How Do We Close the Gender Leadership Gap in Real Estate?

Women outnumber men in the real estate industry … except when it comes to leadership.

Even though nearly 70% of all REALTORS® nationwide are female, women are significantly underrepresented in executive leadership across the real estate industry. Key findings from a California Association of REALTORS® study that evaluated data from across the country found that:

  • Men continue to be much more likely to be broker/owners than women.
  • Men are more likely to be team leaders than women.
  • Many women are opting to form their own brokerages rather than pursuing a corporate leadership career.

Progress has been made in recent years to diversify the upper echelons of the industry, but there’s still work to level the playing field. For more insight into closing the leadership gender gap in real estate, we caught up with a female C-Suite leader who cares passionately about lifting up women in real estate and was recently named a HousingWire Woman of Influence for 2021: Side’s co-founder and chief broker officer, Hilary Saunders.

What do you see as some of the key reasons for the gender disparity in real estate leadership?

There are two parts to that question. When it comes to women being underrepresented in executive leadership positions, I think the main problem is the existing corporate structure. Unfortunately, the people making hiring decisions still tend to be white men, many of whom don’t prioritize diversifying their leadership team(s). 

Then there’s the issue of women as owners of their own real estate companies. The typical broker/owner takes on so many different roles that take up a lot of bandwidth. They’re in charge of recruiting and retention; they manage the office; they’re in charge of transaction compliance; they handle accounting. Many women become real estate agents because they’re attracted to the flexibility that comes with being an independent contractor, but the broker role doesn’t typically offer that same flexibility.

The numbers at Side stand out from the national averages: Over 50% of Side partner brands are owned and operated by women. Was that a conscious choice on the part of leadership to partner with female talent?

We aim to partner with the very best agents in the country — so it’s not that we’re specifically seeking out women. But I do think that Side offers an opportunity that is very attractive to women in this industry, where they can own their own business and maintain their flexibility. With accounting, compliance, and recruiting off their plates, they have the freedom to run their business according to the schedule that works best for them.

Side has a “choose your own adventure” model: You can focus on tripling your business, or you can decide what really matters to you is having the ability to take a two-month vacation every year. Everyone’s passions are very different, and we work with each partner individually to help them build a business that meets those goals.

What are some challenges women continue to face in real estate today, and how can they mitigate them?

Here’s one that’s happened to me personally: I’ve worked with men who assumed that I can’t or won’t negotiate a contract effectively because I’m a woman or that it may be easy to “strong-arm” me into agreeing to certain terms. It’s certainly not everyone, but that attitude is out there. 

Our Managing Broker team at Side provides our partners with legal language and education designed to empower them when they head into negotiations. We want them to know it’s okay to go to bat for their client because we’re here to back them up. That support benefits all our partners, but I know it really empowers our female partners when they encounter chauvinistic behavior.

What do you think needs to change before we see more women in executive leadership positions in the real estate industry?

I feel like we’re making good strides — if you look at the HousingWire Women of Influence for 2021, you’ll see there are all of these incredible women in leadership roles. Of course there’s still a long way to go in many ways. But when you think about the skillset required to succeed in this industry, it translates so well to the characteristics associated with female leadership. There’s a compassion element to the way women tend to lead that elevates everyone who gets to work with them, and that’s so important in a relationship-based industry like real estate.

As a female entrepreneur yourself, what’s your advice for women who are thinking of making a similar leap into entrepreneurship?

You need to have the gumption to try. Ignore the voice questioning, “What if I fail? What are people going to say?” Forget it! Who cares? 

Failure is not a bad thing. Too many people see failure as some kind of negative stamp, but I think the smartest and most successful people have learned the most from their failures. 

At Side, we have so many partners who are happy to share their failures with the broader community for others to learn from. Our community is filled with people from all different walks of life and different experience levels, and because we only partner with top-producing agents, they see each other as equals in a support system, not competitors. 

They take pride in being able to say, “I failed because of these reasons, and now I’m going to fix those things and start over. Learn from my experience.” That’s how you grow. Life’s too short not to try.

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