Breaking The Glass Ceiling: Women Real Estate Leaders On The Ups And Downs
Although many perceive real estate as a male-dominated business, the National Association of Realtors’ most recent member survey showed 65 percent of the nation’s Realtors are women — a number that’s poised to keep growing as the Great Resignation inspires more women to find success and financial freedom in the industry.
However, that success doesn’t always come easy. For women, the specter of sexism and for some, also racism, raise barriers to building a robust business as a solo agent, crafting an award-winning team, founding a groundbreaking brokerage or leading national brands in a C-suite position.
“It’s still a reality that a man’s career is a man’s career and everything else is second,” ERA American Real Estate Director of Marketing and Business Development Kim Luckie told Inman of how outdated gender expectations impact women. “For women and our careers, there’s an expectation that there’s balance because that’s the societal expectation — a woman is going to need to carefully balance both work and family.”
“I can’t wait until women don’t have to answer [the work-life] question,” she added. “That’ll be the day that we know things have changed. When we don’t feel like we have to explain how we balance it all.”
Until then, Luckie and three other dynamic leaders — Lasha Raddatz, Marion Weiler and Jackie Soto — are expertly navigating the challenges and the questions that come with being a woman in real estate.
Create a village to you help you personally and professionally
Keller Williams Integrity Lakes team leader Lasha Raddatz’s real estate career has been a winding road. She started her journey with a brief stint as a commercial property manager for CBRE, which led Raddatz to earn her sales license and build a robust solo sales career before the Great Recession brought it tumbling down.
“[CBRE] sent me to real estate school and I thought, ‘Hmm, I’ve always wanted to be a Realtor selling residential real estate,’” she said. “So once I got my license, I quit and I worked for a small little franchise that my mother-in-law was part of.”
“I started as her assistant learning the ropes [and] learning the business,” she added. “Eventually, I got busier than she was. So she hired a new assistant and I went on my own. I did pretty good for a couple years and then the market crashed in 2008.”
Raddatz went on to build a successful career as a marketer and software sales executive, but her love of real estate was never too far behind. So when her last corporate employer fired her, Raddatz, who’d kept her sales license up to date, went to Keller Williams and began rebuilding her client base.
“My last job just wasn’t a good fit for me. They ended up firing me, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me,” she said. “I had already joined Keller Williams three months prior to that. So when they let me go, I got in my car, drove to Keller Williams, and that was five years ago.”
Since rejoining the industry in 2017, Raddatz has helped build one of the top real estate teams in the Twin Cities area while maintaining her spot as one of Keller Williams Integrity Lakes’ top individual producers. Although Raddatz said she’s proud of her progress, she said it hasn’t been without sacrifice.
“I’ve had to have a village for sure,” Raddatz said of the challenges balancing work and motherhood. “My ex-mother-in-law and father-in-law have helped me quite a bit with my children over the years with babysitting. When I used to travel for work selling software, [my children] would always say [my mother-in-law] was their second mom because she literally had to step up for me and help me hold down the fort.”
Raddatz said she’s expanded her village over the years, which has come to include her fiancé, who’s also in the real estate industry, and a team of assistants and coordinators. “I’m engaged to a Realtor, so that’s added balance because his days off are on Thursday and Friday,” she said. “It kind of forced me to pause a little bit and line up my days off with him because normally I work seven days a week.”
“I’ve also hired a showing assistant, a transaction coordinator and a director of operations,” she added. “It was tough spending the money to have someone help me, but my business partner said, ‘Lasha you sold 67 houses last year. You make enough money that you can afford it.’ It’s just an investment in your business and a way to actually have a little life balance.”
As she moves up the ranks, Raddatz said she’s been intentional about passing her knowledge to upcoming real estate agents, especially other Black women who face the double-whammy of racism and sexism.
“I have two Realtors that I mentor and they were asking me about door knocking, and I told them it wasn’t a good idea,” she said of the less obvious ways racism impacts how Black agents build their career. “That’s kind of a challenge for Black Realtors to be door knocking in these white neighborhoods where people might not even open the door when they see your brown face outside their door.”
“The latest challenge is just trying to encourage them,” she added. “You’ve got to hustle. You may not be able to take the same route as others, but you can be successful. I found my niche and found other ways to impact my business in a great way. You can, too.”
Don’t discount your talents and knowledge
Marion Weiler has had an enviable career with executive marketing positions at Coldwell Banker and Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty before striking out on her own with Weiler International, her two-year-old marketing firm. As one of a handful of women in the industry who’ve been able to sit in the C-suite, Weiler said she’s seen how a scarcity of opportunity pushes some women to subscribe to a limited view of leadership.
“This is something I’ve perceived much more with women than I have with men,” she said. “That is the need to look over your shoulder to see what other women or men are doing and feel like you have to do something in a certain way like others are doing them.”
For women, she said, this pressure manifests as fears about appearance, fears about seeming too intimidating, or even fears about being less capable than fellow agents and leaders — male and female. “There’s a focus on looking like or acting like what somebody else might want,” she explained. “That leads to people feeling less than and not really stepping into their own power.”
Despite being confident, Weiler said she’s felt the weight of having the “right look,” driving the right car and all of the appearance-based pressures that come with real estate. However, over the years, Weiler said she’s learned to focus on her specific strengths, talents and experiences as a woman and use them to help her clients.
“The number one thing is getting into your own power by really understanding who you are and your values and aligning yourself with clients who can benefit from your values and experience,” she said. “That’s going to lead you to a career in real estate that’s truly enjoyable versus agents that are working with clients that are really not aligned. It becomes very stressful very fast.”
Once you find your power, Weiler said the next step is resisting the urge to be everything to everyone — something she said is more common with women than men. “Don’t try to be everything to everyone — work with the people that you relate with,” she said. “That creates a fun and really valuable relationship that is going to lead to referrals of more like-minded people.”
Lastly, Weiler said she’s learned the power of empathetic leadership, which has become a hot-button topic as the pandemic continues to stretch real estate agents and consumers to the maximum. Having emotional intelligence and being able to use it, she said, will continue to be a hallmark of her career.
“Having empathetic and strong leadership throughout your entire brokerage — on the executive level, the management level, and even on the team level is an asset. It really helps everything to flow together,” she added. I think women are generally talented in having that emotional intelligence and that empathetic leadership, and we can use that to really support each other.
“Imagine what could happen if you have the strong, more than capable women supporting each other! I call that leadership 2.0,” she added. “That [support] goes through every level — the executive level, the office level, the team level and the agent level. Just being able to really lift each other up and be more of a support system could make all the difference.”
Raise your hand and step into the spotlight
Although she’s only in her early 30s, Jackie Soto is already a well-tested veteran in the industry with more than 15 years of experience as an agent, managing broker and now co-broker-owner of Chino-based indie brokerage eHomes. Over the years, Soto has been vocal about the challenges of being in real estate as a young Latina.
“I don’t want to focus on any disservices or how it’s held me back because I feel that I’ve been able to overcome everything,” Soto told Inman in 2020 as she merged her former company, Divergent Realty, with eHomes. “You can focus on what other people are thinking or not thinking of you, and you can also have these self-imposed thoughts of ‘Well, you’re Hispanic, you’re female and you shouldn’t be doing this because it’s never been done before [by someone like you.]’”
“This industry is male-dominated, but you bring your chair to the table,” she added.
Now as she enters her third year as a broker-owner, Soto said her chair has grown much bigger as she and her business partner, Elmer Morales, focus on expanding their footprint and breaking their 2021 sales volume record of $855 million — no small feat in an increasingly competitive and inventory-starved market.
“When we opened in Orange County, it was basically our first expansion,” she said. “We were able to duplicate production, culture, everything — which was huge,” she said. “When you’re opening that second office, that’s always the biggest concern. Are you going to be able to do it again?”
As Soto and her team celebrated the joy of a banner year, she couldn’t help but notice who was dominating the thousands of headlines about the real estate industry.
“I’m a single mom, I’m a Latina and I had all the odds stacked against me,” she said. “I’m still somehow running this brokerage and growing it to these numbers but if you go and you look at everybody that reported their numbers last year, I mean — and I don’t want to all be about women versus men — but let’s be honest, they’re all white men.”
Soto said it can be easy to feel like your accomplishments don’t matter or get bogged down with the very real obstacles that come with being a woman of color in real estate. In those moments, she said, it’s important to refocus on your goals and how you can build a business that provides a better future for agents and their clients.
“Last year, the biggest thing, especially with all the volatility in the marketplace and kind of the lack of inventory, was holding everyone’s head above water and making sure that their mindset was in the right place to be able to get up every day and show up as their full self,” she said of what she was most proud of last year. “It wasn’t just me — our entire leadership team contributed to making sure that morale was high and our agents have been so successful.”
Looking forward, Soto said she knows challenges come with the territory, but she’ll never stop “raising her hand” and leaning on her community of mentors to push her to the next level.
“It all starts with raising your hand,” she said. “My broker-owner journey started with me raising my hand and asking a question and asking for help, and I think when you’re a younger agent, you already feel underestimated and you feel like you have to know it all, right? You feel you have something to prove.”
“But really the only way you’re going to prove [yourself] is with help. You’ve got to be able to raise your hand,” she added. “Some days, you’re going to make huge strides and some days, there’s going to be baby steps. I think I’m successful because I never freakin’ give up — it all started with raising my hand and taking advantage of the opportunity that I have before me every single day.”
Resist the temptation to change who you are
Although authenticity is often cited as the key to success in real estate, Florida-based ERA American Real Estate Director of Marketing and Business Development Kim Luckie said many women are still bearing the brunt of societal expectations regarding work and family life.
“I grew up in the South and I grew up in the part of Florida that’s still part of the South — the panhandle,” she said with a laugh. “There is still a gentility that’s expected and in the moments where I need to be direct, it can be jarring for a woman to be that direct, whereas a man doesn’t have to deal with that.”
“That extends to the questions that men get — no one asks a man how they balance work and home,” she said. “If you were to ask a man that they would look at you so puzzled, like, ‘What are you talking about?’ There are a lot more questions, I think, for women in this industry to answer outside of ‘How do you balance it all?’”
Luckie said the fact that most women’s real estate careers are seen through the lens of a work-family balance proves there’s still much work to do in viewing women as individuals instead of an extension of their children or spouses.
“There’s almost this unwritten sort of real estate as a great career for mothers because it gives them the flexibility to take care of their kids [and] even that is kind of almost a trope,” she said. ” I mean, I’m the girl with the bright red Mohawk, I don’t have children and I’m a bit punk rock. So when I come into a room to talk to a broker or a team, you know, I still feel sometimes like I have to be sort of [twisted and turned] to be accepted.”
Although Luckie said she appreciates and acknowledges the opportunity real estate offers to mothers, she said it’s important people remember women enter into the industry for a myriad of reasons that are equally important as providing for a family. Luckie said she admires former ERA president and Realogy Franchise Group CEO Sue Yannaccone, who’s been part of shaping the future of female leadership in real estate.
“She’s a person who I don’t think people ask her about her work-life balance. They ask her about her leadership,” she said. “I model myself after her and I’m fortunate enough to have a friendship with her that’s close enough that I can text the questions, right?”
Luckie said women have to take control of the narrative, which will require companies and leaders to create space for women from all kinds of backgrounds — “When you start to talk about women of color, things are exponentially lopsided,” she said — to share their experiences. However, when there’s not a dedicated space for women, Luckie said women have to be willing to barge their way in.
“People who have the voice in the industry need to help pave the way for more women to be able to speak more. The more the women are controlling the narrative, the less the narrative becomes about the choices they have to make to do what they do,” she said. “But then the other side is I think women have to decide to be a voice.”
She added, “There’s an expression that says, ‘Responsibility is never given. It’s always taken.’ So that’s our responsibility as women — we can’t always wait for an invitation. No one is going to invite you to be whatever you want to be or do whatever you want to do. If you wait for an invitation, it may or may not come. So it’s our responsibility to change the environment.”