8 Pioneering Women in Real Estate Slapped With the B-Word
real estate

8 Pioneering Women in Real Estate Slapped With the B-Word

>> You’ve heard it before: successful men are labeled assertive and successful women are labeled … bitchy. >>

We’ve been celebrating Women’s History Month since 1955 but it definitely feels a little lackluster when women are still earning a consistent 20-25% less than their male counterparts. It’s a deeply rooted issue spread across almost every industry you can think of — including real estate. Implicit biases run rampant all the time.

You’ve heard it before: successful men are labeled assertive and successful women are labeled … bitchy. 

Ironically, 65% of all REALTORS® are female, according to the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) but not surprisingly, only a small percentage of those women are in leadership positions. Basically, you can be a bad bitch all you want but it’s still an uphill battle. 

This Women’s History Month, I’m focusing on the early pioneering women of real estate. In the wild days of the industry in the 1840s, women only filled office and clerical roles but by the 1880s they started transitioning to agents and brokers — albeit slower than their male counterparts. When NAR was founded in 1908, for instance, membership was 100% male.

These women started at the bottom and bravely paved roads for generations to follow:

Elsie de Wolfe

At the turn of the 20th century, decorating and interior design was the closest women had to the real estate field, lead by almost 84%. Elsie de Wolfe is credited as the inventor of the field, styling homes for the Vanderbilts and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

Corrine Simpson

Many woman were transitioning from clerical roles to sales agents but they were not members of NAR, an important association in the industry led by men. Until Corrine Simpson of Seattle, who was the first woman to join in 1910.

Cora Wright

In the 1920s, Cora Wright was one of the founding members of the Women’s Council of REALTORS® (WCR). Unlike Simpson, she wasn’t allowed to join NAR because her local board only allowed men. 

Catherine Bauer

The Housing Act of 1937, which provided subsidized residencies for low-income citizens for the very first time, was primarily written by Catherine Bauer. In her 30-year career, she also advised three different U.S. presidents and many federal agencies on urban planning.

Ebby Halliday 

Known as the First Lady of Real Estate, Ebby Halliday started building her Dallas real estate empire in the mid-1940s. By the 1950s, most boards lifted their gender restrictions and other boards catering to women in real estate emerged, like WCR and the Realtyettes in Portland, OR.

Patricia Harris

Patricia Harris was the first Black woman to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in the late 1970s, shifting the department’s focus to fighting housing discrimination and funding the revitalization of inner-city neighborhoods.

Dorcas Helfant

In the 1970s, women made up about 17% or NAR members and by 1992, Dorcas Helfant from Virginia became the first female president of the organization.

Zaha Hadid 

Women still lag in senior positions in the real estate industry, especially in construction. Women actually have a higher presence in designing buildings over constructing them — nearly 32% of architects, according the Bureau of Labor. Zaha Hadid became the first female to win the Pritzker Prize (think: Academy Award and Pulitzer Prize rolled into one) in 2004.

Amidst all these great female pioneers in the industry, did you know the woman’s right to own property and have full financial autonomy didn’t come until the mid-1970s?! Previously, all women had to cosign with a man.

While data could change soon (based on women leaving the workforce during the pandemic), women are increasingly becoming heads of households. In fact, single women have bought more homes than single men every year since 1981. According to NAR, women’s homeownership rate is around 61%.

Why women continue to be defined as bitchy when they’re merely getting the job done is beyond my comprehension — perhaps some mansplaining is in order! Kidding.

[Featured image is of de Wolfe (far right) in 1905.]

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