"If this was easy, our wives could do it" drawled the guy at the head of the table. Of the thirty or so men in the mahogany-paneled conference room, only one bothered to glance at me. He flashed a semi-sympathetic smile that had a hint of "please, not now", but he quickly went back to the stacks of computer print outs when he saw I was keeping still. I already had a reputation for being "prickly" but that day I was staying suitably quiet in this Fortune 100 client's boardroom. I was a young manager working in an industry where women were scraping out a toehold, but we mostly did it by acting like men. If you remember Brooks Brothers navy suits with long pleated skirts, you know what I'm talking about.
Fast forward two decades to my current career in real estate and my thoughts over this Labor Day weekend. I remembered that executive who inadvertently but so very perfectly summed up the glaringly real issues of how clients confusedly perceive our business. It's not a women's issue, it's a problem of our business model, but some of the issues get wrapped up in the fact that so many women work in real estate.
How is it that the industry model remains firmly based on paying money to get to do the job? Is it because the perception -- or perhaps the reality -- is that a disproportionate number of the licensees are women who are not -- or are not perceived to be -- the primary income earners for their families? In a previously booming economy a driver's license and a sphere of influence were enough of a basis for making at least some money as a real estate agent. "And it's rather a cliche, the divorced woman in real estate" a Harvard Business School female professor said to me with slightly raised eyebrows.
Today we have too many lightly educated and poorly compensated agents who pay out money to compete for the shrinking pie of transactions and revenue volume. Paradoxically, real estate agents are increasingly expected to be so very good at so very many things -- from SEO to better listening skills, from financial analysis to fine-tuned time management, from videography to enough legal expertise to keep from being sued. The low education requirements plus the preponderance of licensees who make a little money in the business creates a self-perpetuating cycle of public mistrust and even contempt. We can change it...but we need to think about it and talk about it, openly and honestly, in ways that help us to change.