The sweet (hmmm, debatable) tune of 250 professional real estate agents singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow wasn’t just an exercise in leadership communication with Dr Louise Mahler. It was a commentary on the state of women in the property services industry.
Someday I’ll wish upon a star
From difficult conversations to preparing women for a man’s world, REINSW’s WIRE conference once again became a catalyst for challenging the perception of women in real estate.
The first speaker, Veronica Morgan, hit the nail on the head when she said as agents (male or female), we avoid difficult conversations because we hope things will work out.
But it’s actually not enough to hope and wish that things will get better.
Difficult conversations are what keynote speaker, Louisette Geiss, has with journalists, at conferences and in court to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. And what speaker, Imogen Ball, had with herself when deciding to leave a successful career in journalism because she was experiencing bullying and sexual harassment daily.
“There’s a reason there is no Middle-age Caucasian Men in Real Estate conference,” said speaker, Ewan Morton. “This demographic is already overrepresented in the industry.
“We need to look at and understand the challenges facing women in the workplace – including power relationships, pay gaps and discrimination – and talk about them calmly, quietly and relentlessly.”
And wake up where the clouds are far behind me
In her presentation, Helen Silvia, Chair of Domestic Violence NSW, quoted Audre Lorde: “I am deliberate and afraid of nothing”.
“Your voice is powerful,” she said. “And the collection of individual voices is even more so. That’s what makes events like WIRE so important.”
The reference to Lorde was inspiring and poignant. A feminist, author and civil rights activist, she challenged her society to consider if their silence would continue to protect them. She said when we speak, we are often afraid our words will not be heard – something Morgan admitted to in her presentation.
Women are empathetic. We listen and we seek to understand. Cathy Baker, WIRE speaker
“When you enter into a something from a place of fear, it will never go well,” she said. “Only when I started to own my experiences and values could I have frank conversations about challenging subjects.”
And to own your experiences and values, Mahler said you must find your voice.
“Your voice is a choice,” she said. “And you can use your voice to give air to others – to inspire* them to success.”
That’s where you’ll find me
A key theme to emerge from WIRE 2019 was the notion that we condone behavior we do not address.
“As an industry, we need to change the conversation,” Morton continued. “And that only comes through leadership.”
But once you decide to be a leader, Ball said you can bet you’ll be judged for it.
“You need to learn to filter your feedback,” she said. “Some will be constructive, some will be unnecessary. Regardless, you must continue to excel and accelerate.”
Ball said it’s not about being liked, it’s about being seen to uphold your values and own your experience.
“Through consistency and continuity, you can build trust,” she said.
Geiss echoes this sentiment, revealing she received backlash online and in the media for her part in the #MeToo movement.
“I often wonder if it’s worth continuing to fight [in the case against Harvey Weinstein],” she said. “Am I doing the right thing in leaving my family to fly overseas to speak at events or to New York for court? The answer is always ‘yes’ because if I don’t, who will?”
And that’s the question on every woman in real estate’s lips today, and the question that will be asked of every agent until there is parity and equality in the real estate industry (and beyond).
*Mahler says the word inspire comes from the latin word inspirare, which means to breath or blow into. So, in starting conversations, you are allowing others to speak and inspiring them to grow and learn.