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The journey to leadership for women in the real estate business has been both daunting and deeply fulfilling. In an industry historically dominated by men among the higher ranks, women have had to overcome unique hurdles and persistent stereotypes in order to secure their seat at the proverbial table.

The topic was candidly addressed during RISMedia’s recent “Spring Into Action” virtual event, co-presented by the National Association of REALTORSⓇ, when five of real estate’s most impressive leaders gathered to discuss the past and future road to leadership for females during the session, “Women in Real Estate: Seizing the Opportunities in 2021.” The event was attended by more than 5,000 brokers, managers, team members and sales professionals.

RISMedia is making a limited number of “Spring Into Action” sessions accessible to the public. Readers may view this dynamic session in the video below:

‘We Still Go Into Rooms That Are Mostly Men’
The panel, which took place during the event’s General Session segment, was moderated by Joan Docktor, president of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, REALTORSⓇ. Panelists were:

Helen Hanna Casey, CEO, Howard Hanna Real Estate Services
Christina Pappas, Vice President, The Keyes Company/Illustrated Properties
Rosey Koberlein, Chairperson, Long Companies
Bess Freedman, CEO, Brown Harris Stevens

Docktor opened the session by delving into panelists’ respective leadership journeys, beginning with Casey.

“Certainly, when I came into the business, and I would go to national meetings, you would not see a lot of women…and if they were there, they were the wives of owners,” said Casey. “So you didn’t have a lot of role models, but you also didn’t have a lot of peers. You had to find male role models…We still go into rooms that are mostly men. But that is changing rapidly.”

Koberlein recalled those early days as Casey described, remembering walking into rooms where the only women were herself, Casey and Michael Saunders (founder and CEO of Michael Saunders & Company).

“The challenge for women was to find a niche in the organization where you could step in, solve a problem and create credibility,” said Koberlein. “The reality is that we were watched; we were constantly being evaluated. We had lots of opportunities…but there’s a lot of hard work still to do.”

Pappas, who will become just the 13th female president of the Florida REALTORS® in 2022, agreed with Koberlein.

“As a woman, you walk into a room and there are still a limited number of women at the table,” she said. “I’m hoping one day you walk in a room and there’s just people…nobody’s thinking about how many women vs. men. But I think we’re still a little bit away from that.”

‘You’re Acting Too Female’
The slow increase of women in real estate leadership positions is due, in part, to nagging misperceptions.

“Stereotypes still persist, unfortunately,” said Freedman. “We’re challenged as women in that way—we’re [perceived as] too emotional or indecisive…but we’re really great leaders. Women handle power really well because they’re careful and they’re cautious, and that shows up when you see women in roles of leadership.”

Docktor explained that it is becoming easier for women today because they have other women they can look to, however, overcoming stereotypes and perceptions about women was a challenge for her.

“What they were saying was, ‘You’re acting too female. You have to keep your head up straighter, don’t tilt it,'” she recalled. “And I wasn’t big enough—I appeared small. I wasn’t going to have that stature [that men did], so I looked like a blip on the screen and there wasn’t anything I could do about that.”

‘Give Me Something to Do and I’ll Try It’
To overcome the perceptions and stereotypes surrounding them, women often need to prove themselves.

“I was willing to do things that no one else was willing to do,” Docktor explained. “Give me something to do and I’ll try it. I may never have done it before, but I’m going to go for it. That ability to jump off the cliff moved me forward in the company over the years.”

For many women, however, Pappas pointed out that such a bold attitude doesn’t come naturally, especially if they’re in a male-driven organization. “For a lot of women, they need to learn how they jump in, how they raise their hand. How do I say, ‘put me in coach’?”

According to Casey, for women in real estate today, there is an advantage. “Today, you have male bosses out there who have gotten used to, and learned from, women,” she said. “We are, in a sense today, the consultants who say, ‘we’ve proven it, now you have to act on it.’ ”

‘We Are All Leaders and We Are Leaders First’
All panelists agreed that the mentors they had over the years, and the need to be mentors to those around them, is an essential component of promoting further leadership roles for women…in real estate and beyond.

“If we’re doing our jobs correctly, we are mentoring women all the time,” said Casey. “When you meet people and connect with them, you have to reach out your hand. And people who feel they’d like to be mentored, they have to reach out their hand.”

“We are all leaders, and we are leaders first,” said Koberlein. “By demonstrating our leadership, that’s mentoring those around us.”

“If you can see it, you can be it,” said Freedman. “I thank goodness for the people on this panel who have paved the way for me to be in the position I am in.”

Stay tuned to for additional coverage of RISMedia’s “Spring Into Action” virtual event. 

Spring Into Action 2021 Sponsors

Diamond Sponsors
National Association of REALTORS® Center for REALTOR® Development
Real Estate Webmasters

Master Sponsor

The Corcoran Group

Host Sponsor

Lone Wolf Technologies
Realtors Property Resource, LLC
Rocket Mortgage

Event Sponsors

David Knox Productions, Inc.
The Institute for Luxury Home Marketing
Pillar To Post Home Inspectors®
Sherri Johnson Coaching & Consulting

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