In 2017, Sara Sutachan, Leslie Appleton Young (later joined by Debra Trappen, who has since launched the Red Threads Collective) launched the California Association of Realtors (C.A.R) initiative WomanUP! with the goal of helping more women step into brokerage leadership. 

Their motivation? They discovered that only 16 percent of California’s top brokerages were led by women, even though 60 percent of C.A.R.’s membership was female. 


In 2023, WomanUP! data showed that the number of women holding senior leadership roles in California has declined from 21 percent in 2019 to a mere 15 percent. And as Sutachan shared onstage at this year’s conference, RealTrends data is equally as troubling, with 19 of the top 20 real estate brokerages still run by men. Brenda Tushaus, CEO of RE/MAX Results in Minnesota, came in at No. 20. 

This decline underscores the persistent challenges women face in rising to executive positions within their firms. 

“What we know is that we need those men, but it’s not a zero-sum game,” Sutachan said at WomanUP! 2024. “There are countless research studies that show that having women in leadership results in sounder decisions and also generates more ROI.”

2024: The year the WomanUP! vision became a reality

In 2023, CAR’s leadership appointed a task force to create a broader, more comprehensive vision for WomanUP! 

“It’s not only about broker ownership. It’s about helping women move up and find their voice in the real estate business,” Sutachan said. “We designed this year’s conference around that mission.”

With Debra Ferrier serving as the first female CEO in C.A.R.’s history alongside Melanie Barker as President and a predominantly female leadership team, 2024 is the year that WomanUP!’s vision has finally become a reality for C.A.R. 

Ferrier’s appointment as C.A.R.’s Interim CEO couldn’t have been better timed. Given her 37-year tenure at C.A.R., her deep legal background representing the association as CEO of their Real Estate Business Services LLC (the money-making arm of C.A.R.), and her multiple legal roles as general counsel, in addition to her indomitable spirit that was front and center on stage on WomanUP!, I believe she is the best-qualified person to tackle the challenges C.A.R. currently faces. 

Together we roar

In her tenure with WomanUP! Debra Trappen created the ROAR acronym, which she referenced in several of her keynote speeches. 

In 2018, Trappen first created the metaphor of being a lioness who is part of pride that works together and supports each other. This metaphor has permeated the WomanUP! culture ever since. 

In her 2020 keynote “Together We ROAR,” Trappen used “ROAR” as an acronym to describe the following key tenets of WomanUP!

  • R – Rise up with open arms 
  • O – Overcome obstacles 
  • A – Achieve new heights when you finally accept that you’re not alone
  • R – Reach for what’s next while celebrating how far you have come

Trappen wrapped up her keynote with a lioness roaring as she said, “Together we ROAR!”

2024: The Year WomanUP! Roared

This year’s WomanUP! was packed with fierce “lionesses” like the ones above who are leading their respective “prides” their way. The differences they’re making in their communities are profound. 

2024 is truly the year that WomanUP! fulfilled its potential, and the women it serves truly roared! Here are my top takeaways from WomanUP! 2024

Ginger Wilcox, CEO Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate

Ginger Wilcox (left) and Sara Sutachan (right) | Courtesy of WomanUP!

“Make sure that you have the right goals for your team. At BH&G, we have three core goals for our company, and those haven’t changed. It’s important to write down your goals and have a plan,” Wilcox told attendees.  

The plan is the “fitness” piece of it. Track how you’re spending your time. Are you focused on your goals or redirecting your energy elsewhere? It’s important to constantly measure your success in achieving your goals. What you measure ultimately makes it easier to reach or change goals when necessary.  

Mindset matters. Wilcox explained how her earlier career was devoted to working but not caring for herself personally. In 2023, she decided to commit to doing 300 days of yoga and 300 days of meditation. 

“I not only hit that goal, but it really changed my ability to be able to handle challenging situations, including shutting down an office, my house flooding, a divorce, my father becoming terminally ill, and then becoming president of Better Homes & Gardens,” Wilcox said. “I can tell you that 2023 felt like it was a success, and I attribute that to having the right mindset and really focusing on what mattered in my life.”  

Kama Burton

Kama Burton | Courtesy of WomanUP!

After battling an abusive marriage and depression, Burton started a non-profit in 2018 with the goal of instilling self-love, self-worth and self-awareness to help young girls avoid the mistakes that she made. 

Today Burton’s organization served over 150 girls during the last school year, with plans to expand from seven school districts to 10. Her goal is to empower 500 to 700 girls annually, fostering self-esteem and self-awareness while also building their resilience. 

Burton’s non-profit was also named “Nonprofit of the Year” by California Assembly member Dr. Corey Jackson.

“If we’re selling the community, we have to give back to the community and earn the trust of that community,” Burton said. “The awards help the girls have more exposure so they can help get more donations. As trusted real estate professionals, it just goes hand-in-hand. When we ask permission for money, then we must also give it back so we can make our community better and to help it grow.” 

Candace Doby

Candace Doby | Courtesy of WomanUP!

In a session called “Own Your Own Brilliance,” Candace Doby suggested that you ask yourself the following questions any time you have the opportunity to speak up, but are uncomfortable in doing so.  

  • Do you have a choice?
  • Do I accept that I must maintain external harmony, or do I honor myself? 
  • Do I honor my uniqueness? 
  • What is the risk?
  • What is the risk of not taking this action? 
  • What is the risk of doing something different from what other people are doing? 

Jennifer Branchini, 2023 C.A.R. president

Jennifer Branchini | Courtesy of WomanUP!

“The whole reason that we’re in any leadership position is that it’s not about you,” Jennifer Branchini said. 

“Trust comes from the fact that people watch you, follow you, or walk alongside of you. Because you’re bringing them along with you, and you’re doing it for the right reasons, not for the title or glory.”

Valerie Torelli 

Valerie Torelli (left) | Courtesy of WomanUP!

Since Torelli first started Costa Mesa-based Torelli Realty over 30 years ago, she has been Costa Mesa’s top-producing agent, and her firm has been the No. 1 brokerage as well. Considering the fierce competition from the big national firms and that she typically had between 10-15 agents, that’s a tremendous accomplishment. 

Torelli’s business model puts service to the community front and center. She dresses up as the Easter Bunny for her annual egg hunt, brings in ice so the local kids can experience “snow” during the holidays, plus constantly funds numerous initiatives for local schools. 

The core of Torelli’s business is based on Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Four Agreements. Torelli said she has shared over 2,000 copies of this book with others. 

Today, Torelli has sold her brokerage but still does a few deals. Her real passion now is working with addicts and newly released prisoners to help them set their lives back on the right path. In virtually every session, they work with The Four Agreements. Torelli says that this is the most important and rewarding work that she has ever done. 

Anita Legacy Blue

Anita Legacy Blue | Courtesy of WomanUP!

Anita Legacy Blue shared her story about how she first was first recruited into the U.S, Air Force, where she served for 35 years. When Blue retired from the military, however, she was just getting started. 

Today Blue is a realtor, motivational speaker, a two-time best-selling author of Our Shades of Black History and Breakthrough Success.  She is also the 2024 National President LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance and Director of Membership Houston Millennials, and she serves on the Board of Directors of the Houston L.E.A.D. Preparatory Academy. 

“I am a servant leader, and my goal is to educate and mentor others on how they can become a successful leader no matter what life has throws their way through commitment, courage, clarity, passion and humility. Be the leader you want to see, and let faith lead!”

Melanie Barker, 2024 C.A.R. president

Melanie Barker | Courtesy of WomanUP!

Like Blue, Melanie Barker served as a navigator in the Navy. Once she left the service, she became the broker-owner of Summit Real Estate. 

Barker explained how the navigator’s role is to see what is “beyond the horizon.” Today, Barker’s experience in that capacity is being called upon as she and Ferrier are navigating the path ahead for C.A.R.’s 195,000 members. 

What struck me most, however, was Barker’s departure from the script and passionate plea to get out and vote. I was surprised by what she had to say. 

Barker came flat out and said that she didn’t care who you voted for president or even which senator you vote for. Instead, she encouraged every person present to get involved at the local level to elect strong, competent leaders to our school boards, city councils and boards of supervisors. 

When we elect “idiots” to these positions, they often work their way up into the state legislature, where they can negatively impact homeownership, affordability and property rights all over the state, not just locally.  

These women are just a fraction of the speakers who made 2024 the year that WomanUP! roared.

Bernice Ross, president and CEO of BrokerageUP and, and the founder of is a national speaker, author and trainer with over 1,500 published articles.

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