A young woman in an executive meeting
I was wearing a black pant suit from Ann Taylor petites and a teal button up shirt starched within an inch of its life. I was the second to be seated and organized my contracts in my leather bound holder as seven grey haired men filed in, one by one. One made a comment about the Texas heat and about how far outside of town our corporate offices were but how beautiful it was. I sipped water from a short tumbler glass and was the only one using a coaster.
The board room was in the front of the main building and was completely glass walled, making skirts nearly impossible for me, thus pant suits. I was 21 and because of my young career accolades and achievements in education, I was head hunted sight unseen as the marketing director for a medium sized commercial real estate developer. I was the only woman in the entire company with a private office, the only in executive meetings, made more than double any other lady in the organization and had a female assistant.
In this meeting in my teal shirt, as we waited for the client, the President of the company said, “sweetheart, can you grab me some coffee?” Coffee? I quickly weighed my options- politely get coffee and deal with it later as most Southern gals would, stand up and walk out to pack my office, or hold my ground.
“Coffee? Really? I’m sitting at the same table with you, you’re barking up the wrong tree, princess.” I attempted a smile and held it.
My heart raced and in a quarter of a second, my career flashed before my eyes. Well, at least I would be leaving on a high note that would make for a great story for my future children. He smiled, hesitated, said, “okay then,” walking out of the room for his own coffee.
I stood my ground but I knew the risk would be that I would have a “bitch” reputation. It is confusing for women in the corporate world because you’re supposedly hired based on the merits of your qualifications, you sit at the same table with hundreds of men, yet are asked for coffee or thought of as a bitch- neither of which indicates respect.
My tolerance for jokes is high
I’m a native Texan, I love southern culture. I am laid back, silly, sometimes crude, and always southern- we don’t insult you behind your back down here, we smile and say it to your face.
I was born in the 80s and from a generation of rap enthusiasts and epithet abusers, I’ve even given a very popular Ignite presentation on curse words. My generation calls our friends “bitch” and “skank” and it doesn’t mean much. I’m not easily offended by much of anything and my threshold for cuss words and crude jokes is very high.
My tolerance for direct insults that strike at the core of my abilities as a professional, however, is extremely low.
It isn’t a thing of the past
Since AgentGenius was founded, we’ve been asked to be part of many projects and companies, and we are very protective with our brand and rarely lend our name to anything outside of our own company, so when we do, it is a major endorsement.
One fall, we flew out to California for a board room meeting for a new company we were joining as leadership. The room was small and there were only six of us (including me and Benn). We were all tired for our own reasons, but there was an air of excitement in the air because this idea Benn started had come to fruition, had a little bit of funding, and now all we had to do was finish the product.
The air felt electric and enthusiasm was high, but it was deflated in an instant when a beloved male figure in this real estate web space that a lot of people including me looked up to said, “it’s about time you got on your knees” as I plugged in my laptop at his feet underneath the table.
Remember, I’m not easily offended, I love cussing and dirty jokes are awesome, but this was crushing. Shattering. How could someone everyone loves so much be so cruel? He revealed he had no respect for me (nor my husband). This time, I didn’t stand up, I sat down because it hurt more than some sexist Texan idiot. This was someone who is supposedly progressive, someone we had talked to for almost every day over the previous year.
It all became clear when later on that day while discussing the company’s Advisory Board, I was asked, “hey do you know any black women in real estate? We probably also need an Asian guy, who do you know?” Oh. Silently, I realized that I was invited to sit at the table because I fit some checklist of demographics. How shallow and ignorant. I thought my expertise and merit brought me to the table, but it was my tits. Needless to say, our relationship ended that day with all individuals of the startup. We left that night and never looked back.
Politics reveals sexism is alive and well
Mysogyny is common in politics, women don’t exactly have it easy in the world of public scrutiny. When Hillary Clinton ran for office, people talked about her pant suits. Her PANT SUITS! Who the hell cares about her fashion? But she was chastised for her outfits while fat old white guys wore paisley ties, shiny black belts, brown pants and blue shoes without a second thought- they were there for business, don’t look at their clothes, right?
Women on women mysogyny is common as well. Remember when Democratic Representative Janis Baird Sontany of Nashville said regarding her female Republican colleagues, “You have to lift their skirts to find out if they are women. You sure can’t find out by how they vote.”
Bill Maher is under fire currently not for constant berating of former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin and calling her stupid (which honestly is kind of funny sometimes), but for calling her a “c***,” possibly the most offensive word in the American lexicon. Using the word at a bar when you’re shoved by a drunk chick is far different than using it on national television (if that’s what you’d call HBO). How disgusting.
Maher gets a pass because he’s liberal, so that must mean he’s sensitive to women’s lib, right? False. Gross. Sick. That word is culturally unaccaptable, even if you’re a comedian. UPDATE: I have been told the word he chose started with a T and rhymes with clot, yet other reports say it starts with a C and rhymes with blunt, both of which are equally offensive in modern culture.
It isn’t just women politicians, it’s women in real estate
I recently called out an old school trainer for his fundamental misunderstanding about social media which resulted in a lengthy offline discussion with the trainer. He left an anonymous comment on our site referring to me as a “professional tweeter,” and used a tone as if I was a pig-tail wearing toddler who needed my lollipop taken away, not a seasoned marketer and Editor-in-chief at one of the largest digital publications in the industry.
In this situation, he looked a lot like the ridiculous Texan who demanded coffee.
The sexist nature of the industry is nothing new. It’s older than the inception of selling a house. NAR and NAHB were founded by older white guys, are run by older white guys and both act like an old white guy. “Go get me coffee, inferior person.” News organizations behave the same way- I was offered $35k to join up while my male counterpart would be making more… sorry, guys, my current income has the comma in a different place.
Women are defiminized in this space, even by other women- you go to a women’s organization or club within the industry and see if attendees aren’t catty about what other women are wearing. Really? You’re going to act like that too? You can’t get upset that you’re not the CEO if you GIVE permission to men to continue their current thought pattern, you’re proving them right.
Women have to be outrageous to lead in this industry. One growing brokerage comes to mind, led by an extremely intelligent woman, but she has to wear the hottest pink jacket on the market and Prada shoes to get attention. She has to get on stage and poo poo tradition to be seen. It shouldn’t be that way.
Where are all the women?
Of the 12 largest real estate brokerages in America, only one has a female CEO and even then, the Chairman of the Board is male. Century 21, Coldwell Banker, Keller Williams, Prudential, Weichart, Realty World, ERA, Exit, Realty Executives, Sotheby’s and Windermere all have older white male CEOs. It doesn’t stop there, look to Trulia, Zillow, Move, Inc., HotPads and others. That’s not their fault and they certainly shouldn’t invite a woman simply because they need a girl (or black woman or Asian guy). I wonder how many times RE/MAX CEO Margaret Kelly has been called a bitch for being a leader or asked to get coffee and declined?
Even awards lists are missing women, but where are the women leaders? I was recently named as one of the Top 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders and I got a flood of emails that praised me for being a female leader. I was disappointed that that was what people chose to focus on- my being a default feminist because I was on a list, rather than congratulations for being accomplished. Only 11 other women were on that list, and the award was chastised for being sexist, but I have to ask again, where are all the women in leadership roles? Are too many women scared of being called a bitch and just stick to gender-appropriate roles? What a waste.
Becoming a default feminist
The truth is, I get along best with men. I’m scrappy and kind of a smart alec, and that works for me. I grew up as one of the boys, I like sports, and I drink beer, but I love skirts, jewelry and home magazines too.
Because of the stand I’m taking today against sexism in the real estate industry, I’ll be labeled a feminist, a Code Pinker. I’ll be a default feminist and called upon to speak at conferences about the disparity in the industry between men and women.
That’s too bad, I don’t actually support most feminist groups, they’re more hippie than my Texan flavor cares for (I think the term is often abused and used as an excuse to complain). I believe in every American worker forging their own way DESPITE any obstacle. Despite the guy asking for coffee, despite the HR director calling you “babe” or “sweetheart,” or a real estate industry leader calls you “nothing more than a hot wife.” Life is a challenge, and we teach our daughter how to deal with all challenges rather than cry foul when they’re asked to fetch coffee.
I make my stand by calling my highest superior “princess” and smiling rather than complaining, but what can the women in real estate do to take their stand? The two best ways are to stand firm and dish it out, even if you’re called a bitch, and to get revenge by succeeding and rising above.
Ladies, let men think they’re the head, but as My Big Fat Greek Wedding teaches us, you can be the neck that controls where the head turns.