On March 8, the world came together to celebrate women’s achievements and reinforce a commitment to women’s equality. In honor of International Women’s Day, some of the industry’s top female thought leaders shared their insights on what’s had the biggest impact on their success and their best advice for women to thrive and advance in their careers.
President & CEO, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England, New York, and Hudson Valley Properties
Senior Vice President, Long & Foster Real Estate Inc.; Regional Manager, Baltimore-Eastern Shore-Western MD
Mary Lee Blaylock
Senior Vice President, HomeServices of America, Inc.
President & CEO, Expansion Brands, Anywhere Real Estate
Regional Director & Divisional Leader, Keller Williams Realty International; 2023 National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) Broker Relations Liaison
Broker President, Terrie O’Connor REALTORS®
President, The Keyes Company;
2022 President of Florida REALTORS®
CEO, NOVATION; 2023 NAHREP President-Elect
Leslie Rouda Smith
Broker Associate, Dave Perry-Miller Real Estate; 2023 National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) Immediate Past President
Regional Vice President, Coldwell Banker Chicago
Co-Founder/CEO, ERA Legacy Living
President & CEO, Anywhere Brands
How are you using your industry-wide voice and influence to help mold the industry as a more inclusive and equitable environment for women in real estate?
Leslie Rouda Smith: Although women make up the majority of real estate professionals, fewer hold positions at the upper levels of management. It wasn’t until last year that the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) had its first-ever majority female Leadership Team. It was long overdue, but I’m proud of the history we made. Sometimes you blaze your own trail, and I made it a top priority that NAR’s leadership looks not only like our membership, but also the communities we serve. To that end, NAR is working to bring more voices into REALTOR® association governance. The association recently rolled out its Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) Strategic Plan, which bakes DE&I into our structures and process, and measures results alongside other strategic initiatives.
Sue Yannaccone: There are so many great women leaders in this industry, and I truly see myself as a small piece of the larger puzzle. I continue to be so proud of how What Moves Her has taken shape. Initially partnering with my fantastic colleagues at Coldwell Banker, we were able to build a network that inspires women in the industry to develop their own leadership personalities and platforms. Our goal was to create an educational space where women can look for leadership advice, guidance and support, but there was no way for the program to reach its potential without the proactive adoption of other women leaders who used it as a springboard for their own content. Using my voice is about being the spark that helps others move mountains and find their own path to elevate their careers.
Cindy Ariosa: I hope I sound proud and not boastful when I say that I’ve had a chance to spend my career advocating for women as a trainer, leader and colleague. I’ve done this by:
- Advocating for diversity and inclusive policies. Things like flexible work arrangements have been a way of life for me and my team for many years.
- Promoting diversity in leadership. I encouraged my company (and other organizations I work with and serve) to consider women for leadership positions. This helps ensure we, as an industry, are representative of the communities we serve.
- Leading by example. I try to be a role model for others by demonstrating inclusive and equitable practices in my professional and personal life.
Nuria Rivera: Women are the major force in the real estate industry. According to industry statistics, the real estate industry is nearly 66% female. I like to empower women to believe in themselves and build a business or career they can be proud of. Simultaneously, I want women to know that leading from a place of kindness is our power and gift.
Mary Lee Blaylock: My voice as a leader in this industry is best demonstrated by my actions. In other words, I have always worked hard, expected to earn all that I have received (not expect it because I’m a woman), and demonstrated my dedication and positive contributions to the job, every single day. As a female leader, I ask any woman who is interested in pursuing a leadership position to take the first steps and inquire about it. That is the best use of my industry voice: to encourage other women to create their own destiny with a sincere vigor.
Terrie O’Connor: What began in 1981 as a way for me to contribute to my family’s household income has evolved into a 42-year career in one of the most exciting industries. In 1991, I hung my shingle as Terrie O’Connor REALTORS® with one sales associate, a volunteer admin and an IBM 386. For the past 32 years, I’ve been doing exactly what I set out to do: work with people I enjoy being around each day. My greatest joy has been developing the careers of so many outstanding professionals who launched and grew successful real estate businesses, regardless of their gender.
Candace Adams: Women have always been influential in the real estate industry. They have built their careers on relationships and are able to navigate complicated transactions while balancing emotion. I’ve been fortunate to work with talented women and have supported their career growth. We offer leadership opportunities throughout our organization for women to evolve in their careers.
Kymber Lovett-Menkiti: There’s so much research on the power of having women and certainly people of color at the table in terms of board rooms and c-suites, and some of that’s having a voice at the table to offer a different perspective. One of the things I’ve been intentional about is my personal life mantra: “Lift while you climb.” The idea is that we stand on the shoulders of giants, ensuring that we’re pulling up and opening the door for other women leaders to come up behind us.
What do real estate professionals need to focus on in order to grow their business…in any market?
Christina Pappas: We often say everything is different, but nothing has changed. We’re a relationship business, so nose to nose, belly to belly and toes to toes is the name of the game. Every contact in your database that you regularly communicate with will yield you $1,000. Wake up, prospect, connect with people and make sure you’re in flow with them.
Sherry Chris: Agents should align themselves with a brokerage and a brand that meets their needs as far as cultural alignment and the tools and technology they need to be successful. I’ll go on to say that face-to-face time is so important, so building your database—and not just building your database, but keeping in touch regularly and providing valuable information and touching base with that consumer database—is critical.
Leslie Rouda Smith: Start by defining what growing your business means for you. Identify what you want, then put a plan in place. Planning is a great time for mentorship. Find someone who has built what you want and learn what you can from them. For brokers to thrive in 2023, the key is delivering great agent experiences so agents can do the same for clients. By building agent loyalty, brokers can remain profitable in any market. Many agents haven’t weathered a market shift, so this is a great time to get back to basics. Education is another great way to grow. The Center for REALTOR® Development offers training for any career stage and in a format—virtual or classroom—that’s right for you.
Cindy Ariosa: Build and maintain relationships. Establish and nurture strong relationships with clients as well as other real estate pros to continuously expand your network. Focus on truly excellent customer service. This includes doubling down on being responsive, transparent and solution-focused. Stay positive and optimistic, even during challenging market conditions and transactions. This can help you maintain a healthy work-life balance and increase your resilience in the face of adversity.
Whether a mentor, a strategy, a philosophy or something else, what has had the biggest impact on your success over the course of your career?
Jemila Winsey: Throughout my career, the idea of growth and taking risks to achieve success has been key. My friends and family have fondly labeled me “the fearless one.” A coach I had early on stressed the importance of stretching myself beyond my comfort zone and trying new things to reach bigger goals. Risk is an essential element of success, and I’ve taken it upon myself to never settle for what I know or am familiar with and to instead strive for something more.
Candace Adams: I believe that doing the right thing and adhering to my values has been a guiding light in my career. I have had many mentors, and the most impactful advice I have been given is to “be yourself.” Maintaining the highest standards of service and care to both our clients and agents has been the focal point of my business. Building relationships built on integrity and honesty has been most rewarding to me over the years.
Leslie Rouda Smith: I was lucky to be mentored by Ebby Halliday. She became the first woman named Texas REALTOR® of the Year; the first woman chair of the Real Estate Brokerage Council, and many more firsts. Ebby recognized the importance of mentoring women. Her friend and next-door neighbor, Mary Lou, sometimes helped her manage prospects when traffic got busy at her open houses. Ebby noticed that Mary Lou had those intangible people skills that make a great agent. Ebby surrounded herself with smart, capable people like Mary Lou and gave them opportunities to take on greater leadership. She taught me the importance of helping others. Ebby’s mantra was: “Improve your life by improving the lives of those around you.”
Kymber Lovett-Menkiti: It’s so true that who you surround yourself with matters. Being intentional about being part of a broader community that has pushed my growth both personally and professionally has had a transformational impact in my business and life. If you don’t see a community or tribe that meets your needs, create one.
Sherry Chris: A couple of things have contributed to the success of my career. One has been staying focused on what it is I’m doing. There’s a lot of noise out there, so choose your swim lane and stick to it. Secondly, I’ve always taken advantage of strong mentors. I’ve had four of them over the course of my career, and those mentors have held me accountable and have helped me in different ways. It’s also important to find the highest and best use of you as a business professional.
Looking at your journey, what advice would you give to other women in real estate to help them thrive and advance in their careers?
Rebecca Thomson: Be willing to delegate. We all have the same 24 hours in the day, but it’s how we use that time that makes us different. Be intentional about what can and cannot be outsourced or handled by a partner. In addition:
- Build relationships. Get involved with organizations like Women’s Council, CREW, IWF, What Moves Her and Woman Up.
- Invest in yourself. From self-care to childcare, prioritizing our time and well-being is a must. Taking time to recharge our batteries and having help is essential.
- Go where the opportunity is. Gravitate toward people and organizations that prioritize developing and elevating women.
- Elevate others. It is essential to elevate the women around us so that they, too, have a seat at the table. You truly get what you give.
Nuria Rivera: Be ultra-clear in the vision and outcome you want in your business. Take the leap and go for it full-heartedly. Don’t pay attention to negativity or people who want to bring you down with them. Put your head down and focus on the road ahead.
Sue Yannaccone: If I had to sum it up, the three most important characteristics are: being your authentic self, resisting the urge to blend in, and being willing to speak up. You have to surround yourself with people who will challenge you to do better and be better. I encourage everyone to ask questions when they aren’t certain about something or lack the expertise. Showing that vulnerable side can be difficult but, in the end, it makes you a better team member or leader.
Sherry Chris: Many of the female leaders in our industry are somewhat hidden from the public view, but they play a very important role in mentoring other women in our industry to move forward and experience great success. My advice to women is not to think of yourself in a gender-oriented way. Think of yourself as a human being who has so much to offer this industry. We have to help other women, but remember that first and foremost, you’re a business professional and a human being who wants to do great things.
Candace Adams: Having the confidence to be yourself, striving for excellence and building lasting relationships are the pillars for success in this industry. I strongly believe that there is always someone there to support you if you push forward and shine through with passion and authenticity.
Kymber Lovett-Menkiti: Find a group of women who can support and elevate you and help you push through. A lot of women have blind spots regarding what’s possible, and for me, having a group of women pushing me to the next levels of leadership was a transformational experience. While we’re all shocked and grieving the loss of Margo Wheeler—NAR’s vice president of association affairs—as a female leader, we stand on the shoulders of such giants, and to me, Margo is the epitome of that as a woman leader.
Jemila Winsey: We are so wired to go, go, go—and our 100% can be someone else’s 60%, but we don’t give ourselves enough grace, and we don’t give ourselves permission to fail. In this business, you have to give yourself grace. You have to give yourself permission to fail, and you have to be able to keep your feet moving. It’s not easy, but if you stop moving and you break down at the point of failure, your failure is guaranteed.
If you could snap your fingers and create a program or initiative to address and alleviate a particular pain point impacting women in real estate today, what would it be and why?
Mary Lee Blaylock: I would create a dedicated resource for each woman to receive, every single day, to build them up and take away the self-doubt or questions that mull around in many women’s heads that hold them back. A magical way to let all women know they can make mistakes in life and still be worthy of higher positions, higher earnings and still have grace and femininity in the process. A built-in belief that the difference we can make is bigger than us, but without it, that difference would be far less.
Rebecca Thomson: There are so many issues that warrant attention, but particularly near to my heart is addressing the lopsided burden childcare often plays in women’s careers. Unfortunately, COVID has exacerbated that challenge. Remote learning, reduced hours at daycares, rising childcare costs, and unplanned quarantine and sick days have made life more challenging for working moms. Whether it’s derailing an agent’s showing schedule for the day or upending a day of back-to-back meetings, having a solution would be a gamechanger.
Christina Pappas: I would have more than one snap. The first would be for working mothers, and my snap would be figuring out childcare. Especially when kids are young, without free daycare, many times (not all) women pick up the burden at home. My second would be overall mindset. Women tend to be very hard on themselves, so if we could move to a mindset of “I’m ready, I’m confident and I’m able, no matter the circumstance,” we could truly conquer the world.
Jemila Winsey: One of my biggest is safety. I don’t know if I have a solution yet, but the beautiful thing is that NAR has amazing support for REALTOR® safety, especially for women and the crimes committed against them while on the job. Another pain point I’d address is the barrier to entry to leadership and having a seat at the table for women. I respect Sue Yannaccone’s What Moves Her initiative, which I’m part of. Part of that initiative within ERA is The Hera Society, and it’s an opportunity for women to come together and mastermind. The more of us that come together, mastermind and share our stories and understand that our pain is not just siloed to one person, the more we can help each other move up.
Kymber Lovett-Menkiti: We have a lot of things that create efficiencies, but you still see women work to be the CEOs of their homes, businesses, friend groups and all these areas of life. The ability to snap my fingers and create space for women to have those singular focuses would be transformative. If I could snap my fingers and address a pain point, it would be that every woman had a community of women supporting them that they could lean on.
What’s your best advice for real estate professionals struggling to navigate the shifting market?
Sue Yannaccone: Those of us who have seen this movie before—who have endured multiple cycles—know that we have to keep an eye on the bigger picture and try to identify where the opportunities lie to emerge as a leader in a better market. The headlines focus on the mortgage rates and consumer sentiment, but we have to focus less on the now and more on what’s next. We’re going to have a seismic shift in the buyer and seller population, with more millennials, Gen Z and diverse households coming into the market, and we need to adjust our practices now so we can meet them when and where they need us.
Cindy Ariosa: Stay informed and up to date about the latest trends and changes in the market. Adapt to changing circumstances by being flexible and willing to update your skill set or adjust your approach to better meet the needs of your clients. Network and collaborate in order to build strong relationships with other professionals to share insights and best practices. Maintain a long-term perspective in order to stay focused on your long-term goals, and don’t let short-term market fluctuations discourage you. The real estate market is often cyclical, and opportunities will arise in the future.
Christina Pappas: Our business is cyclical. In the good times, save, save, save—and capitalize on your relationships so that in the slower times you can double down. When people recede, you proceed. Remember that mindset is everything. Top producers are top producers in any market, typically because they’re persistent and consistent. Treat your business like a business and continue no matter the market.
Nuria Rivera: There’s always opportunity when there’s a down market. Not letting fear make you stay out of a tough market is the most important piece of advice I can give. Focus on finding solutions and opportunities. Fear is the enemy of creativity, and you need creativity to stay in a state of abundance, clarity and growth.
Mary Lee Blaylock: Embrace the shift. This creates the agility necessary to thrive. Know your market data and use it to focus on growing your business. Now, more than ever, demonstrating that you’re the market expert is critical for clients to trust you. Care about your clients with a deeper level of sincerity than ever before. Focus on your business plan and how many houses you intend to close. The plan is a mathematical formula. Write it down, drive hard, be extremely dedicated to follow up and details, care deeply and go grab the majority of the available deals out there.
Jemila Winsey: My best advice would be to focus on communication with clients and customers. I also suggest transparency and flexibility in your service offerings. Utilizing digital tools such as 24/7 open house tours or automated communication features can help immensely in giving visibility and accessibility to potential buyers. Taking the time to become a subject-matter expert, and understanding market trends and changes in regulation and laws, can give you a slight edge over your competitors.
Rebecca Thomson: Over the past two years, agents could be successful despite any bad habits because the market was so hot. As it shifts, we’re going to see a select few (who are putting in the work) grow their marketshare. To take advantage of this market, agents need to be intentional, dedicate the bulk of their time to prospecting, and commit to connecting with and working their sphere. It also comes down to mindset: Embrace change and see the market for the opportunity it is. Focus on what you can control, and don’t expend energy and time focusing on the things you can’t. Take initiative and know that doing the work will eventually lead to the results you want to see. Be the victor, not the victim.
Terrie O’Connor: In the shifting market, it’s imperative that our agents go back to the basics:
- Professional development. They must fully understand the market and how the economy is impacting the industry so they can intelligently and strategically advise their clients.
- Maintain a database. Their database of clients and leads should be continuously updated and nurtured. Consistently touch each prospect through phone calls, email, text and social media, providing something of value with each contact.
- Network. Get out and meet more people who may have a real estate need or who could refer you to someone who does.
- Be on purpose. Get up, get dressed for work, and show up ready to work each and every day.