Real estate has historically held a unique position among professional fields in the opportunities it affords women for economic advancement and leadership roles. Because of its emphasis on the home and on social connections, it offered women entering the workforce the opportunity to build a career and financial success in a way that was also considered socially acceptable.
Over time, however, while many top-producing agents were and continue to be women, leadership roles were filled by men.
According to the California Association of Realtors (C.A.R.) report How Women Brokers Are Reinventing Leadership in the 21st Century, “The higher you go, the fewer women there are. Corporate real estate, C-suite positions, commercial real estate and residential broker-owners — these are all areas where the presence of women is noticeable by their small numbers.”
The genesis of the WomanUP! movement
According to Sara Sutachan, CAR’s Vice President of Industry Relations and Strategic Initiatives, this led to an ah-hah moment that set her and her colleagues on the path to creating WomanUP!, an initiative designed to prepare and empower women to step into industry leadership roles through education, mentoring, and career development.
“My role at CAR is to create rapport and relationships with the senior leaders of some of the largest brokerage firms in [California],” Sutachan said. “In doing so, I started to see a pattern. I know there are powerful women in this industry, yet they were not in the meetings with the broker leaders.”
One day in particular, Sutachan was meeting with broker-owners and found that she was the only woman sitting at the table. She began researching women in corporate settings and found that 1 in 5 women in leadership positions were the only women in the room.
“This doubles in senior levels of management; 40 percent of women at the top are the ‘onlies,'” Sutachan said.
In real estate in particular, 60 percent of agents are women, yet only 14 percent are broker-owners. This led Sutachan to work with Leslie Appleton-Young, VP chief economist at CAR, and Debra Trappen, a consultant and coach specializing in women’s professional empowerment, to develop WomanUP!.
According to Trappen, “The WomanUP! Movement focuses on bringing together three groups of people. The first is women who currently own or lead a brokerage. The second is the women who want to own or lead a brokerage. The third is anyone who wants to support these women on their leadership journey.”
“WomanUP! is a community for these people to come together and support, mentor, and encourage each other around a table that is inclusive, diverse and focused on solutions,” Trappen said.
The organization also has a group of women called WaveMakers who work with local organizations across the country to help spread the word about the WomanUP! program. According to Sutachan, this has resulted in growth across North American and into Canada through a partnership with the National Women’s Council of Realtors.
Getting involved with WomanUP!
According to Trappen, there are a variety of ways to get involved with, contribute to and benefit from the mission of WomanUP!.
- Get a ticket to the next WomanUP! Conference (the 2019 conference was Oct. 23-25): C.A.R. says “the more the merrier.” Everyone who believes in C.A.R.’s WomanUp! mission is welcome at the table, especially if you are an audacious mentor (male or female), if you own or lead a brokerage — or want to someday — or want to encourage these aspirational women on their journeys. “We really want to find women who currently own or are executive leaders in a brokerage or are looking to step into that space. The message is, ‘Are you currently or do you want to be a broker-owner leader? Come into the room.’ These groups bring like-minded women along with them,” Trappen said.
- Join the Facebook Group: As the Facebook page reads, “This is a place to connect with your tribe and move things forward.” If you are or want to be a broker-owner, this is a place to do for support on the daily. Fabulous humans who want to encourage women in leadership are also welcome to the group. “Once they are part of that group they have access to invites for Community-Only events taking place at larger industry events, like meetups and breakout sessions. We’re always trying to find those women across the country, which allows us to hear their story and plug them in when we come to their town,” she said.
- Check out WomanUP! Events and Initiatives: Another excellent way to get involved is sharing your perspective and calling out those who inspire you.
- Share your story initiative: “A lot of times in the real estate space we hear the same stories over and over again. This is the opportunity for us to go beyond the ‘cool kids’ who are on the conference circuit. It’s an opportunity for people who have been too busy ‘doing their business’ to figure out how to get their story out there.”
- Nominate your favorite speaker: “Who do you know who should be on the stage? This initiative gives the extroverted friend the opportunity to tag and encourage their more introverted friend to tell their story.”
- Become a mentor, or find a mentor: “We think in terms of mentors for a reason, season or lifetime. There might be a reason you need a mentor just for one task or skill. You might need a mentor for a limited time period, like six months. Then we’ve had people who connect potentially for a lifetime.”
Trappen emphasizes that WomanUP! “is not an organization — it’s a movement.” She encourages women who want to get involved to connect with their local Women’s Council of Realtors (WCR), a WomanUP! national sponsor.
“We don’t currently have anything on the vision board for a paid, membership-style community. We are seeking to offer value-added services to women who are already coming together and provide a space at the big conferences.”
WomanUP! has been featured at BANFF Western Connection, Toronto Real Estate Board, Inman Connect NYC, San Francisco and, most recently, Las Vegas.
“In the next 12 months, we’ll be going to the New England Area, Chicago, Idaho and others. We are excited and willing to connect with organizations who want to bring WomanUP! to their area,” Sutachan said.
According to Appleton-Young, the effect of the initiative has been clear since its inception and continues to pay dividends for women in the industry as it grows.
“We knew early on that we were on to something. As we put together the agenda for the first conference, the women we asked to be part of the program were not only thrilled but truly touched by the invitation. Here they were, powerful, successful women all, who had never been asked to be on stage.”
“It’s not unusual to discount the importance of seeing someone who looks like you in leadership roles — it can make all the difference to actually see that it is possible,” Appleton-Young said. “Someone like you has forged that path ahead of you. You can do it, too. As I said at the time, I’ve been going to #ManUP Conferences my whole life; now it’s time to WomanUP!”