Breaking the boys’ club
Real estate is a worn-out boys club. There. We said it.
But it won’t survive that way, because customers are tired of it. They mock and laugh at the stereotypes. But hey, sometimes we need a slap in the collective face to wake up to reality. It might even change attitudes for the better.
Like this little gem did: The BresicWhitney team was at one client’s home in a group inspection. There was the usual chat and predictions around price. Then someone on site said to sales agent Renae Dickey, “You must be the stylist, here to make things pretty”.
If you happen to know Renae you’re probably picturing the way she bit her tongue and powered through it. That didn’t go unnoticed for her male cohorts. One of them stepped in and introduced her as a gifted agent, and one of the team’s high performers.
For the boys club present that day, it was a window into the unconscious bias that female agents (and females in general) are up against. Around BresicWhitney offices, the interesting conversations continue to stem from that.
It couldn’t have come at a more poignant time. US President Trump was in the midst of nominating his controversial pick for Supreme Court Judge. And the #metoo movement was highlighting sexual harassment worldwide, particularly in workplaces.
So if anyone was going to argue that biases don’t affect us, even in our progressive Inner Sydney bubble, now wasn’t the time. It exists, and it’s rife.
But these unfamiliar conversations are shaking us up for the better, and real estate agents have to get used to having more of them.
Like this one: Sales agent Andrew Liddell was pitching to sell a $2 million house when the clients interjected: “We’ll choose you, on the condition that a female co-agent works on our campaign. Find one.”
They’d just spent months being buyers, with their best experiences coming from male/female teams. They felt it, and welcomed some diversity.
And agent Katie Moriarty was also pitching to five new clients. Her male teammate wasn’t banking on those meetings, knowing he’d only be competing with similar agents, offering no point of difference.
Up against the leading male agents in that region, she secured every one of those sales.
“In those instances I think I was successful because out of everyone invited to the table, ours was the only team with a female,” Katie says.
“It draws on other preconceptions, like the idea I might bring a softer approach and more sensitivity to the campaigns – but that’s an inference your customers make.”
It’s become more important for people to see their own worlds reflected in the brands they like. Names such as Atlassian, eBay, Pinterest and Spotify all publicise their diversity in numbers and across pay grades. They talk up the benefits both commercially and justly.
BresicWhitney director Shannan Whitney says a one-dimensional culture has limited the real estate business, and wider diversity brings new advantages.
“We offer a service and the value of what we do is tied up in the human experience,” he says.
“Without a diverse culture you have a very narrow lens. You project that. And you attract that. You have limitations. You’re limited in who you can express to and you’re limited in what you can achieve.
“The real value is in your people.
“There are so many advantages for a business that has the ability to service a wide range of needs through a broad range of people reflecting our society through our gender, sexuality, beliefs and expectations.”
Plenty of brands tout the commercial benefits of gender diversity. At BresicWhitney our own data shows female agents have better rates of repeat business. They also make higher commission percentages than their male colleagues.
Stats such as those are a beacon of hope in the uneven seas of this industry, counteracting the leg-ups, unconscious bias, casual favoritism and informal promotions we know exist.
But if a brand should reflect its clients, maybe better gender balance could be one easy fix in a famously slow-to-adapt industry.
BresicWhitney hasn’t fixed old patterns, but our people are committing to becoming a more diverse organisation at all levels. A recent milestone was to roll out a Parental Leave Scheme to support primary caregivers both financially and non-financially.
Other industries have led the way here with time away at full pay, return-to-work bonuses and permanent flexible working arrangements. But that kind of support is rare for real estate, yet vital for fostering talent.
One thing that resonates with all real estate teams is that a diverse workplace brings a wider perspective than a boys club ever will.
Cut your people from new moulds, and expect new results. And results are exactly what customers want.