Seven years ago, I wrote about a blog post that detailed an encounter that shook the real estate industry. Some men made harassing and threatening remarks about women while on a bus at an industry event hosted by Inman, and the women who were also on the bus spoke up. I was one of those women.

The outcry was loud, but brief. Inman published a Code of Conduct. A few people in leadership roles shook their heads and expressed their disappointment at the conduct of these men. Members of a popular Facebook group run by these men were removed from the group when they spoke out or questioned the behavior.

And then, it all just kind of … disappeared.  

What happened after women risked their careers to speak up? Nothing

Today, those same men are in positions of power in our industry. They speak on stages, they run companies, and they are considered by many to be voices of influence. 

From the outside, it appears that nothing has changed, and there were no consequences for their actions. 

So last week, when the most recent lawsuit against The National Association of Realtors (NAR) was published – alleging that their former Chief Storyteller was wrongfully terminated after she accused the NAR President of sexual harassment – it shouldn’t have surprised me that the industry seemed to shrug its collective shoulders and move on. But the overwhelming silence did surprise me.

The employee has since withdrawn the case, but questions remain unanswered.

NAR’s purported differentiator: The Code of Ethics

The entire national marketing campaign by NAR hinges on the tagline, “That’s Who We R.” This tagline and campaign was designed to elevate Realtors above mere agents because they are held to a higher standard — the Code of Ethics

NAR’s own press release stated,

Only members of the National Association of Realtors, America’s largest trade association, can call themselves a Realtor. NAR represents more than 1.5 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries, and must abide by the association’s Code of Ethics.”

The Code of Ethics is a living document that is meant to set a standard of behavior. It addresses honesty, fairness and inclusivity. Article 10 states,

REALTORS shall not be parties to any plan or agreement to discriminate against a person or persons on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity. 

REALTORS, in their real estate employment practices, shall not discriminate against any person or persons on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity.” (Amended 1/23)

This Code, these rules, are supposed to not only set Realtors apart, they are supposed to form the bedrock of the culture for the entire industry. 

I believe that we need rules. I was raised by a minister, so I had an over-abundance of rules when I was growing up. That same minister, however, would tell you that I have spent my life poking at those rules to make sure they don’t leave anyone out or unfairly advantage others.

My father’s greatest frustration with me is my desire to smash the patriarchy or any system that is designed to benefit one group at the exclusion of all others.

Bad behavior in this industry is nothing new

As a member of the real estate industry for the past 26 years, I’ve experienced some things. During the first month on the job in my first corporate role, I attended a leadership retreat. At the end of the day, when leaving meetings, I got into the elevator with a married, older male co-worker and he turned to me, a married, 20-something girl, and said, “Your room or mine?” 

Later, in another role, I worked with a male COO who would come into my office, close the door, and threaten and berate me while standing with his back against the door, blocking my only exit. It left me keenly aware that every office I ever had was designed to face the door, leaving me with no exit when this happens. 

More times than I can count I have had brokers, bosses and managers make lewd jokes in my presence, expect that I’d look the other way from their drunken behavior at holiday parties, and suggest that what happens at industry conferences doesn’t count. 

And then the bus happened. And that was the first time in my life that I truly felt fear for my own physical safety while at work. 

And yet, as a friend recently pointed out, nothing really changed. 

Except, it did. I changed

I am not the 20-something girl in the elevator anymore, nor am I the 30-something woman on the bus. And I am tired of looking the other way. 

We are at a crossroads in this industry. The value of a Realtor is being questioned more than ever before. The multitude of lawsuits against NAR regarding cooperation and commissions are not simply fading away.

Cracks in long-assumed data-sharing patterns are emerging. Artificial Intelligence is quickly changing the world as we know it. We must, now more than ever before, prove that fair, professional and ethical experience should be the backbone of the housing industry.

And yet, it seems like weekly another story comes out about inappropriate, illegal, racist, discriminatory and unethical behavior by those in positions of power. Articles are written like this one, and this one, and this one, and this one.

I am left wondering: Where are the leaders? 

Where are the statements from those labeled our industry’s most powerful and influential?

Where is the outrage?

Where are the people saying, “This is not who we R?”

Brené Brown said, “Brave leaders are never silent around hard things.” 

There are often consequences for speaking truth to power. I know. I have experienced them. There are stages I am not welcome on and organizations that will not hire me because I have spoken up in the past. I understand there are risks, even though it makes me furious that there are repercussions for speaking up for what is right. 

But what are the risks of not speaking up? 

We can preach “WomanUp” all we want, but what happens when women are fired from seats at our own tables, and we say nothing? 

We can have an annual Ethics Day and require mandatory training, but what happens when our own leaders are unethical and we look the other way?

We can publish pretty social content for Black History Month and Women’s History Month and Pride Month and Disability Month, but what happens when those same groups are treated unfairly or illegally by our own leaders and we stay silent? 

The risks are clear. If we stay silent, our words, our Codes, our very industry will eventually lose their meaning altogether. 

In the words of authors Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker: “The culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate.”

It’s time to make a choice friends, colleagues, leaders: Is this who we R? 

Valerie Garcia is an international speaker, writer, and encourager who has worked with real estate brands across the U.S., Canada, Europe and Australia and has spent over 20 years educating and motivating sales professionals.

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