With intense scrutiny from Silicon Valley to the White House, the topic of diversity and inclusion has been pulled into focus and entered conversations everywhere from the newsroom to the boardroom. Employers across all industries are increasingly seeking ways to create equal opportunity for employees regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation. Some are faring better than others.
The uptick in media attention on the issue inspired me to look more closely at the real estate industry in this context. While I’ve always felt that real estate agents represent a strong balance across the most common diversity dimensions, I wanted to see what the statistics said. In my research, I realized that there are quite a few reasons the real estate business is uniquely positioned to be a leader on the diversity front.
Women play a prominent role in residential real estate.
If you watch the male-dominated reality television shows about real estate, you may be surprised to learn that 62% of Realtors® nationwide are female. And women aren’t just selling, they’re leading. In New York alone, women sit atop many of the most powerful firms: Dottie Herman at Douglas Elliman, Pam Liebman at Corcoran, Diane Ramirez at Halstead, Kathy Korte at Sotheby’s and Elizabeth Stribling-Kivlan at Stribling. When you look at other advisory professions such as law or wealth management (both about one-third female), it’s rare to see so many women within the top ranks of the industry. We should be incredibly proud of this.
Earning power x flexibility = An ideal profession for working parents.
The difficulty balancing family life and professional demands is often cited as one key reason for the lack of gender diversity at the top of many corporations. I know from watching my own mother, a single parent, pursue this career that parents can thrive in real estate, given the ability to secure a competitive income while maintaining flexibility to pick up the kids from school, attend after-school activities and sporting events, and be home for dinner and bedtime routines. Real estate is one of the few, perhaps only, careers that provides this opportunity for working parents.
Longevity is valued.
An impressive 30% of Realtors® are 60 years or older. As the saying goes, “with age comes wisdom,” and that’s particularly true in real estate. My mother recently shared with me something very meaningful: She said, “There are very few professions that can make a 72-year-old woman like me feel valued in the world.” Real estate is a cyclical industry. Major fluctuations in the market tend to happen in 10-year increments. Some of the most talented and successful agents I’ve met are those who’ve seen the industry through multiple housing downturns and can leverage that experience pricing and negotiating a tough sell. Another big advantage of being in the industry for a decade-plus is repeat business. Americans typically sell their home every five to seven years. That means that every decade an agent is in business, they get to see a recurring pipeline of clients.
Immigrants represent an important and growing client base.
As the gap between domestic-born homeowners and immigrant homeowners continues to close, agents who speak different languages and can relate to diverse clientele will become increasingly important. Twelve percent of Realtors® are immigrants. Fourteen percent of English-speaking Realtors are also fluent in another language; the figure jumps to 23% for Realtors under 39. This trend is on the upswing as ethnic diversity amongst agents increases with the younger and newer to the industry an agent is.
The buying power of the LGBTQ community is strong and growing.
I’ve watched the emergence of organizations like the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals (NAGLREP) in response to an industry that is very well-populated with these professionals. LGBT Americans represented $960 billion in buying power in 2016, and 55% of LGBT consumers will choose companies that are committed to diversity in this area to conduct their business with.
The day-to-day of an agent requires a dynamic skillset.
Real estate was the first career for only 4% of Realtors®. This is fascinating. The professional diversity agents bring to the job makes real estate an environment rich with continued learning, inspiration and self-improvement opportunities. Best practices from industries like marketing, fashion, the arts, finance and law have entered into the industry through osmosis. Many agents I know pride themselves on their ability to advise a client on everything from staging a property to negotiating an offer to closing contracts.
While I’m so encouraged by the diverse makeup of our industry, we can — and must — do more to create opportunities for everyone, at all levels. From hiring more parents who are looking for a flexible work schedule to facilitating a landscape that fights back against ageism, we plan to lead by example with the goal of seeing all the above numbers continue to grow.
Post written by Robert Reffkin
Robert is the Founder and CEO of Compass, a technology-driven real estate company.