As a mom to young children in New York, I discovered the real estate field as an opportunity to balance the rewards, responsibilities and challenges of a fulfilling career with those of family life. Working as a real estate professional allowed me the flexibility and landscape to manage both career and family into a single dynamic. However, it wasn’t always easy, since potential home buyers often view properties during their off hours and contracts wait for no one, which often translates to mealtimes or weekends.  The time investment and sacrifices were critical in order to succeed in making new connections, generating new prospects and closing business. Real estate professionals often have an ability to weave in and out of various roles to align with different career objectives and trajectories for growth based on the ebb and flow of family and personal needs; but that’s not always an option for women seeking higher-level leadership positions in a corporate environment within the industry.

Real Estate Roles Dominated by Women—Kind of

The real estate industry and Realtor® community continue to be dominated by women. A 2020 National Association of Realtors (NAR) report in 2020 noted that 65% of all Realtor® are women, and the median age of women real estate professionals has increased from 51 in 2007 to 54 in 2020. Immense opportunities exist for networking, support and collaboration and an unparalleled chance to develop expertise, highlight skills and hone leadership capabilities amongst this strong community of professionals.

However, counter to the impressive percentage of female agents is the overwhelmingly low percentage of those in executive positions. As statistics have long shown, including from the 2020 Harvard Business Review report, “Female Leaders on Reaching Financial Services’ Upper Ranks,” the overall housing and finance industries have traditionally been male-dominated, with a disproportionately low number of women, ethnically and racially diverse, and non-binary people in leadership roles. This narrative is echoed specifically in real estate, where national and international companies in the residential, commercial and global sectors are generally led by men.

Identifying the Need for Change

According to the Women in the Workplace 2018 Report released by in consultation with McKinsey & Company, only one in five C-suite leaders is a woman. That figure drops to one in 25 among women of color. These key findings from the fourth annual report, the largest comprehensive study of the state of women in corporate America, are disappointing if not surprising. But considering that companies in the top quartile of gender diversity are 21% more likely to outperform on profitability than their less gender-diverse counterparts, according to the Harvard Business Review report, the mortgage and housing industries are in a unique position to be forward-thinking and instill positive change. Put simply, systemic changes to enable and empower women aren’t only the right thing to do, they also make sound business sense.

Addressing Leadership Gaps

Executive positions often involve lengthy hours and frequent travel, further negatively impacting the already elusive, precarious work-life balance. As a result, women often get “stuck” at middle management. Whether a woman simultaneously builds her career while raising children and running a household or pauses it to raise a family, corporate America needs to continuously support women leaders. It is imperative that there is infrastructure and precedent to reintroduce and reconnect them with the workforce when they return, while also providing opportunities and road-mapping for career growth. Male allies, especially those in supervisory positions, need to acknowledge the additional challenges faced by women leaders and work to provide a voice, credibility, recognition and a champion for colleagues who could benefit from their mentorship.  

Outside of the creation of in-house champions, there are some additional ways that companies can keep women on the path to success:

  • Mentoring programs
  • Business resource groups (BRGs)
  • Career path programs
  • Ongoing training
  • Flexible schedules
  • Positions created for and adapted to a remote work environment
  • Contract work
  • Competitive childcare benefits
  • Educational opportunities

Leadership Voices

As independent contractors, real estate agents are often the “CEOs” of their own businesses, able to achieve their own vision of success. They may go it on their own, build a team, open their own brokerages, participate heavily with associations and community groups, and take on larger leadership roles if they so choose. Since everyone’s path may look very different, knowing what you want is often the first step to achieving your goals.

I am fortunate to have a strong, supportive network of female colleagues from whom I glean inspiration. I encourage you to lean on other strong women and learn from them.  Here, a few of them share the paths they took to their current positions, their takes on how organizations can support and advance women real estate professionals, and best practices for women looking to achieve leadership roles in their fields.

Find (and Be) a Mentor
“Leadership is not about me, it’s about the people I lead. I can add value, but more importantly, I can meet them where they are. When we invite our people to events and trainings, it often lights a spark. People become what we tell them they can be—13 of our top 19 executives are female. Find a mentor and be a mentor; it is amazing how much more prepared you are when you are responsible for helping someone else. Listen to podcasts of successful leaders in your arena and surround yourself with those who help nudge you out of your comfort zone.”
     -- Tami Bonnell, CEO, Exit Realty

Set Up Professionals for Future Success
“Any drive to support the inclusion and advancement of women real estate professionals must come from those at the top who can identify opportunities for advancement and training while preparing succession plans targeting women for positions traditionally held by men. Organizations can support newer leaders by recommending them for projects that expose them to executive leadership, highlighting their achievements in publications, encouraging them to serve on boards or in ERGs or ARGs, and recommending them to represent the company at industry events and on podcasts.”
     -- Teresa Palacios Smith, Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer, HomeServices of America

Seek Out Educational and Volunteer Opportunities
“Companies can create an inclusive culture by rethinking policies, creating new avenues, offering programs designed by and for women, celebrating their accomplishments, and showing flexibility for mothers and caregivers. Women, never stop learning. Volunteer, become involved with as many events as you can, seize educational growth opportunities, start a weekly training session with women both inside and outside your firm and ask for that promotion. The leaders who best helped cultivate my career sharpened my knowledge, verbiage and business management; created strong relationships; opened more doors; and taught me time management, compassion, loyalty—and how to speak up and speak out.”
     --Lydia Pope, President-Elect, National Association of Real Estate Brokers, Inc. (NAREB)

Spotlight Potential Leaders
“I am a strong believer that where you focus your energy, you will see the biggest results. The decision makers in an organization should make an intentional effort to provide opportunities to showcase employees identified as future leaders, to increase their visibility and highlight their talents. Mentorship and resource groups provide a blueprint for that as well as a way for women to discover their voices, hone new skills and contribute. Networking between senior leadership and future talent demonstrates that the organization wants to empower these leaders and provide them access to connections for growth.”
     -- Sara Rodriguez, President, NAHREP

Support, Encourage and Collaborate
“To serve the inclusion and advancement of women real estate professionals who, significantly, represent 67% of all agents and 60% of all brokers and broker associates, it’s all about education, awareness and willingness to prioritize diversity. For me as a leader, the best thing I can do is see somebody on my team soar beyond their own expectations. It’s important to understand what someone’s dreams are and then ensure that I provide the tools, support, systems and guidance to get them there. Women helping women is powerful. Lift each other up, ask each other for help and use those around you as resources. Balancing the maintenance of realistic goals along with the pursuit of confident risk tasking is also crucial for success.”
     --Sue Yannaccone, President and CEO, Realogy Franchise Group

These women have achieved their desired goals, earned the credibility and respect of their colleagues and attached high levels of leadership.