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Breaking Barriers: The Barbie Movement in Action at Inman Connect NY

Jodie Cordell

Table of Contents

  1. The Power of Representation
  2. Barbie Changed the Perspective
  3. Overcome Challenges With Courage
  4. The Journey to Leadership
  5. Building Confidence & Relationships
  6. Taking Risks & Embracing Your Strengths
  7. The Barbie Movement in Real Estate
  8. Your Take

Imagine a world where the glass ceiling is just another accessory for Barbie to shatter. Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” did more than entertain—it ignited a dialogue on women’s empowerment and dismantling patriarchal norms. At Inman Connect New York, I attended sessions like “What Moves Her,” which centered on the real-life endeavors of some top female real estate agents carving out their success and influenced me to look deeper into this shift.

Inspired by Barbie’s call to dream big and break barriers, I’ll share some of my favorite takeaways from a handful of influential women in the real estate space today who are not just selling homes—they’re redefining the industry’s landscape. Hopefully, it will inspire you to carve your path to success the way they did.

The Power of Representation for Female Real Estate Agents

According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), 62% of all Realtors in the United States are women. That’s a significant number, and it has increased over the past few decades. You might think representation would be a priority with so many women in real estate. But the truth is, female real estate agents face a male-dominated landscape, and women’s leadership is still not as prevalent as it could or should be.

During the conference, I sat down for a proper interview with Sarah Friar, CEO of NextDoor. It was my first time meeting her, but she was warm and welcoming, chatting with me like an old high school friend. When I asked her about her company, she was passionate and had a wealth of information to share, mostly about how NextDoor is all about community and how real estate agents contribute.


But when I asked her about her role in portraying women in leadership, she lit up like a firefly at dusk. She first said, “You can’t be what you can’t see, and so my goal in life is to show women everywhere that women can lead.” That’s a powerful message. Seeing women in leadership is vital for those aspiring to step into leadership roles. As women, the more we carve our paths to success and redefine what success is, the more responsibility we have to those following us to share the possibilities.

“You can’t be what you can’t see, and so my goal in life is to show women everywhere that women can lead.”


Sarah Friar, CEO, NextDoor

With its diverse portrayal of Barbie’s capabilities and adventures, the “Barbie” movie serves as a metaphor for the real estate industry’s evolving landscape, where women are increasingly taking center stage, breaking barriers, and shaping the future.

Barbie Changed the Perspective

The Barbie doll came from a place of women’s independence. Created by businesswoman Ruth Handler in 1959, Barbie was one of the first dolls produced for girls that represented the adult woman. It was the first time young girls could look at a doll and imagine being something other than a mother. It opened a whole world of possibilities for generations.

Barbie showed young girls they could be anything they dreamed of.

The movie “Barbie” put that ideology on display and pointed a finger at the patriarchal systems that have hindered women’s progress, including in the real estate industry. It ingeniously flipped the script and introduced us to Barbieland, a mythological matriarchal society where Barbies run the world. That opening scene showed what life could be to women of all ages—a world full of possibilities.

Demonstrating the numerous possibilities for women is what Sue Yannaccone, president and CEO at Anywhere Brands, emphasized at Inman Connect when she said, “Diverse voices in our industry need to be heard in a way that’s never existed before.” Like the “Barbie” movie, these women celebrate diversity and representation of all women, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, background, age, or orientation. Today, women can aspire to be anything they want. It’s a more colorful world than ever.

“Diverse voices in our industry need to be heard in a way that’s never existed before.”


Sue Yannaccone, President and CEO at Anywhere Brands

But it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. I overheard a conversation between a female real estate agent and several men. She talked about how women have been gaslit throughout generations, made to feel inferior, and stifled in their personal and professional growth. I overheard her say, “I would just like men to acknowledge they’ve been gaslighting us,” and I felt that statement to my core. I don’t think that will come to pass, but the important thing is that women have now learned to recognize that this struggle is real.

Takeaway From the ‘Barbie’ Movie

In the scene where Barbie and Ken enter the real world, Barbie is suddenly exposed to life as a woman with catcalling, rude behavior, and objectivity. She wavers, and her confidence visibly shaken. This scene solidifies that women have learned that this behavior is not OK. Female real estate agents have seen a lot, working long hours and meeting strangers at all hours of the day, and many have had to deal with some negative behavior. Today, a woman realtor recognizes when a man treats them inappropriately.

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Overcome Challenges With Courage 

I love the way Tami Bonnell of EXIT Realty views challenges. She acknowledged that we still live in a male-dominated world but said, “Challenges are opportunities. Fear is a feeling, not a fact.” That’s a sentiment mirrored in Barbie’s adventures. Both narratives champion the idea that you can be afraid, but don’t let the fear keep you from moving forward. We felt defeated when we saw Barbie in the Mattel CEO’s office, about to be strapped into a box. But when her eyes lit up and she realized the men were about to imprison her, she found the strength to break free and escape. And everyone cheered.

“Fear is a feeling, not a fact.”

Tami Bonnell, EXIT Realty

According to the National Association of Realtors’ 2023 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, 19% of recent homebuyers were single females. We’ve come a long way since women first earned the ability to open their own checking account (without a man’s signature) in 1974. It’s definitely a different world from the one my grandmother grew up in. Women stand up, make decisions, and take over the driver’s seat. It’s refreshing to see so many women in powerful positions acting as beacons for the younger generation (Taylor Swift comes to mind in the current cultural environment).

Many women in powerful positions are standing as a beacon to the next generation.

Fear is a powerful emotion, and you will encounter it frequently. But you can harness that power and use it to step into action. Don’t let doubt or anxiety keep you from reaching your full potential personally or professionally. In other words, take the sage words Vanessa Bergmark of Red Oak Realty spoke at Inman Connect. “I’m not fearless,” she said. “I’m courageous because I did it in spite of the fear.”

Barbie vs Real Life: The Journey to Leadership

Liz Gehringer, president and CEO of Anywhere Franchise Brands, shared her story of transitioning from a corporate lawyer with Anywhere to a leadership role in the company. Her story hit several relatable nerves—she had been a corporate lawyer for several years, but she got to a point where she had a hard time finding the energy to keep doing the job. She felt burnt out.

When she sat down with Ryan Schneider, CEO of Anywhere Real Estate, he said to her, “Let’s explore!” Her story and the support she found within her company leadership is a triumphant journey of self-discovery similar to Barbie’s. I can’t help but think of the final scene of “Barbie” where she finally goes to the gynecologist alone. It’s an inherently female rite of passage.

Bergmark went on to share her secret weapon for success—discipline. “We actually have more time than we think,” she explained. “There’s freedom in the discipline.” She also pointed out that a solid support system is essential. “I never went at it alone. I always had a lot of supportive women who were a phone call, a coffee date, or a dinner away.” Kevelyn Guzman of Coldwell Banker Warburg stated it best when she said, “Surround yourself with people who believe in you and want to see you grow.”

“I never went at it alone. I always had a lot of supportive women who were a phone call, a coffee date, or a dinner away.”


Vanessa Bergmark, Red Oak Realty

In “Barbie,” all of the Barbies banded together to take back Barbieland from the Kens, who had turned it into a patriarchal realm. When the Barbies worked together, they defeated the Kens and reclaimed their home. That’s a powerful message to all women everywhere. For too long, women have torn down other women, like stray cats fighting in the street. When we stand together and uplift each other, there’s no glass ceiling we can’t smash through.

But more importantly, you have to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. Sherry Chris of Anywhere Brands echoed Bergmark’s and Guzman’s sentiments. “You have to seize the moment” when it presents itself. If you hesitate, you’ll miss out on the opportunity. Tami Bonnell also believes that your environment is essential to your success. “People grow in an environment they trust.”

When Barbie enters the real world, she has a take-charge attitude until she meets with the patriarchal Mattel board of directors and its CEO. She quickly realizes that this world isn’t like her own and has to think fast and make adjustments before she’s literally put back into a box. She finds allies in Gloria and her daughter to find her way home.

“It is literally impossible to be a woman. You are so beautiful and so smart, and it kills me that you don’t think you’re good enough. Like, we have to always be extraordinary, but somehow we’re always doing it wrong.”


America Ferrera as Gloria in the Barbie Movie

In reality, women can’t escape to a fantasy world where women rule. (Wouldn’t that be something?) But the women blazing trails and redefining the game are creating their own version of reality.

Building Confidence & Embodying Empowerment

One thing women do with a certain ease is show empathy. And that ability makes building relationships central to success. I loved Kevelyn Guzman of Coldwell Banker Warburg’s story of how she found her voice at an early age but still had to learn to use it when she first started professionally. “It’s about confidence. Even agents with big personalities don’t always have confidence,” she explained. “Finding my voice in a big family taught me a lot.” Finding your voice and learning to elevate it is essential in finding your path.

Finding your voice and learning to use it is essential for discovering your full potential.

Gloria had trouble finding her voice in “Barbie.” She lamented being a solo voice in a male-dominated company culture that kept her stifled in her career and her personal life. When she teamed up with the Barbies, she discovered a strength she didn’t even realize was in her. Building confidence isn’t easy, but when you find your tribe of supporters, they can help you reach your potential.

Emily Paquette, CEO of Inman, discussed the importance of confidence and let everyone know she doesn’t have it all figured out. “I still have imposter syndrome,” she said. “As women, we question ourselves a lot more than our male counterparts do. But nobody has it all figured out.” I’m sure that sentiment was reassuring for many women in the room. Most of us feel the pain of doubt often. It’s in our genetic makeup.

“As women, we question ourselves a lot more than our male counterparts do. But nobody has it all figured out.”


Emily Paquette, CEO of Inman

But that doesn’t stop these pioneering women from forging ahead and pushing past their doubts. “If we’re not taking those risks and putting ourselves out there, we’re really missing out,” Paquette said. We don’t have to build our empires alone, though. “I built my whole career on relationships,” Paquette pointed out.

As I heard these women share their stories and the lessons they learned along the way, I couldn’t help but think that “Barbie” shined a spotlight on this whole narrative where community and support networks are crucial to overcoming imposter syndrome and achieving success. If we stand together and continue to support each other, we can all rise together.

The Role of Allies: Incorporating Ken

Incorporating Ken brings me to another critical element of women’s success in a male-dominated society: allies. I have seen both sides of men—the side that tries to keep women subservient and the side that supports and lifts the women in their lives. Other men, like Ryan Schneider, want to encourage strong, intelligent women to find their path forward. He’s not, contrary to beliefs, an anomaly. Many others are on our side. It’s essential to seek out these allies and enlist them in getting us a seat at the table. The strong ones are more than happy to offer their hand in support.

Find some male allies to help you get a seat at the table.

Taking Risks & Embracing Your Strengths

“Barbie” taught us to take risks and focus on our strengths. Ginger Wilcox of BH&G Real Estate touched on that theme as well. “I have taken a lot of risks. Fear of failure keeps people from reaching their full potential. The biggest failure is not taking risks and not moving forward.” And I wholeheartedly agree with that. Sometimes, you just have to leap without knowing where you’ll land. “You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down,” as the writer Ray Bradbury told us.

“Fear of failure keeps people from reaching their full potential. The biggest failure is not taking risks and not moving forward.”


Ginger Wilcox, BH&G Real Estate

It was what Guzman shared at the end of the session that left the most significant impact on me. She emphasized the importance of moving forward despite the fear of failure, a lesson Barbie often imparts through her myriad adventures. “I focus on my strengths, and I let others focus on their strengths because I’ll never be him (Fred Warburg),” she said. “And that’s OK.”

The Barbie Movement in Real Estate

The parallels between the “Barbie” movie and the narratives shared at Inman Connect NY are compelling. The movie began a shift that has penetrated our culture and opened our collective eyes and minds. The movie and the stories these incredible real estate women shared are about empowerment, challenging the status quo, the importance of representation, and support networks. With its diverse portrayal of Barbie’s capabilities and adventures, the “Barbie” movie serves as a metaphor for the real estate industry’s evolving landscape, where women are increasingly taking center stage, breaking barriers, and shaping the future.

The “What Moves Her” session and Sarah Friar’s insights remind us that the journey to empowerment and leadership is both a personal and collective endeavor. Like Barbie, women in real estate are redefining what it means to be leaders, mentors, and innovators, proving that with courage, community, and a willingness to challenge the norms, anything is possible.

“Barbie” is helping women challenge norms and redefine success.

Reflecting on the stories and insights shared at Inman Connect NY, it’s clear that the Barbie movement is more than just a cultural phenomenon—it reflects the ongoing journey toward empowerment and equality in the real estate industry and beyond. By embracing the lessons of courage, resilience, and community, we can all contribute to breaking barriers and creating a more inclusive and empowering future for everyone.

In the words of Sue Yannaccone, “Use your voice! Even when the issues are bigger than you.” It’s a call to action for all of us to speak up, listen, and lead with courage. The Barbie movement is in full swing, and it’s up to us to keep the momentum going.

Your Take

How are you showing up to those real estate women looking up to you? What barriers have you broken in your real estate career? How has a real estate agent woman mentor impacted your journey? I’d love to hear your inspiring stories—how you’ve overcome challenges, chased big dreams, and supported others with your community spirit. Share your stories in the comments.