Women in Executive Leadership in Real Estate

Few Women In Senior Leadership

Although the percentage of women in senior leadership positions in real estate is considerably higher than most other industries, only 18 percent (according to the 2014/15 SP200 rankings) of the most powerful and influential real estate leaders are women.

As the team has again started its research to create the 2015/16 SP200 rankings, we wanted to take a deeper dive into the important role women play in the residential real estate business and see if we can identify more women in the upcoming list.


In 1960, the majority of American women were limited in many aspects of the workplace. Women were generally expected to marry in their early 20s, start a family quickly, and devote her life to homemaking. But the feminist movement along with the rising divorce rates forced many women out of the home and into the workplace.

So could the modern day shortage of women in senior leadership be a carry over from half a century ago or are there other reasons as well. Sometimes women indicate that they are not necessarily interested in the top job for personal reasons. Often younger women, especially those who may have children, opt to stay in sales positions or positions with less responsibility. These women often have all they can handle right now. Taking on additional responsibility may not be congruent with having a meaningful personal and family life at the same time.

Real estate however has been blessed with a large percentage of women, probably because of the flexibility of the job, raising a family makes it a little easier than regular 9-5 jobs. Today many would argue that women dominate the sales side of residential real estate industry. Women are even very prevalent in middle management but at the very top leadership positions they are still largely absent.

Women in Real Estate

The real estate examples do however have a few great powerful and influential women leaders. Women such Sherry Chris, the CEO of Better Homes and Gardens, Margaret Kelly, the retired CEO of RE/MAX, and Pam O’Connor, the CEO of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World, worked their way up the corporate ladder in large firms. Others, like Janet Branton, SVP of the National Association of REALTORS®, Teresa King Kinney, CEO of Miami Association of REALTORS® and Ginger Downs, CEO Chicago Association of REALTORS®, opted for non-profit associations.

Another very popular path to senior leadership comes from starting your own business or purchasing an existing company and building it up. Some well known female entrepreneurs in our industry include Barbara Corcoran, founder of the Corcoran Group, the late Ebby Halliday, founder of Ebby Halliday Realtors®, and Dottie Herman, President and CEO of Douglas Elliman.

Climbing the Ladder

We found that the Urban Land Institute’s (ULI) has a Women’s Leadership Initiative that seeks to increase the number of women in the real estate industry. Additionally it also seeks to increase the number of women in leadership so that it is proportional to the number of women in the industry overall. To that end, ULI conducted a comprehensive study examining the current state of women in the real estate industry. The study included a survey of more than 1,200 female members in the U.S., plus four focus groups, and numerous one-one interviews. Key findings include:

  • In terms of ULI’s membership, only 14 percent of their CEO members are women.
  • Over two-thirds of the women surveyed aspire to run an organization and they frequently change jobs or form their own firms in order to secure greater responsibility. This movement continues throughout their careers.
  • One-fourth of women in CEO roles are sole proprietors.
  • Of the survey respondents, 93 percent of female CEOs oversee small firms with fewer than 100 employees.

The survey also concluded that visible and challenging work assignments for women should be the top priority for organizations going forward. These two factors ranked as number one or two in importance for nearly two-thirds of the women surveyed. Among those who aspire to reach C-suite positions, 86 percent found visible and challenging assignments either very important or extremely important. For mid-level roles, only 66 percent of women found these to be as important.

The ULI study recommended the following actions to increase the number of women in leadership:

  • Accelerate learning through job assignments, especially high profile projects. Provide coaching to those who take on new roles.
  • Create a culture that places high priority on internal and external networks, objective promotion, and fair hiring practices.
  • Adopt a talent mindset the supports robust discussion from a diverse pool of high-potential employees.
  • Offer workplace flexibility for men and women by providing flexible hours and by encouraging them to be involved in their lives outside of work.
  • Make mentoring and sponsoring women a priority.
  • Invest in training to drive change.

Identifying Women Leaders

Many feel that making specific reference to the word “women” means that society hasn’t yet gotten to where we need to go yet. To make sure we do not accidentally skip over someone whose contribution, influence and leadership in the industry has been exceptional and should be included in the annual SP200, please share that person’s name with us.

Although the SP200 doesn’t specifically focus on women, it does strive to acknowledge all categories that collectively make up the SP200 – from brokers to thought leaders, from corporate executives to association leaders, Americans to Canadians, all race groups, men, women, young, old, and so on. The list doesn’t discriminate and the SP200 research team goes out of its way to find leaders from all corners of our industry.

We are currently reviewing hundreds and hundreds of candidates and will consider all credible nominations. Go to our SP200 Profile Checker to see if their name is already listed. If not, have them add their bio to the website, alternatively email me (karen@swanepoelt3group.com) or reply to this email with their information.

The Swanepoel Power 200 is published every year in the middle of January and can be viewed online at sp200.com.

T3 Sixty – Trusted business advisors and management consultants.

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© T3 Sixty 2020. Enabling Intelligent Change.

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