It’s taken some time for me to write this. It was just a couple weeks ago that an out of state colleague wrote an article regarding a scary moment she experienced at a real estate conference. I immediately wrote something in a moment of anger that luckily hasn’t been published.
When I first read her post, I immediately shared it as well as one of my own experiences. I felt a little relief just sharing it publicly because I think it helped others share their own stories. I also think it helped conference organizers see how big of a problem it is.
I have run into these situations so many times, it’s practically normal. I have been a frequent conference attendee for a long time. I have made some great friends over the years but I have also learned who I could really trust and who I could not.
I started my career in real estate at 19. I fell in love with the energy and excitement of the industry. But I learned pretty quickly, how shady things can be. I heard many stories about certain agents partying hard and doing inappropriate things. I never thought much of it. But I do remember how often men sat around my office. I remember how many times I got invited to parties (When I was not of legal drinking age). It didn’t matter if they were married or single. It seemed quite normal to many of them.
Personally, I have always been a tomboy. Growing up, I wasn’t a girly girl. I spent my younger days playing sports. As a kid, I didn’t play with dolls. I was into transformers and G.I. Joes. I rarely wore makeup, didn’t wear jewelry and hated wearing dresses. I even at one point asked to try out for the football team. The coach, of course, turned me down. For the longest time,I really didn’t feel feminine. Many of my friends were male. When I had my first place of my own, I had 3 male roommates. I got really used to being one of the boys. I am embarrassed to say that I ignored the things I heard about women for a long time. I even laughed with them about it at times.
But as I got older, I started to get annoyed by it. It bothered me to have people talk to me only because they thought they could get something out of it. This became even more frequent as my career progressed. It sometimes made me feel like my work didn’t speak for itself. It brought me down many times. I just wanted people to take me seriously.
I have worked extremely hard my entire life. I honestly thought some day I would be the first female president. We all have dreams,right? I completed college when I was 19. Upon graduating, I entered the real estate industry. I went from being on the closing side, to getting my license, to opening my own marketing company and then selling it. Then entering into the management role that I am currently in. All while having a baby, getting married, having another baby, getting divorced, and the many other serious problems my family went through. There were a lot of ups and downs. While I didn’t share many of the hard times I went through, people generally could figure out what was going on.
While I was going through my divorce, it seemed like many men I had known over the years in the industry came out of the woodwork to “help”. While there were many people along the way that helped me tremendously, many had ulterior motives. In a time that I was just trying to get back on my own two feet, many thought I would “do anything” to get back to a normal way of life. Whatever that may be.
Things like this took its toll on me. It often made me feel insecure. This past year at ICSF, I stayed away from post-conference events and parties. This was after a horrible incident the previous year. I was verbally attacked by an intoxicated agent at an event. It scared the crap out of me. It’s what caused me to stay away from these events. I never wander these events alone anymore.
Not only do I worry about attending events, I also have to worry about the backlash from other women. Ladies, I get it. I have been party to much of this judgment over the years simply because I was a tomboy. Women judged me or made assumptions because I had a lot of male friends. I can’t prevent it. I have my crew of lady friends who really know me and know what I am about. I am used to it and can deal with it. But I can’t imagine how other women do. Are we all that envious or hateful?
I think sexual harassment/assault are especially difficult in the real estate industry. Agents are independent contractors and sexual harassment laws don’t necessarily apply in many situations. Although this varies greatly in every state. I am not an attorney, so I won’t begin to speculate on this. I know many brokers that do have no tolerance for this. But I can honestly write a book about all of the things I have seen over the years. It’s clearly a huge problem and is probably not addressed in every situation. There’s plenty of talk about women taking self-defense classes, carrying pepper spray or carrying a gun. While we should consider these things, it doesn’t necessarily prevent it from happening.
I have been speaking up quite a bit about women’s issues. It’s not because I am a feminist, it’s because I am a realist. These things REALLY happen. Everything I do in life is based on the idea of trying to prevent things that have happened to me from happening to others. I understand that my words could have consequences. But I can’t sit back and pretend like there is not a problem. This was obvious to me after sharing my post when I received this message from a woman who has chosen to remain anonymous:
“Thank you for posting/sharing your very scary experience. An ex-boyfriend of mine stalked me for about a year after he broke up with me. Doing all kinds of horrible things to me after a physical violent end of our relationship. I did get a restraining order in place, but little protection that provided, as a piece of paper does not stop a monster. He violated it many times and finally went to jail. Not for long enough and still tells people how I deserved it. I went thru a year of therapy & had my daughter in therapy to recover from this trauma. Its the reason behind my 100 lb. dog & why I stay home as much as I can. This type of fear is hard to shake. I have really awesome great days but still have some bad ones too. And hearing someone else be strong, someone else fighting back gives me strength & fills me with empowerment. These types of situations will not be tolerated or accepted by anyone who hears of them. So thank you for sharing – you’ve given me power today I didn’t know I needed but did. That was really cool of you”
The one thing I have learned over and over again is that for women, nothing progresses us if we stand back and wait for things to change. We have to continue to speak up. Don’t live in fear. Stand up for yourself. There’s plenty of people ready to support you. I am here if you ever need someone.