Today’s woman wears many hats: wife, mother, sister, homemaker, business owner, executive, entrepreneur, and everything in between. Women have the innate ability to multitask, to balance work life with family life, display empathy, nurture, and fight for what they want with strength and grace. Once limited to only working in “traditional” gender roles, women today are proving their worth, equality, and excellent leadership skills in virtually every career category. The Woman’s Suffrage movement that began in the 1920s has given rise to opportunities unimaginable 100 years ago. Women are now seen in power positions such as Mary T. Barra, CEO of General Motors, Corie Barry, CEO of Best Buy, Inc., Jane Fraser, Citigroup, Inc., just to name a few, and of course, Kamala Harris, Vice President of the United States. Even at the recent Super Bowl LVII, for the first time ever, the military aircraft flying over the game were piloted by all women. Women have made enormous strides, and even though we are still battling for equal representation and fighting the gender gap in certain fields, in the world of real estate, women are on fire. It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, and women in real estate should be feeeeling good!
MARCH – INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH
Before we delve into the woman’s role in real estate, let’s take a moment to reflect on International Women’s History month, which is celebrated throughout the entire month of March, with March 8 dedicated to International Women’s Day. It began in 1908 in New York City when thousands of women united and marched for better labor laws, financial equality, working conditions, and the right to vote. The next year, on February 28, 1909, members of the Socialist Party of America (suffragists and socialists) gathered in Manhattan to host what they called the first International Woman’s Day. Leonora O’Reilly, labor organizer and recruiter for the Women’s Trade Union League (WTUL) from 1903-1915, addressed the crowd along with other early feminists to represent the needs of women, especially in the workforce. The idea of female equality quickly caught on internationally, and in March of 1910, German socialist Clara Zetkin introduced the concept at the International Conference of Women in Copenhagen. The 100 women in attendance, representing 17 countries, all agreed. International Women’s Day was then formally honored on March 8, 1911, by Germany, Austria, Denmark, and Switzerland, with Russia following in 1917.
So, what better time to reflect on and celebrate the many accomplishments women have made in the diverse field of real estate?
Becoming a real estate agent is a great career choice for both women and men, and women today play a major role in the industry. However, when the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) was first established in 1908, the membership was entirely male. The Association’s founders declared that NAR’s purpose was “to unite the real estate men of America.” However, the organization wasn’t restricted to just men, nor was it limited to the United States. Women joined the National Association soon after its inception but remained a minority in the organization for the first few decades.
On the local level, boards decided who were qualified and who were not, mainly if women were to be accepted or not. This was due, in part, to the fact that there were very few professional women in real estate or in any other professional industry at that time in history. Of course, it was also due to the overall mindset that a woman’s place was in the home. This would slowly change, and various local, new boards were created; eventually, only “qualified” (as deemed by the organization) women were accepted.
EARLY PIONEER WOMEN IN REAL ESTATE TYPICALLY FELL INTO ONE OF THREE GROUPS:
- Widows or daughters of real estate men.
- Part of a mother-son or husband-wife team.
- Women who began as rental agents or office workers, but when pressed into service during an emergency or overall female ambitioned, they turned to sales.
“Women first got into the business because they could do it part-time, and in many cases, they had a background in being a mother and a homemaker,” said Michael Saunders, Founder, and CEO, Michael Saunders & Company. “This meant that they knew how to schedule, how to balance multiple tasks, how to be flexible, and they instinctively cared deeply. Women realized that this was a job opportunity that fit their basic skills. In the early days, they didn’t need to worry about as many technological skills–that would come later– but the same nurturing qualities that women possess, along with their strong determination, made women an excellent fit for this business.”
THE WOMEN’S COUNCIL OF REALTORS®
In the 1930s, NAR witnessed a growth of women working in real estate and increased participation of women at national conventions, as they were becoming aware of their potential and importance to the industry. A Women’s Division had already been created in 1924 by the California Real Estate Association. In 1938, National President Joseph Catherine encouraged the formation of a national Women’s Council after being impressed by the California group. At the time, most local boards were resistant to offering membership to women. However, during the Annual Convention in Milwaukee in November 1938, a women’s division was formed by thirty-seven ambitious women who represented nine states, thus forming the first Women’s Council of Realtors®. Since then, many dedicated members have served as role models and achieved many “firsts” in the industry and in their communities.
Today, the Women’s Council of REALTORS® is a nationwide community of 13,000 real estate professionals who include many of the best and brightest in the business. The backbone of the Council is its network of more than 250 local and state networks in nearly 40 states, with volunteer managers trained to position their groups as a business resource in their REALTOR® communities. This group represents the largest network infrastructure in the Realtor® family, which represents 1,200 elected officers nationally that drive over 1,500 programs annually that focus on business leadership.
“I believe women have made huge strides in the business place, especially in real estate,” said Rachel McCoy, Realtor® with Florida Suncoast Real Estate, Inc. and 2023 President of the Women’s Council of Realtors® Manatee Network. “Women are being heard and respected more than ever before. Opportunities for women have been on the rise for years, and there’s no end in sight.”
BY THE NUMBERS
Despite a rocky start in the industry, women in real estate have forged ahead, making great strides. According to NAR, since 1978, women have comprised the majority of Realtors®, representing 66% of the membership in 2022, up slightly from 65% last year. 5 At the Realtor® Association of Sarasota and Manatee (RASM), female Realtor® members make up 58.4% of the membership, and with that, 38% of those females are active brokers.6 While women are particularly attracted to real estate’s flexible work hours and opportunities to help families, there are fewer women represented in executive roles. However, changing leadership demographics shows a commitment to developing and promoting female talent at all levels. NAR has seen a total of seven female presidents, most recently, 2022 NAR President Leslie Rouda Smith.
KEYS TO SUCCESS – IT’S ALL ABOUT GRIT
Whether you’re male or female working in the real estate market, you need to know the business. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to be serious about what you do. Determination, ongoing education, dedication, and perseverance are keys to success, and more than ever before; women are showing that they have what it takes to rise to the top. In the competitive field of real estate, where the legislation and the landscape are subject to changes, success demands that you stay up-to-date on trends, legislation changes, and ongoing education.
“Real estate is a demanding business, a service-based business. We need to know all the inventory, and all about construction, you need to at least know a good attorney and engineer that you can refer to when questions arise, and they will. You need to know what makes you better than the competition. Realtors® need to be educated, and they need to know the market inside and out. We are the docents when we show people around our beautiful area, so we need to be ready to answer any type of question our buyers or sellers ask or know who to go to for the correct answer,” Saunders added.
The real estate industry attracts people from all different backgrounds, allowing agents to excel, unlike any other industry. It’s truly a melting pot of professionals, from those who are new to the job market, to those taking a stab at a second career or agents who have been a pillar of the industry for years. Whatever category you fall into, you need to stay educated and relevant. The market, the community, and the laws are subject to change, and in order to serve your clients well, savvy Realtors® need to stay on top of their game.
“Coming from a corporate background, I think one of the most incredible aspects of the real estate profession is our ability to achieve without limits,” said Meagan West, Realtor® and CEO, The Coffey Group Fine Homes International, KW Suncoast & Keller Williams Island Life Real Estate, and 2023 WCR president, Sarasota. “There are no boundaries on what we can achieve financially or organizationally. There is no top rung to this ladder, only how high we’re willing to climb and what we are willing to dream of and strive for.”
Another key to success is knowing who to lean on and who will encourage you along the way. There is no shame when asking for help – whether male or female, we all need those people who will build us up and be a mentor. Find someone who is willing to walk with you through the ups and the downs of the market and who you can trust. In turn, you can use what you’ve gained to help someone else.
“Fortunately, today, the real estate industry is easier for women than it was for me when I started my company 47 years ago,” said Saunders. “It’s more welcoming for women today to take their rightful place as industry leaders, but you must have grit – you have to be curious and be a continuous learner. You must stay focused on your goals, be passionate and bold, take calculated risks and keep your core values as your guiding light and never deviate from them. I often advise agents to find a good mentor, someone you can truly trust, and you don’t need a gender match for your mentor. When I was growing in this business, there simply weren’t any female mentors for me, but I did lean on someone who truly cared, encouraged me, and whom I admired.”
WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP ROLES
If you’re excelling in this business, it won’t be long before someone taps you on the shoulder and asks you to take on a leadership role. Will you be ready? Being a leader in any profession takes time, determination, and drive.
“When I first got into this business, there was not much room for women in leadership in the Bradenton and Sarasota area,” said Saunders. “So very early on, I set my sights on being involved both nationally and internationally. When you recognize a need, be the one to meet that need. If you want more female leadership, step up and be that leader. But there is a price to be paid for everything. If your goal is to become a leader in this industry, you need to be prepared to pay the price with your time, commitment, enthusiasm, positive attitude, empathy, and never, ever give up.”
“Leadership can be a lonely journey, and I think it’s important to surround ourselves with other successful women leaders along the way,” said West. “There are some really impressive female leaders who love empowering others and creating more leaders! This industry is so cool because so many are willing to openly and freely share what they are doing to be successful because there is plenty of business to go around. We don’t have to live with a scarcity mindset, and there are plenty of amazing leaders willing to help us!”
WOMEN IN COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE
According to NAR, when compared to residential real estate, the commercial real estate sector is quite different than its residential counterpart for women. As of 2020, women made up only 36.7 percent of the CRE workforce.
“I see more and more women coming into commercial real estate,” said Susan H. Goldstein, LLC, CCIM, MBA, Senior Commercial Advisor with Michael Saunders & Company Commercial Division, and 2019 CREA president. “Residential real estate tends to have a faster return, so that may intrigue a new agent (male or female). For me, commercial real estate was really about the right fit, you must find what works for you. What I especially love about the commercial real estate market is that there is a steep learning curve, and every deal is different. I love learning about my client’s businesses and their investment goals. I came from a business background, so the commercial side of the real estate business was just the perfect fit for me.”
As with residential real estate, both networking with professionals and pursuing ongoing education are important pieces of the puzzle to overall success. Earning the prestigious CCIM designation (Certified Commercial Investment Member) is one way to truly set yourself apart from the competition, as it is known as the “gold standard” for commercial real estate professionals, including appraisers, asset managers, brokers, developers, investors, lenders, and other allied professionals. Joining the Commercial Real Estate Alliance (CREA), the RASM commercial arm, is another great way for men and women to connect with other commercial agents. CREA is a supportive and welcoming group of men and women whose mission is to be the commercial leader in our marketplace.
“I am thrilled to see more women in the Commercial Real Estate arena,” said Goldstein. “My advice for anyone new to the business is to focus on serving your clients with professionalism and integrity. Always work to enhance your knowledge base and forge good relationships. Do not ever be afraid to let someone know you do not have the answer, but get the information for them quickly. As a woman in commercial real estate, I lean into my strengths because of what I have learned or the intrinsic skills I have. I do not try to act like a man, nor do I try to hide that I am a woman. I have felt that I need to act and always dress professionally to be taken seriously in some part because I am a woman, but also because of the clients I serve and the way I want to build my brand. I do believe I need to be on top of my game in terms of skills and relevant knowledge. I am proud to be a commercial real estate professional utilizing all my attributes to best serve my community.”
When working with the international real estate market, there are always different risks and challenges. To be successful, it takes a different level of research, education, and immersion into the culture of the nation that you wish to do business. This is especially important when considering different gender roles and etiquette in other countries.
“As an international real estate practitioner, it is important to understand the culture of the customers you work with,” said Patricia Tan, International real estate expert with Coldwell Banker Realty and coowner along with Carla Rayman Kidd, of Your Global Agents, a business specializing in working with domestic and international buyers and sellers. “Female Realtors® should be aware of the role of women in the customer’s culture and may have to modify their approach accordingly. Dress standards are a simple example. You may wish to dress more conservatively, for example, covering your shoulders, wearing long sleeves, etc., as this may be more acceptable in some cultures. In other cultures, where older generations still observe more traditional roles for men and women, offering to pay lunch or dinner for a male customer would not be appropriate.”
Delving into the international market is a natural fit for some agents. Although there can be additional obstacles for women, it doesn’t seem to be holding them back.
“Over the years spent in the global market, I am encouraged to see women taking a more prominent role in business in general and in real estate in particular, even in those countries typically considered to be more male-dominated societies like those in the Middle East,” added Tan. “In many countries, real estate is considered a true ‘profession’ with significantly higher barriers to entry than here in the United States. As less developed countries continue to make educational opportunities available to women, I am hopeful to see more women entering the real estate profession in those countries.”
“Globally, the challenges for women are more evident,” said McCoy. “There are still obstacles and stigmas that are still in play. If you look at the history of the Women’s Council of Realtors® and its origin, it really demonstrates how we can overcome and show our value in both leadership and professionalism. We have truly come a long way!”
WE’VE COME A LONG WAY
Women have indeed come a long way in the workforce and in the real estate industry. Women have proved that they deserve a place at the table, and often, they take the lead. Whether male or female, we all deserve the same opportunities, appreciation, and respect.
“It’s been a beautiful journey, but it has not always been easy, but looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing because those hard times just made me and my company stronger, and more resilient. One of my favorite quotes is by Eleanor Roosevelt, ‘A woman is like a tea bag. You can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.’ I have been in a lot of hot water over my 47 years in this cyclical business, dealing with the ups and downs of the industry, challenging financial times, and working with fair and unfair competition, but you always have to keep your standard high and raise the bar,” said Saunders.
“Women have had a major impact on the real estate market for decades to the point where I feel they ‘own the space,’” said Carla Rayman Kidd, PLLC, International real estate expert with Coldwell Banker Realty and co-owner along with Patricia Tan, of Your Global Agents. “The NAR statistics reflect this, as females make up 65% of their membership numbers. With respect to being a woman in this market, it’s always a moment of clarity when you get to shine at what you do – like the iconic scene in the movie, “My Cousin Vinny,” where Marisa Tomei defends herself and proves her knowledge on the witness stand. Know your market and define your niche in it – that’s how people understand your worth!”