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.


NAR Library & Archives has already done the research for you. References (formerly Field Guides) offer links to articles, eBooks, websites, statistics, and more to provide a comprehensive overview of perspectives. EBSCO articles (E) are available only to NAR members and require a password.

Demographic Characteristics of REALTORS®

The median age of REALTORS® has steadily increased in recent years from 51 years of age in 2007 to 55 in 2020. 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, tied with sales and retail. 64 percent of all REALTORS® are female. However, among members who are over 60 years old, this percentage falls to 58 percent. Among broker licensees, 60 percent are female, compared with 67 percent of sales agent licensees. Among part-time sales agents, 70 percent are female, while 63 percent of full-time sales agents are female.

Source: 2020 National Association of REALTORS® Member Profile

Women and the Real Estate Profession

Career Choices in Real Estate: Through the Lens of Gender, Race, and Sexual Orientation (National Association of REALTORS®, Mar. 30, 2021)

Secrets from Four Top Women in Real Estate (RISMedia, Mar. 18, 2021)

Women in Real Estate (RISMedia, Jan. 5, 2021)

Building the Blueprint for Change: Women in Real Estate (KPMG, May 19, 2019)

Fearless in the Face of Industry Barriers (REALTOR® Magazine, Apr. 18, 2019)

Even in Female-Dominated Industries, More than One-Third of Americans Agree Women Face a “Glass Ceiling,” According to Coldwell Banker Real Estate Survey (Coldwell Banker Blue Matter Blog, Feb. 5, 2019)

"Rosie the REALTOR®" and the Re-gendering of Real Estate Brokerage, 1930-1960 (Enterprise & Society, Jun. 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 HistoryLink.org 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

2018 - Elizabeth Mendenhall (Columbia, MO)

2010 - Vicki Cox Golder (Tucson, AZ)

2007 - Pat Vredevoogd Combs (Grand Rapids, MI)

2003 - Catherine B. Whatley (Jacksonville, FL)

1999 - Sharon A. Millett (Auburn, ME)

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

Women in Commercial Real Estate

The Shift to Virtual Networking and How It Benefits Women in CRE (Connect CRE, Sep. 8, 2020)

2020 CREW Network Benchmark Study: Gender and Diversity in Commercial Real Estate (CREW Network, Sep. 2020)

Women of Color Have a 'Double Disadvantage' in Commercial Real Estate, Lawyer Says (bizwomen, Aug. 7, 2020)

How Women Are Breaking into, and Changing the Face of, Commercial Real Estate (Pioneer Realty Capital, Feb. 4, 2020)

NAIOP Panel Discusses Changing the Game for Women in Commercial Real Estate (The Real Reporter, Nov. 7, 2019)

Accelerating the Advancement of Women in Commercial Real Estate (CREW Network, Sep. 12, 2019)

Organizations for Women in Real Estate

Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW Network)

National Association of Women in Real Estate Businesses (NAWRB)

Women's Council of REALTORS® (WCR)

Women in Real Estate (WIRE)

Books, eBooks & Other Resources


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

Ask for It (Kindle, eBook)

Confessions of a Resilient Entrepreneur (Kindle, eBook)

The Confidence Myth (Kindle, eBook)

Corporate Tribalism (Kindle, eBook)

Down to Business (Kindle, eBook)

In Good Company (eBook)

Kiplinger's Money Smart Women (Audiobook)

Million Dollar Women (Audiobook)

Rise to the Top (eBook)

Successful Women Think Differently (Kindle, eBook)

Time Management Secrets for Working Women (Kindle, eBook)

Wise Women Invest in Real Estate (eBook, Kindle)

Women and Equality in the Workplace (eBook)

Women & Money (Audiobook)

Women Count (Kindle, eBook)

Books, Videos, Research Reports & More

The resources below are available for loan through the Library & Archives. 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 the Library & Archives 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 (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

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

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