Where Are All the Women Leaders in Real Estate?

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After Real Estate Connect San Francisco, I had many women come up to me and talk to me about my role as a leader, how I was representing the next generation in real estate and technology, especially as a female. Needless to say, it was very flattering and humbling to receive that feedback.

I don’t feel like a role model. Most days I feel like an exhausted mom of two little boys who is just trying to do the best she can do for her family and herself each and every day.

I am a wife, a mom, a daughter, a friend, and a professional who cares deeply about the job she has and the role she is in. Like many of you reading this, I do not work “9 to 5” and so I share the same struggles about finding the “off” switch and work/life balance.

But one of the things I am most motivated by is seeing more women represented in the boardrooms, in the offices, in our MLSs, in our associations, at NAR, onstage, and throughout our industry.

The women who are at the top of this industry have worked extremely hard to be there — people like Sherry Chris, CEO of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, and Margaret Kelly, CEO of Re/Max, are top of mind for me along with many other top female executives.

There are dozens of other powerful women whom I’ve met — fantastic local agents like Brooke Derby from Kona who at just two years as a Realtor is 100 percent embracing social and who exudes boundless energy when she talks about this industry; or Michele Serro who started Doorsteps about a year ago and is so passionate about the consumer that it radiates from her pores every time you talk to her; or Leslie Ebersole, an agent from Chicago, who is blasting through any stereotypes that you must be a “millennial” to succeed online and with social media; or Nikki Beauchamp, a broker in New York City who lives and breathes the culture of Manhattan like no other and is willing to share and contribute to some amazing conversations online; or Andrea Geller who works harder as a Chicago agent than so many people I know and cares deeply about what she does and how the industry is moving forward.

Sure, 55 percent of the women in real estate are agents (according to NAR), but why isn’t that translating to more women moving up the ranks into management positions in their local offices and at the national level?

Why is this still an industry predominantly run at the very top by men?

This question isn’t a simple one, or one that can be answered by just one person or one post. But, it’s an important question to ask. This whole “women leadership issue” affects men too. When women are not part of the conversation you have 50 percent of the population missing.

Emotions run deep …

Even in 2012, there is the predominant theory that women must be “tough like a man” to succeed. Think this is a cliché? Watch what happens the next time a strong woman challenges another woman.

I saw this onstage at Connect where on a panel two women respectfully but strongly disagreed, and there was a definite sense of uneasiness in the room. I even DM’d (direct messaged) a female friend in the room and said, “Wow, you don’t see that often.”

There is an equal amount of uneasiness when a woman shares her emotions. Remember this well-known movie line, “There’s no crying in baseball.”

No tears, no soft heart. All business.

But for many women, like myself, that is not how I am wired. I take what I do personally. I wear my heart on my sleeve.

heart on sleeve image via shutterstock

I don’t apologize or make excuses for it.

On the flip side, I feel very blessed to have people tell me how “real” or “authentic” they feel I am. To me, that is one of the highest compliments anyone can receive, and it means a tremendous amount to have people tell me that.

But I go back to my original question: Why aren’t there more women leaders in our industry?

I firmly believe that there are not more women leaders because most of them are waiting to be asked.

They wait for an opportunity to come to them.

They wait to speak at an event.

They wait to be asked to be in a management training program.

They wait to get the promotion.

They wait their turn, hoping it will happen, hoping they won’t have to ask.

No one wants to ask — everyone wants to feel like his or her work speaks for itself. But that’s not the way it usually works.

The No. 1 reason why women (or anyone, for that matter) don’t ask is because they are afraid.

Afraid of the answer. Afraid of negotiating. I wish I could write this and say to you that every time I asked that the answer was “yes,” but more often than not it was not “no” but the beginning of a conversation about the future.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, in her well-known TED talk, says, “Sit at the table” — don’t miss your opportunity to have your voice heard. Too often at real estate conferences I see discussions where women wished they had raised their hand to ask that question or to be the voice of dissention, but many seldom do.

Speak up. Interrupt. Raise your hand. As my good friend Inna Hardison would say, “Stop being so damn polite.”

So what can we do?

Be bold. Don’t be afraid. It’s OK to interrupt. Be emotional. Wear your heart on your sleeve. The best person you can be is 100 percent you. Check your ego at the door.

Be a mentor to other women. Surround yourself with people who support and uplift you.

This past year, I was asked to join a small mastermind group with less than a dozen women. It’s amazing what can happen and the support you can receive from a small group of like-minded individuals.

The other thing (and this is such a beautiful thing) is that there is no cookie-cutter-perfect woman leader.

We can be soft. We can be b*tchy. We can wear a suit. What matters most is that we are there. We are present and we are part of the conversation.

But let’s face it, there are still a lot of double standards for women and men that I don’t see going away anytime soon. Half of the jokes my counterpart and friend Chris Smith makes onstage would not be received the same coming from me. I probably can’t wear a hoodie onstage like Mark Zuckerberg. But that’s OK.

I want to thank the women who are leading the industry not just because they are a woman but because they are great at what they do; because they care; and because they aren’t afraid to wear their heart on their sleeve and at the same time vehemently defend their opinion.

I would also challenge the men who are leading this industry in the MLS companies, the association offices, the syndication companies, and at every brokerage. I challenge you to look to your own organization and ask yourself how balanced it is. Having the right person for the job is paramount, regardless of gender, but are there opportunities to balance out the conversation?

And at the end of the day, that is what this is all about. It isn’t about “girl power”; it’s about balancing the conversations, so that when the big decisions in this industry are being made — decisions about data, technology, money, legislation; in other words, when it is time to “sit at the table” — that the conversation includes 100 percent of the people being represented.

I would love your thoughts on this topic. Please leave me a comment below or feel free to comment on my Facebook wall. It’s an important topic for everyone to consider — that we talk about the future of the industry!