Elevating women in real estate: A look at where we are need to go

The fight for gender equity in the workplace remains a challenge, especially when it comes to the number of women in leadership positions. Frankly, the statistics speak for themselves. 

A survey found that 14% of men working in female-dominated industries already hold an executive level position, compared to only 8% of women (a 75% difference). Additional studies have shown that while 10.4% of Fortune 500 CEOs are female, less than 1% are women of color. And yet, companies with women executives are 30% more likely to outperform other companies.

Even in an industry that attracts mostly women, like real estate, they still lag behind men in leadership positions. While women make up the majority of the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) membership (66%), they remain underrepresented in leadership roles across their respective brokerages.

It is clear we have significant work to do to increase the number of women in leadership roles — in both the professional association and the business side of the industry. As we recognize Women’s Equality Day on August 26, it is important to reflect on the pivotal role women play in real estate and how businesses and organizations can best support their career growth and leadership development.

A historical lens of women in real estate

Dating back to the 1930s, NAR was one of the first professional associations to open its doors to female members, although it did not come overnight. Over the years, we’ve taken several measures to empower women in real estate, support their career advancement and continually look for ways to improve in doing so.

The Women’s Council of REALTORS®, which dates back over 84 years, was originally created because for the first 20 years of its existence women were barred admission from many local Realtor associations. A separate “women’s division” was formed at the Annual Convention in Milwaukee in November 1938 by thirty-seven women from 9 states. Those women served as role models and advocated for women’s issues in real estate, including earnings equitable to men’s because “commission is commission.” Now an integral part of NAR, today the Council continues to serve as a cornerstone of NAR’s professional network that offers career opportunities, networking and education to support the female members. The business leadership skills the Council provides have also positioned it as a model for the industry, organized real estate and political action committees.  

As a result of the Council’s efforts, the Supporting Women of Real Estate Grant was launched to fund local and state Realtor associations that have innovative programs aimed at advancing women’s careers. The goal of this program is to inspire women to take on greater leadership roles in both business and organized real estate. A total of 10 grants will be awarded throughout the year in $2,500 increments to Realtor associations that meet the criteria as outlined in the application.  

When it comes to supporting women in their careers, providing educational tools and resources is a key part of our mission. As an organization, and in partnership with NAR, we’re always looking for new ways and new offerings that can help bring women in real estate together for professional networking and development. 

The future

Of course, there is still much more we can do to support women as they progress in their careers and climb the ranks of leadership and individual brokerages have an important role to play here. To make meaningful and sustainable progress toward gender equality, brokerages should start with two broad goals: get more women into leadership positions and retain the female leaders they already have. 

There are several steps brokerages can take to meet these goals. First, identify where the largest gap in promotions is for women at your brokerage and why that is. Women often shoulder a greater share of a household’s unpaid work and it could be that something as easy as closer child care options, the addition of a lactation room or a slight change in meeting schedules could alleviate some of those barriers. Second, ensure women and men across race, ethnicity and other intersections of identity are considered for promotions at similar rates and track outcomes to measure progress. Lastly, when it comes to setting and achieving DEI goals, be sure to hold your leaders accountable for the outcomes. Holding ourselves accountable is the only way to truly learn and improve. 

It should go without saying that your brokerage must foster a culture that supports gender equality through benefits like career development opportunities, mentorship programs, a safe place to work and diversity, equity and inclusion training. These types of initiatives contribute to the ultimate goal of empowering all employees to thrive, which should be a top priority for every business. Not to mention, when your brokerage reflects the diverse community you serve, your clients will also notice.

Seeing women across all races and ethnicities in leadership — at the top of their game — should be the norm, especially in a female-dominated industry like ours. While it’s easy to make the moral argument for gender equality in the workplace, there is also a strong case to be made that speaks to the value of having women in leadership positions. Decades of research shows that female leaders are good for business – from increasing productivity and enhancing collaboration to inspiring organizational dedication and improving fairness across organizations. 

Support for the Council is one way NAR is a proud advocate for gender equity and calls upon fellow leaders in the real estate industry and beyond to follow suit. We owe a lot to women in our industry, and it’s critical that women are increasingly recognized for their contributions to thriving real estate businesses that benefit consumers and the greater economy. When we help women achieve success, we all win.

Chris Pelkola Lee is a nationally recognized Realtor and Broker/Owner of simpLEE HOME in Idaho Falls.

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