When the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) was founded in 1908, 100% of its members were men. In fact, the founder’s declared mission was “to unite the real estate men of America.” But it didn’t take NAR long to see the value in female membership. Just two years later, Corrine Simpson, a Seattle-based broker, became the first woman to join.
As of 2022, women made up 62% of NAR’s members.
In this article, we’re going to explore women in real estate. We’ll give you a peek into the history of women breaking into the industry. And we’ll discuss the challenges and opportunities available to women in real estate today.
A Brief History of Women in Real Estate
While it didn’t take long for Corrine Simpson to break into the NAR boys’ club, other women had a more difficult time. NAR membership has always been based on membership in local REALTOR associations, and many local boards were less progressive than the Seattle Board that granted Simpson’s membership. Notably, Cora Wright, founding member of the Women's Council of REALTORS (WCR), was denied entry to NAR in the 1920s because her local Chicago Real Estate Board refused to admit women. Not to be deterred, Wright joined the nearby Oak Park Board to earn her place in NAR.
In 1949, only 2% of REALTORS were women. But then, in 1973, NAR began admitting real estate sales associates in addition to their current roster of brokers. Membership skyrocketed, particularly among women. By 1975, nearly 33% of REALTORS were women. And, by 1978, women made up the majority of REALTORS!
The women of the 20th century had to fight for a seat at the table. And their determination paid off for the female agents of today and the future. We now have several organizations designed to support women in the real estate industry including Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW Network), National Association of Women in Real Estate Businesses (NAWRB), and, of course, Cora Wright’s WCR.
Why Real Estate is Such an Attractive Career Path for Women
There are several reasons why real estate continues to attract female talent.
High Earning Potential
Real estate agents are paid on commission, so the more productive you are, the more money you make. Many women see money as a path to freedom. When you can earn your own living, you don’t have to rely on anyone else’s income to support you.
Modern men may be doing more around the house than their fathers, but women still handle the majority of unpaid labor around the home. A 2023 study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that American women perform over 4.5 hours of unpaid housework daily while American men perform around 2.8 hours per day. Similarly, moms spend 75% more time caring for children than dads do. While we continue to work for equality around the house, many women find that a flexible career allows them to have a better work-life balance than a traditional 9-5. Real estate agents get to set their own schedules, working as much, or as little, as they like!
Real estate empowers agents to be their own bosses. As long as you’re operating within the law (and within any rules set by your brokerage), you are free to run your business as you see fit.
Ease of Entry
You don’t need to invest four years in a college degree to join the real estate industry. With a self-paced online real estate course, you could potentially earn your real estate license in as little as eight weeks. And, depending on your state, you could potentially get your license and launch your business for under $1,000. Compared to other career changes and business start-ups, this is a steal! But it’s still a lot of money for many of us, so check out our article, How to Finance Your Real Estate Career, for tips to help you cover your costs.
Why Women Make Such Good Agents
Women often naturally possess traits that are highly valued in the real estate space, including:
Organization. Agents have lots of moving parts to track.
Approachability and empathy. These “soft” people skills attract clients, many of whom are nervous about the process of buying and selling.
Resilience. Women aren’t typically quick to give up. We find ways forward!
Problem-solving skills. In complex transactions, your ability to work through unexpected issues can help you keep deals together.
Attention to detail. When a single checked box on a contract can dramatically change a transaction, we need agents who take note of the details.
The Challenges Facing Women in Real Estate
Of course, no career path is challenge-free. The real estate industry may be a bit more female-friendly than other industries simply because more of the players are women. But you’ll likely still encounter some gender-based obstacles.
Women in real estate face:
Equality issues in high-level positions and pay. Women may be in the majority in real estate, but we are still underrepresented in top-level positions. In the Urban Land Institute, for example, women account for 25% of the membership, but only 14% of the CEO positions. Furthermore, female brokers and sales agents make only 78 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. This pay gap could be partly due to women working fewer hours as they have greater responsibilities outside of work than men.
Trouble setting healthy boundaries. Women tend to have more difficulty setting boundaries than men do. And, in an industry where you often work evenings and weekends to accommodate your clients, you may have to make a more conscious effort to set firm boundaries.
Micro-aggressions. Most of your colleagues and clients know better than to disparage someone because of their gender. But it’s still entirely too common to experience more subtle forms of gender discrimination. Being judged more critically for your appearance than your male colleagues is one example of micro-aggression. Being expected to make the coffee or take down the notes in a meeting because you are a woman is another. You may be surprised to find these coming from other women, for whom these gender roles are deeply ingrained.
Stranger danger. Working with people you don’t know can put you in a vulnerable position. Many brokerages have policies designed to keep you as safe as possible while out with clients. You might, for example, require a valid ID before touring a property with a client, or have a code word worked out with colleagues to signal that you are uncomfortable with a certain prospect or situation.
Specific Opportunities Available to Today’s Women in Real Estate
Despite the few challenges of the industry, there are several impressive opportunities for women in real estate! Here are just a few examples.
Educating First-Time Buyers
Many women enjoy teaching and have the patience to work with first-timers who need a bit more hand-holding than the average homebuyer. When properly nurtured, first-time buyers can become life-long clients. Maybe your first commission won’t be much, but when they’re ready to upgrade from their starter home to their “forever” home, they’ll call you. And when they’re ready to upgrade again, buy an investment property, or help their children get on the property ladder, you’ll be there for them.
Partnering with Female Real Estate Investors
In accordance with Fair Housing policies, you wouldn’t discriminate against male clients, of course. But you may find yourself networking with other professional women. And you can help your network of women grow their wealth through real estate investing.
Helping Single Females Become Homeowners
In 2021, single females made up nearly 20% of homebuyers. Again, you wouldn’t discriminate against male clients or family clients, but helping your single female friends buy a home of their own is both satisfying and empowering!
Opening Your Own Brokerage
A 2019 Coldwell Banker study found that most broker-owners were men (52%), despite the fact that only 37% of licensed REALTORS were men at that time. Women have an opportunity to start their own brokerages, creating inclusive environments where women can rise to the top of the industry.
Top Tips for Women Looking to Join the Real Estate Industry
If you’re considering joining the real estate industry, take advantage of these top tips for new women in real estate.
Tip #1: Leverage Your Connections
Every friend, relative, and friend-of-a-friend is a potential client. Don’t be shy about letting your network know once you’re a licensed real estate professional. This is one of the best ways to generate leads in your first year as an agent.
Tip #2: Find a Mentor Early
A mentor can give you a head-start and save you from potentially costly mistakes early in your career. Strong mentorship is ranked as one of the most valuable resources available to new agents.
Tip #3: Build an Online Presence to Demonstrate Your Expertise
Help buyers and sellers find you online by having your own real estate website and posting regularly to social media. Post interesting market stats and insights to show locals that you know your stuff.
Tip #4: Choose a Brokerage that Values Inclusion and Equality
As you interview brokers, ask about the company culture. Check sites like Glassdoor to see what agents have to say about the brokerage. And pay attention to the number of women and minorities in positions of power within the organization.
Tip #5: Consider an Alternative Entry Point to Real Estate
If you’re unsure about a career in real estate (particularly because of the commission-only pay structure), maybe it would help to enter the industry from a different position…perhaps a position that pays a base wage. As a property manager, for example, you find renters to fill the properties you manage. This allows you to build your skills and grow your network of potential future buyers and sellers. And the position often comes with a salary plus bonuses for signed leases!
Launch Your Real Estate Career Today!
Join the millions of women who have found career satisfaction in real estate. Get on the path to your new career today by enrolling in your convenient online real estate course!