Women in Real Estate Leadership Roles - are we seeing progress?

Today, women actually represent the majority of workers in real estate and are making their presence felt in leadership positions. However, while women brokers dominate the residential real estate sector, representation is still stunted in the more lucrative commercial markets.

Rikard Jonsson
January 12, 2022
5 min read
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Women in Real Estate Leadership Roles - are we seeing progress?

Although men have historically dominated real estate as an industry, more and more women have joined the sector’s workforce since the mid 1800s, starting in clerical and office positions and moving rapidly up to fill positions as agents and brokers decades later. Today, women actually represent the majority of workers in real estate and are making their presence felt in leadership positions. However, while women brokers dominate the residential real estate sector, representation is still stunted in the more lucrative commercial markets. 

Women outnumber men in almost all facets of real estate. The flexible work hours, potential high earnings and the chance to become a solo entrepreneur are credited as some of the reasons why women find real estate so attractive as a career; for example, female agents make up 67% of the US real estate industry. Still, there continues to be a considerable pay gap between men and women in the industry. Data USA reports that while the average male Realtor makes over $97,000 annually, female Realtors make only $60,000. 

Some reports have partly explained this discrepancy by pointing out that fewer women occupy high-level positions - although 70% of sales agents are women, only about 60% obtain broker licenses (which would allow them to own a real estate firm), and only 41% of brokers with 20+ years of experience are women. Another reason attributed to the pay gap is that women are also more likely to exclusively work part-time (67%) than those who work full-time (71%). 

The gap widens in CRE 

Another noticeable trend regarding women in real estate is that while they dominate in the residential sector, representation plummets in commercial real estate (CRE), and women lose out on significant opportunities when it comes to offices, warehouse, retail or multifamily sales. Women only make up 36.7% of the commercial real estate workforce, and according to the NAR, only 30% of Realtors in commercial real estate are women; these women deal with an even wider pay gap than their residential sector counterparts. In 2020, women brokers and sales agents were reported to make 69 cents to a man’s dollar for the same job.

Some attribute it to female Realtors in CRE having fewer years of experience, (in 2018, only 19% of CRE female Realtors had over 25 years of experience).  The disparity is made more obvious when statistics reveal that while brokers are usually male and a far larger share of women in CRE are sales agents, (who usually work for brokers), suggesting opportunities to career climb are already stunted for women in CRE almost from the get-go. The trend continues in investment aspects - a Harvard Business School study found that only 4% of senior investors at major real estate firms were women.  

Ironically, other studies reveal that women in the field with more than 20 years experience were happier than men with their career success, despite the trend that the gender wage gap widens with years of experience and the higher a woman climbs up the corporate ladder, (possibly a factor as to why, traditionally, many women don’t aspire to reach a C-Level position as much as men). Women make up 25% of real estate membership and land use organizations but only account for 14% of its CEOS, and are far more likely to head smaller organizations. In fact, one report that surveyed female CEOs revealed that only 7% lead companies with more than 100 employees.

Safety Factor 

Even though the pandemic has elevated concerns and new solutions regarding health and safety issues and precautions, women faced other pressing issues even prior a 2017 survey found that 44% of female agents and one in four male agents experienced a situation in the past year that made them fear for their safety or the safety of their personal information. This has led to the development of technologies that (particularly female) agents can equip themselves with, such as wearables, panic buttons and background identity checkers. 

The Future is Female

Despite these setbacks, there is hope for the future. 32% of women realtors in recent surveys now say they have their sights set on the C-suite, a significant increase in the past five years, and probably owing to the fact that there is a new generation stepping onto the workforce scene. In addition, the number of  young women professionals aged 39 and younger are growing in the industry, and the number of women brokers has increased by 6% in the last five years. 

When asked what would be the most significant step for women to progress and win in their careers, former and current women C-level real estate professionals with decades of experience responded with overwhelmingly similar responses: women need mentorship from other women (and even men). Fortunately, more and more female mentorship and peer-to-peer conversations are happening, willing to groom and lead the next generation of female real estate powerhouses. 

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