A Woman's Place

From the NAR President: It’s almost a cliché these days to talk about achieving balance in our work and personal lives. It's not easy.

May 1, 2007

Remember this old line? “A woman’s place is in the House . . . and in the Senate!”

Well, that’s exactly where I’ll be this month, along with thousands of other REALTORS® from around the country, meeting with my congressional representatives as part of our Midyear Legislative Meetings. I look forward to representing your interests in Washington, but I’m glad the meetings start May 14 — after Mother’s Day — so I can be home to celebrate with my family.

It’s almost a cliché these days to talk about achieving balance in our work and personal lives. It’s something I’ve strived for throughout my career, and it hasn’t always been easy. Those of you who have children (or who care for elderly parents) know what I’m talking about.

I started in real estate in 1971. In those days before fax machines and e-mail, it wasn’t unusual to be away from home a couple of evenings during the week presenting offers. My weekends were almost always spent showing houses. If I achieved some measure of balance, it’s because I worked at it — but I was also fortunate to have good role models and a great support network.

For starters, my parents set a great example. My mom worked outside the home, not typical for a married woman with children in those days.

My late husband Bruce was also an independent contractor, so we shared child rearing in the same way many two-income couples do today. I remember once being at a parent-teacher conference and the music teacher telling me she’d decided to rework her Mother’s Day concert program because of my daughter Jesi. The teacher had been planning a song about “mom baking cookies,” and Jesi piped up: “But my mom doesn’t bake cookies; my dad does.

Bruce understood the pressures and the long hours of our business. He helped compensate — and not just by baking cookies with the kids on Sundays while I was holding open houses. We would sit down weekly to talk about the kids’ schedules. There were times when I couldn’t be at the school event but he could. Other times, when he couldn’t be there, I could. That kind of support is critical to anyone who’s going to succeed in this business.

For me, participation in the Women’s Council of REALTORS® was also important. When I started my career, a lot of companies had separate women’s divisions, and women weren’t typically expected to advance into leadership roles. WCR gave women like me not only a sense of mutual support but also our first real chance to learn leadership skills. I was president of the Michigan Women’s Council in 1986 — four years before I became the first female president of the Grand Rapids Association of REALTORS®.

It’s been 36 years since I started my career. To some extent, pundits are still talking about women’s place in society. The reality, as we all know, is that men and women are working together to put bread on the table and carve out time with their families.

With Mother’s Day approaching and Father’s Day just around the corner, I hope all you working parents — in fact, all of you with family obligations — take a moment to pat yourselves on the back for the never-ending balancing act you perform!

Pat Vredevoogd Combs

Pat V. Combs was 2007 president of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.