In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re taking a look at the history of women in real estate, and speaking with Charlotte Simonelli, Executive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer, and Treasurer of Realogy.
History of Women in Real Estate
March is Women’s History Month, where we “celebrate the contributions women have made to the United States and recognize the specific achievements women have made over the course of American history in a variety of fields.” To honor all the women that came before us and paved the way, we thought it would be instructive to take a brief look at the history of women in the real estate industry.
Women have been involved in real estate almost since the entire industry began back in 1794, literally during the George Washington administration! Unsurprisingly, they weren’t allowed to sell or show properties—their role was limited to office and clerical roles. However, by the 1880s, women were slowly moving into positions of agents and brokers.
The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) was founded in 1908, when membership in the organization was 100% male. In fact, the purpose of NAR was to “unite the real estate men of America.” However, that soon changed. The first woman to join NAR was named Corrine Simpson of Seattle, who became a member in 1910.
Can’t join the club? Form your own!
NAR never explicitly banned women from joining. But in order to join an organization such as NAR, you needed to be a member of your local real estate board. And those boards did forbid women from joining. To get around these local bans, women simply formed their own real estate organizations. For example, the Portland Realyettes.
The Great Depression of 1929 disrupted everything, including women’s growth in the real estate industry. As many as two-thirds of women real estate professionals left the field over the course of a decade. But in 1938, women took a page from the Realyettes, and formed the first Women’s Council. As described by the Women’s Council of REALTORS®:
“Women’s Council exists because for the first 20 years of its existence, women were barred admission from many local REALTOR® associations, so a separate group was created, and in turn, a “women’s division” was formed at the Annual Convention in Milwaukee in November 1938 by thirty-seven women from 9 states.”
Beginning in the 1940s, VA loans made home ownership accessible to more Americans than ever before, and women rejoined the industry, making up for lost time. Within ten years, most real estate boards finally abandoned their gender restrictive bylaws. You could point to that moment as the birth of the modern real estate industry.
In the 1970s, NAR extended membership into the organization, allowing sales agents to join. This was a true sea change for NAR, and by 1978, the majority of NAR members were women. By 1980, there were nearly 300,000 female real estate agents, accounting for 45% of the entire industry. Today, 67% of REALTOR® professionals are female, and are beginning to find equal ground with men.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once famously said “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Women’s progress in the real estate industry is a fine illustration of his point. It took years and years of struggle, but women today are succeeding in real estate in ways that were unthinkable just a few decades ago.
But that doesn’t mean the work is finished. Though women dominate the industry, and the inequity gap is closing, it still exists. This disparity is particularly strong in commercial real estate, where a 10.2% salary gap effectively means women make 90 cents for every dollar earned by males.
Continuing to Write History at Realogy
What Moves Her℠, founded in 2020 by Sue Yannaccone, was created to help women in the real estate industry develop their leadership skills and realize their professional development goals. In the Realogy 2021 Corporate Social Responsibility Report, Sue puts it best:
“What started as a personal passion for helping other professionals find their voice, What Moves Her has become an incredible platform to not only help women grow in every stage of their career but to also encourage women to support each other across the real estate industry. I am excited to help even more women realize their full potential as leaders this year and beyond.”
The rapid growth and success of the What Moves Her community is a tribute to the hard work and dedication of every single one of our members. But it’s important to note how fortunate so many of us are to work at a company with such a strong and steadfast commitment to female leadership representation as Realogy.
A few facts about Realogy:
- Women comprise 30% of Realogy’s Board of Directors
- Women make up 60% of Realogy’s Executive Committee
- Realogy accounts for three of the top five Most Powerful Women Executives in Real Estate on the 2021 Swanepoel Power 200 ranking
- Realogy was named to the Forbes List of World’s Top Female-Friendly Companies for 2021
- Realogy has been recognized for gender diversity on its Board of Directors by Executive Women of New Jersey as well as the Women’s Forum of New York
We are beyond proud of all that Realogy has accomplished, but there is still more work to be done.
Perspectives from Women in Real Estate
We asked one of Realogy’s leaders, Charlotte Simonelli, Executive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer, and Treasurer of Realogy to share her thoughts on the future of women in real estate, advice for those starting out, and the importance of diversity in the workplace.
Q: What makes you proud to be a woman in real estate today and the journey we are on?
Charlotte: We, as women leading the profession, define what is success today, and in the future. I love how empowered we are to ensure the best is yet to come. In terms of the contributions of women in real estate, it is just astounding to see the progress that has been made. Women may have started in more clerical roles back in the 1800’s, but today we are a strong force as agents and brokers, especially in residential real estate. At Realogy, I am especially proud to have strong female leadership representation, with women comprising 30 percent of Realogy’s Board of Directors and 60 percent of its Executive Committee. While we still have plenty of ground to cover, seeing how far we’ve come gives great promise to the future of women in real estate. I can’t wait to see what is next.
Q: What is your hope for the future of women in real estate?
Charlotte: My hope is that women continue to lead and define the future of real estate. Both for their own personal wealth as a profession but in the service of finding homes for women and their families. Our Inclusive Ownership Program is so important to help diverse franchise owners succeed. I do hope more women take the leap of not only being a powerful force as an agent, but to realize their potential in becoming successful owners. In this way, they can help lead new generations of women real estate professionals to see potential beyond what was previously possible.
Q: Do you have any advice for women in real estate looking to grow professionally?
Women by nature are hard-working, determined and empathetic – use your strengths and build your networks. Surrounding yourself with a supportive network is a great place to start. Look to those who are where you’d like to be and learn from both their successes and their failures. It is also important to hear honest feedback and never stop being someone who is learning. No one knows everything – keeping an open mind is a key to growth.
Q: Why is it important for companies to have gender diversity at all levels of the organization?
Diversity is the key to success – diversity in gender, race, sexual orientation, and thought – the best outcomes are derived from the best inputs. Different life experiences bring unique perspectives, which is important in both business and in life. Real estate is an especially community-focused business, and if you lack voices from every perspective, you are sure to miss out on opportunities to succeed. Studies have shown the most gender-diverse companies are 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability – so it just makes good business sense to have a gender-diverse workplace!
Now it’s your turn
Let us know what you think! What are your thoughts on the future of women in real estate? How do you help lift other women up in our industry? What’s the biggest thing you’ve done to promote diversity and inclusiveness in your practice?