For a decade, Janet Ra ran a restaurant/bar in San Francisco before taking her real estate exam.
“The enormous overhead and jarring rent (running the restaurant) made it challenging to thrive beyond a certain point,” says Ra, so a career in real estate seemed like a viable Plan B. An industry professional with Compass, and 2023 President of the San Francisco Women's Council of REALTORS®, Ja says her first couple of years were difficult. The business can feel lonely, cold and isolating. Heading into her third year, a colleague introduced Ra to the National Women’s Council, so Ra, feeling the need for support, decided to join.
Ra says that the Women’s Council played a substantial role in molding her into the agent she is today.
“Since my time within the Women’s Council, I have become more confident, assertive, and less inhibited to take risks or make mistakes,” she adds. “Furthermore, being a part of the organization has opened doors and presented opportunities, including fellow Women’s Council members referring me to their clients with their buying/selling needs in the Bay Area.”
What Women's Council is All About
The National Women’s Council of REALTORS® is comprised of 13,000 members. The organization is represented in 250 local and state networks across the country. As stated on the council’s website, the need for a women-specific council at its inception was great because, for the first 20 years of [NAR’s] existence, women were barred admission from many local REALTOR® associations.” To make sure they had access and inclusion, “a ’women’s division’ was formed at the Annual Convention in Milwaukee in November 1938 by thirty-seven women from 9 states.”
Today women have full access to state, local and the national REALTOR® associations. However, the council still plays a vital role in helping women build their businesses and enhance their real estate careers.
It offers more than 1,500 events annually providing in-person networking, education classes and valuable friendships. A member finder on the website allows online communities, listings integration, and a free online member-to-member referral platform. Over half of the members use that referral network, with the average annual commission through the network at $15,000 annually. The members can also find many discounts from service providers and products.
Women’s Council presents the Performance Management Network (PMN) designation, which emphasizes leadership with help in public speaking, negotiation, and operating a business. A Leadership Institute also trains 15 graduates per year to build skills to lead their businesses, Women’s Council affiliates and their area volunteer organizations.
Growing as a Professional in Women's Council
When Chris Pelkola Lee, broker-owner of simpLee HOME in Idaho Falls moved from Chicago to Idaho in 2004, she remotely worked as an executive assistant to an east coast finance professional. The 2023 National President of the Women’s Council of REALTORS® had a longtime interest in real estate though, so when the executive assistant job ended in 2007, she pursued her goal of becoming an agent. At the time, the agent who had helped her buy a house acted as an informal mentor, providing her with valuable information on how to make it in the industry.
She joined the Southeast Idaho Women’s Council in her area right away, which now has about 25 members.
“For me, being in the Women’s Council was about confidence building,” she says. “I’m not an extrovert by any means. I’m more a spreadsheet girl.”
When they asked her to be on a task force committee or to help with an event coming up, she said yes. The commitment provided her with the opportunity to get to know the affiliates and vendors in town, such as title companies, that could help her with her business.
“If you have these relationships with these people, it smooths the road ahead,” she says.
After that, it was easy to see the value in active participation. She soon found that gaining leadership and business skills was an inherent part of her joining.
Finding Support and Giving Back
What she loves about the council is how people come from all backgrounds and experiences, and everyone learns from one another.
“All those skills and conversations add to the pie. I have benefited personally from being a part of this organization. But then you take a step back and think how you can add value in the best capacity to give back to the organization?” she says.
Though she’d never fathomed a leadership role at the national level when she joined, Pekola Lee says she’s learned through the organization that growth happens outside the comfort zone, and the council gave her the confidence to give back in a big way.
In Ra’s case, the fellowship and support given by the people she met through Women's Council helped propel her forward. Even when she didn’t think she could take on a certain position with the Women’s Council, she had incredible leaders before me who encouraged her to take a leap and rallied for her success.
When the new President of the San Francisco Network in 2021 invited Ra to be the First Vice President, she remembers feeling overwhelmed and intimidated but participated nonetheless.
“Everyone spoke with such power and poise,” says Ra. “The introvert in me shied away but deep down, I knew this was the place I wanted to be, and these were the people I wanted to be around. I’ve been inspired ever since.”
How to Get Involved
Heather Ozur had been a real estate professional for three years before she joined her area Women’s Council.
“I had moved from the greater Los Angeles area to Palm Springs. I wanted to meet other people,” says Ozur, a real estate professional with The RECollective, Palm Springs, Calif. “I was the youngest person there. I didn’t know anything about volunteering within the business, but I liked the fact that they put on education programs.”
She also began to understand that the members were there for guidance and support.
“If you need anything, there is someone there to help. The next thing you know, you are elected to a board position,” she adds. “But it is a sense of camaraderie, especially in this ever-changing market.”
She took on active roles volunteering and rose through the ranks to the position of 2014 President for Women’s Council of REALTORS® California. She then served as 2019 National President, and today, she’s the director with the National Association of REALTORS® and 2023 treasurer of the California Association of REALTORS®.
For real estate professionals who want to get involved in the organization, Ozur suggests starting out by attending local council get-togethers. For the younger real estate professionals, she says that the council is the perfect place to acquire some experience in the leadership space. Likewise, Ozur encourages members who have been around a while to lift up those younger in the business.
“We should all show young women that they can do this. Encourage them to stand up and be part of it,” she adds.
The Impact of Margo Wheeler—An Integral Women's Council Member
The late Margo Wheeler loved the Women's Council. It was a bright place where, in the beginning of her career, she witnessed Black women serving as trailblazers.
“When I became a REALTOR®, I didn’t see a lot of women in leadership other than in the Women’s Council,” she said in a recent NAR interview. “When I went to the Women’s Council, there was a full support system there for me (as a woman), but not necessarily for women of color.”
She did, however, watch a fellow Black woman, Maxine Jennings from California, become the national Women’s Council President in 2001, which she said, “gave me the belief that there was a place for me,” she said.
Wheeler became the third woman of color to rise to president in 2011.
Wheeler, who died in January after a battle with cancer, had retired after 20 years in the United States Army. She served as a real estate professional in Tacoma, Wash., and maintained active involvement in leadership roles with the council and the NAR, including becoming its 2023 Vice President of Association Affairs.