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Although the trials of 2020 are now in the rearview mirror, the real estate industry—and the world at large—is staring down new and ongoing challenges in 2021.

From diversity to professionalism to maintaining relevance in a virtual environment, a panel of top female real estate leaders recently shared their priorities for the year ahead and the steps they’re taking to elevate the industry moving forward.

During RISMedia’s “Real Estate’s Rocking in the New Year,” an all-day virtual event held on Jan. 7th and co-presented by the National Association of REALTORSⓇ, Teresa Palacios Smith, chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer for HomeServices of America and HSF Affiliates, led a panel of three dynamic brokerage executives during the session, “Women in Real Estate: Addressing Leadership and Diversity in 2021.”

Missed the event? Click
here to purchase a ticket to view the session replays.

After overcoming the difficulties of 2020, Palacios Smith asked the panel what they saw as the biggest challenge for the real estate industry in 2021.

For Sherry Chris, president and CEO of the Realogy Expansion Brands Portfolio, one of the greatest challenges ahead is maintaining the relevancy of real estate professionals as consumers migrate further online to transact business. “We need to work very, very hard to remain relevant,” said Chris. “Look at 2020…many people weren’t using their agent—because they couldn’t use their agent— to the fullest potential. So how can we shift our focus and make sure we’re providing exceptional customer service for what I believe is going to be a very busy real estate market in 2021?”

Cindy Ariosa, senior vice president and regional manager of Long & Foster Real Estate agreed with Chris— the consumer mindset has changed in the wake of 2020. And as more people flock to real estate as a career, professionalism comes under siege. “The consumer lumps us all into one big package, but not all of us take the time to be the best that we can be,” she says. “Eighty percent (of agents) are new in the workforce and only sell four or five houses. The consumer isn’t getting the experience they deserve. We need to concentrate on training and education.”

Kendall Bonner, broker/owner of RE/MAX Capital Realty pointed to the ongoing need to address diversity issues in 2021. “One of the challenges I see as it relates to diversity, equity and inclusion is going to be having those tough conversations with ourselves and others regarding unconscious biases and implicit biases,” she said. “I want us to be unashamed and more comfortable in having these types of conversations. The solutions live in healing, healthy conversations.”

RISMedia is making a limited number of “Real Estate’s Rocking in the New Year” sessions accessible to the public. Readers may view this dynamic session in the video below.

Both Chris and Ariosa agreed, pointing to the programs their respective firms have put in place to embrace diversity and overcome racial bias. Realogy, for example, has created monthly employee resource groups for LGBTQ, Hispanic, Asian, and African American and Black communities within the company. The firm is also launching initiatives to incentivize more diverse franchisees to join the global network. Long & Foster, Ariosa explained, has tapped into its mortgage division to create Project Uplift, a program to help first-time homebuyers in diverse communities access the financial path to homeownership.

All panelists agreed that education lies at the core of enhancing diversity and overcoming bias in the real estate industry. “As Sheryl Sandberg said,” quoted Palacios Smith, “‘Once we are aware, we cannot help but change.’ Education is key.”

The Women in Real Estate panel also took a candid look at the challenges, and opportunities, they faced as females while on their career paths, offering salient advice for all women striving to succeed.

Entering the ranks of leadership at a young age, often the only woman in a room full of men, Chris adopted a strategy that has served her well ever since. “I decided to look at myself and others just as people—as human beings—and not look at my colleagues as men,” she explained. “If you walk into a room thinking that you’re all human beings, those mental barriers come down.”

Ariosa shared the need to be very intentional about your success. “If I wanted something, I worked very hard to get it,” she said. “When you have a seat at the table, you need to contribute.”

Bonner emphasized the need for mentorship among women. “Too many times women see each other as competition as opposed to colleagues,” she explained. “Take that extra step toward mentorship…each one, reach one.”

The panel agreed that the challenges that lie ahead for women, and the industry at large, this year, present exciting opportunities to evolve and improve. “Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new center of gravity,” said Palacios Smith. “Don’t fight them—just find a new way to stand.”

To purchase a ticket to view all the event replays, click

For more Women In Real Estate coverage, don’t miss this month’s edition of Real Estate magazine’s special-edition Women in Real Estate issue. View the entire issue

Be sure to mark your calendars for April 8, 2021, when RISMedia and the National Association of REALTORS® present ‘Spring Into Action,’ a full-day virtual event packed with strategies to help you maximize the spring and summer markets.

Maria Patterson is RISMedia’s executive editor. Email her your real estate news ideas to