She Rode the Elevator Through the Glass Ceiling

Is there a glass ceiling barring women from top positions in the real estate industry?

December 1, 1996

In November, Today's REALTOR® published a discussion with Mary Chatton Brown, Julie Davis, and Joan Deal--three national leaders in the industry--on their struggles to rise in what was once a male-dominated industry. In this issue, our panelists examine how women have surpassed men in the number of salespeople and brokers and closed the gap in management and ownership. Next stop, say the panelists, is leadership of local, state, and national organizations. These comments were culled from a discussion held at a NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® meeting earlier this year.

Look Who's Talking . . .

Mary Chatton Brown, GRI Broker-owner of Mary Chatton Brown & Associates Inc., Orinda, Calif., and past president of the Contra Costa (Calif.) Association of REALTORS®.

Julie Davis, CRB, GRI President of Julie Davis Inc. and Selective Properties Services Inc., both in Springfield, Ill., and past president of the Real Estate Brokerage Managers Council.

Joan Deal, CRS®, LTG 1996 president of the Women's Council of REALTORS® and broker at Keller Williams Real Estate, Hurst, Texas. Owns Joan Deal Systems Inc., a training and consulting firm in Hurst.

Brown: I was just in a conversation with three REALTORS® downstairs, and one of them from California said, ''You know, I was at a meeting this morning, and on the podium they were all women!'' The other one said, “You mean the chairman, vice chairman, and the staff?'' He said, ''Yeah, they were all women.'' And I said, ''You noticed it, didn't you? If it had been the other way around, you wouldn't have.'' He said he suddenly realized this was a perception based on his gender. He had to say, ''They were all women.''

Davis: In the early '70s, you had very few women in leadership or management positions. Next, everyone was very concerned about balance. If you owned a company and you had five managers, you wanted to make sure that no more than two were women. Now what I'm seeing is companies interested in getting the best person.

Deal: I've seen more of a focus today on putting the right person in the job. But I do have to say you still encounter those pockets where gender is still really an issue. An interesting experience I had last year: I'm in an elevator going to a meeting. An older man in the elevator says to me, ''Where are you going?'' I say I'm going to such-and-such a meeting. He says, ''Secretaries and administrative people are not supposed to use this elevator.'' I smile and, I hope in a nice way, say, ''Well, I certainly appreciate that. I am the president-elect for the national Women's Council of REALTORS®, and this is the elevator I was directed to. I hope it's going to get me where I'm going.'' He kind of smiles sheepishly and says, ''I think it will.''

The younger generation is less stereotyped about whose role it is to do something or who has the right to be doing something than we were in our generation.

Davis: Absolutely. Young couples today grow up with the basic attitude that they probably are both going to have to work full-time. What happens at home has to be a joint effort, and they divide up jobs and responsibilities based on who likes what job, not whether it's traditionally been a man's or a woman's job. And they bring that to a workplace.

Deal: Another thing is the socialization process--we still differentiate between little girls and little boys. Boys are taught competitiveness in sports, that it's OK to win, and that you have to do tough things to be successful. Girls are still taught to nurture and to be supportive and not to hurt feelings. Business requires that we be tough and competitive and make hard decisions. We're not equipping women to deal with it as effectively as we could be.

So, what kind of skills are needed to advance?

Deal: Politics makes a difference. If you're aspiring to be the president of NAR, you need to do the politically right things, know the right people, and have the right support from key people to get to the top. We've had only one woman NAR president, yet our membership is 54 percent female.

Davis: I started teaching for the Real Estate Brokerage Managers Council years ago when classes were about 75 percent men, because those were managers and owners, and about 25 percent women. Now my classes are probably 75 percent women, 25 percent men, and predominantly managers. If you look at the ratio of women brokers to men, it's 52 percent to 48 percent; if you look at owner-managers, you'll find that it's not that good yet--58 percent men, 42 percent women.* If you look at association presidents in the last 10 years, you'll find it way male dominant. We have progressed through the industry. Just like women have become dominant in brokerage, I believe within the next 10 years they will also become dominant in ownership. And soon after that, they'll be dominant in the associations.

What will NAR look like in five years?

Deal: I definitely see more women in leadership roles, but with less emphasis on the fact that they're women and more emphasis on the fact that they're good, competent people.

Davis: I would say, ''Who is NAR going to be in five years?'' If we don't get a handle on using the best talent that we have, a better question may be, will there be an NAR? And I don't want it to be that way.

I'm a traditionalist and conservative, so it's very easy for me to want to hold on to the past, but I really believe if we try to hold on to the past too hard, we will destroy the future. Much as we would like for it all to stay just the same, it's not going to. We'd better be a part of designing the future, or the future will design itself.

In designing that future, what are the key leadership issues that need to be addressed?

Davis: When a person gets involved, he or she has to learn the organization, has to learn the systems, then can move up and maybe serve as president. Studies show that if that doesn't happen within a certain amount of time, people may still serve but their enthusiasm for the job wanes. By holding people back, by the time they get there, we've already worn them out. And I'm not speaking specifically about NAR. I've certainly seen that in my local association.

Brown: Good men and women have left, and I've thought, ''Why weren't they president?''

Davis: When you consider the rapidly changing times, the process has to get even shorter than it used to be. You can't identify people today and say they should lead our organization and still think they're the right people six, seven, eight years down the road when they get the job.

Deal: We've had one female president of this organization. If a woman came along who could knit things back together, could do whatever is needed to get things going in the right direction, that's the person who should be leading the organization. I say that also for a man. We need to be looking at strengths, talents, and abilities on the basis of the issues that our organization faces, not on what we've always done, whose turn it is to serve, or What's our gender.

Why should women get involved?

Davis: I think there's a real message of hope here. We've seen how things have changed. If you had had this conversation with the same three people 15 years ago, you would have had very, very different answers. The important thing now is that we are going in the right direction, and it is getting better all the time.

Deal: Regardless of where the barriers may come from, there are supportive people out there. There are supportive environments. You don't have to stay in an environment that is limiting your potential. We should realize we have our choices to move forward, male and female.

Brown: The unfortunate thing is that there are those people with very bright minds, young, energetic, personally successful who say they can't take the time to participate.

Davis: I want to encourage anybody today getting into the business to become active in state and national organizations. They will have the opportunity to see that their people skills are marketable. The options that exist in real estate are amazing. They're interstate. They're interrelated with services outside the brokerage business. I didn't see how big that opportunity pool truly was until I got involved at the national level.

Lucien Salvant is a former managing editor for REALTOR ® Magazine.

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