Vanderboegh on Instagram

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