Field Guide to Women in Real Estate

(Updated April 2016)

There are few industries remaining today that have not seen a drastic change in the role that women play, and real estate and relocation are certainly not immune to these changes. Historically, women have been involved in real estate almost since its inception in 1794 and its establishment as a legitimate business in the 1840s. In real estate's early days, women filled office and clerical roles, but by the 1880s, women were already moving into the roles of agents and brokers, though at a relatively slow rate. Nationwide, women brokers dominate the residential real estate market, but have yet to make a major entrance into the more lucrative commercial market. This page includes articles, books and web sites related to issues facing women in the real estate industry. (D. McCormick, Budget & Operations Manager)

- EBSCO articles available for NAR members only. Password can be found on the EBSCO Access Information page.

Demographic Characteristics of REALTORS®

The median age of REALTORS® has steadily increased in recent years from 51 years of age in 2007 to 57 in 2015. The majority of members are women with a college education. REALTORS® frequently have had careers in other fields prior to real estate, the most common being in management, business, and financial professions, followed by sales and retail. 58 percent of all REALTORS® are female. However, among members who are over 60 years old, this percentage falls to 52 percent. Among broker licensees, 53 percent are female, compared with 63 percent of sales agent licensees. Among part-time sales agents, 65 percent are female, while 61 percent of full-time sales agents are female.

Source: 2015 National Association of REALTORS® Member Profile

Women and the Real Estate Profession

5 wardrobe staples for women in real estate, (Inman, May 15, 2015).

Trailblazer for women in real estate, (Triangle Business Journal, Mar. 13, 2015).

Who are the top women in real estate?, (Fortune, Nov. 17, 2014).

Female Entrepreneurs Lead U.S. Business Growth, (REALTOR® Magazine, Oct. 10, 2014).

Real estate: Where are the women?, (San Francisco Business Times, May 16, 2014).

The market won’t stop them: Women go into real estate, (Albuquerque Journal, Mar. 5, 2014).

"Rosie the REALTOR®" and the Re-gendering of Real Estate Brokerage, 1930-1960 (Enterprise & Society, June 2002). E

Women in NAR

When NAR was founded in 1908, the membership was 100% male.  The Association’s founders declared NAR’s purpose was “to unite the real estate men of America” – but in reality, the organization wasn’t restricted to just men, nor was it limited to the United States.  On the national level there had never been gender or racial requirements for membership. Local boards decided who were qualified and who were not. So it was not any surprise that when the newly formed NAREB took stock of its membership, there were no women. In part, this was due to the fact that there were few professional women in real estate or any other industry. This would change, however in real estate as new boards were created and “qualified” women emerged. Pioneer real estate women usually came from one of three groups: 1) They were widows or daughters of real estate men. 2) They were part of a mother-son or husband-wife team. 3) Or, they were women who began as rental agents or office workers, but, when pressed into service during an emergency, learned to sell.

Women were definitely in the minority in the National Association during its first few decades, but they started joining the organization soon after it was founded.  The first woman to join NAR was Seattle broker Corrine Simpson, who became a member in 1910.  Mrs. Simpson was quite a formidable fixture in the Seattle real estate scene from 1905 until her death in 1929. She was an active NAR member up through 1927.  (Recently the University of Washington archives posted this 1906 advertisement of hers that might be of interest, and this article from includes some biographical details).  

However, just like today, one of the primary requirements for national membership was acceptance as a member of a local real estate board.  Many local boards, particularly older, well-established boards and those in major cities, did explicitly ban women from membership in their bylaws, which effectively prevented them from becoming members of NAR.  Newly established boards and those in suburbs and rural areas often didn't have such restrictions, since they needed all the members they could get.  So, for example, in the 1920s, Cora Wright, one of the founders of the Women's Council (WCR), was not allowed to be a member of the Chicago Real Estate Board because of her gender.  Instead, she joined the smaller neighboring Oak Park Real Estate Board and thus became a member of NAR.  Most of the local boards had dropped the gender restriction by the early 1950s.

In the 1920s, a number of local real estate boards established special women’s divisions catering to female brokers — one of the earliest was the Portland (OR) Real Estate Board's "Realtyettes”.  The California Association of Realtors also had their own very successful women’s division, which eventually became the model for WCR.  Structures like CAR’s helped attract more women to the real estate industry, and women joined the National Association in increasing numbers. However, since women primarily were found in the ranks of sales agents, not brokers as much, and since NAR’s membership base was restricted to brokers, women remained in the minority for decades.  NAR’s first member profile survey was conducted in 1949, which found that 98% of members were men.

In 1973, the situation rapidly began to change when NAR opened up membership to sales agents (REALTOR-Associates), many of whom were women.  At the end of 1973, NAR had 118,000 members, with women making up roughly 17%.  By the end of 1975, NAR had ballooned to 435,500 members, and women accounted for nearly a third of total membership.  Women surpassed men as a percentage of total membership three years later, in 1978.  In 1996, four years after Dorcas Helfant became NAR’s first female president, women represented the majority of broker licensees for the first time.

Source: Progress of Women in Real Estate, 50th Anniversary, (Chicago, IL: Women’s Council of REALTORS®, 1998).

National Association of REALTORS® Women Presidents

2010 - Vicki Cox Golder (Tucson, Ariz.)

2007 - Pat V. Combs (Grand Rapids, Mich.)

2003 - Catherine B. Whatley (Jacksonville, Fla.)

1999 - Sharon A. Millett (Auburn, ME)

1992 - Dorcas T. Helfant-Browning (Virginia Beach, Va.)

Women in Commercial Real Estate

Are women really making progress in the commercial real estate industry?, (National Real Estate Investor, Mar. 30, 2016).

The time is now for women in commercial real estate, (YouTube, Jan. 6, 2016).

The Boys’ Club: Are Men From Mars and Women from Venus When it Comes to NYC CRE?, (Commercial Observer, Jan. 28, 2015).

Successful Women in Commercial Real Estate Featuring Cathy Jones, (National Association of REALTORS®, Dec. 18, 2014).

Property Rounds: Women Closing Gap in Commercial Real Estate Market, (NewsTimes, Dec. 10, 2014).

Organizations for Women in Real Estate

Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW Network)

National Association of Women in Real Estate Businesses (NAWRB)

New England Women in Real Estate (NEWIRE)

New York Commercial Real Estate Women

Women's Council of REALTORS® (WCR)

World Women in Real Estate (WWIRE)

Books, eBooks & Other Resources

The following eBooks and digital audiobooks are available to NAR members:

Ask for It (Kindle, Adobe eReader)

Confessions of a Resilient Entrepreneur (Kindle, Adobe eReader)

The Confidence Myth (Kindle, Adobe eReader)

Corporate Tribalism (Kindle, Adobe eReader)

Down to Business (Kindle, Adobe eReader)

For Women Only (Overdrive Audio)

In Good Company (Adobe eReader)

Kiplinger's Money Smart Women (Overdrive Audio)

Million Dollar Women (Overdrive Audio)

The Myth of Work-Life Balance (Adobe eReader)

Rise to the Top (Adobe eReader)

Seven Secrets of Successful Women: Success Strategies of the Women Who Have Made It—And How You Can Follow Their Lead (Adobe eReader)

Smart Women Finish Rich (Adobe eReader)

Successful Women Think Differently (Kindle, Adobe eReader)

Time Management Secrets for Working Women (Kindle, Adobe eReader)

Wise Women Invest in Real Estate (Adobe eReader)

Women and Equality in the Workplace (Adobe eReader)

Women & Money (Overdrive Audio)

Women Count (Kindle, Adobe eReader)

Books, Videos, Research Reports & More

The resources below are available for loan through Information Services. Up to three books, tapes, CDs and/or DVDs can be borrowed for 30 days from the Library for a nominal fee of $10. Call Information Services at 800-874-6500 for assistance.

Ebby Halliday: The First Lady of Real Estate (Brown Books Publishing Group, 2009). HD 1382.5 H15

Framing a domain for work and family: a study of women in residential real estate sales work (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2002). HD 1375 W55

workingmoms.calm: How smart women balance family and career (Thomson-Southwestern, 2003). HQ 536 K38

Lean in: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (Knopf, 2013). HD 6054.3 S265

Personal Power: the guide to power for today's working woman (Boulder, CO: Career Track Publications, Inc., 1985). BF 637 L11

Progress of Women in Real Estate: 50th Anniversary (Chicago, IL: Women's Council of REALTORS®, 1988). HF 294 W84p

The Woman's Guide to Selling Residential Real Estate Successfully: A Step-by-Step Career Program (New York, NY: Everest House, 1981). HF 5438 J25

Field Guides & More

These field guides and other resources in the Virtual Library may also be of interest:

Field Guide to Leadership Development

Field Guide to Women Homebuyers

Information Services Blog

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