Shockingly, apart from Adrienne Hersch and Ya’el Geffen, there are no other female CEO’s in the major national residential estate agencies. This is somewhat of a dichotomy when looking at the years of the ‘golden girls’ of real estate, those being the likes of Pam Golding, Aïda Geffen, and Wendy Machanik, who trailblazed a path through a decades-long male-dominated and traditional industry. All worked exceptionally hard to turn their passion for property into not just an exceptional career but also becoming household names through the creation of successful national residential estate agencies.
These strong women were mentors and examples for other women to follow suit, but since 1991 when Adrienne Hersch opened her agency, no other woman has seemingly risen to compete against the current male-dominated leadership of national residential agencies. Ya’el Geffen is excluded because she did not create Sotheby’s International Realty SA of which she is CEO, albeit that it is a highly successful business under her leadership. However, Ya’el does advocate strongly for female entrepreneurship and has been outspoken about the under-representation of females at the senior level in the residential real estate market.
It might be that women are currently evolving their smaller agencies to become the giants of the future but in the past 30 years, no woman regardless of her individual professional success has been able to build a new national agency. The question is why?
Was it democracy? All the aforementioned ‘golden girls’ started their businesses before 1994. With transformation debatably the biggest message the then-new government delivered and continues to highlight, the situation becomes even more confounding that in these past three decades, no black female CEO has emerged. Yes, they exist in the commercial and allied property markets, so there are role models.
There is a theory that it has to do with the remuneration model for property practitioners, that it is based on commission compounded by a long sales cycle up to deeds registration, which in turn impacts on the ability to secure financial resources enough to grow a national business. But this is true regardless of being female, although a case can be made if she is a single income parent.
Another theory that directly addresses the dearth of black female leadership in the residential property space is those young female agents from a historically disadvantaged background, find it difficult to break into the (generically) middle-aged dominated female agents clique, but again this may be discounted because there is strong evidence of female-to-female mentorship.
There has been a movement toward national residential agency creation and leadership over the years, but these did not gain traction. Joey Broodryk of Joey Broodryk Estates is one such; Gail Gavril and Denise Dogon’s partnership is yet another. It doesn’t help that doyen Wendy Machanik, found guilty of financial misconduct during the 2007/8 global financial crisis, failed to continue her legacy as a role model.
One of the reasons to highlight the issue of female leadership in property relates to the changing buyer’s market. Between January 2019 and June 2021, says Lightstone, more females were buying property than men. This demographic obviously feels empowered and is effectively equalising the playing field, which is not, however, transferring into the residential agency space.
Global studies show that female executives in a property firm actually do change the dynamics of a business positively. The Peterson Institute for International Economics claims their impact is measurably transformative as established through an increase in net profit margins. They also tend to attract more interest in a firm from all genders and backgrounds and stay in their CEO positions for the long term.
Other studies, including one from Harvard Business Review, claim that female CEOs are particularly adept at crisis management, such as the risks that initially threatened the housing market when Covid-19 reared its ugly head. Female leadership also tends to focus far deeper on morals beyond business ethics, such as equal pay, fair treatment, and social ills.
With the pioneering path the ‘golden girls’ created now overgrown, it is going to take some very special, strong, and independent women to forge a new one. Different decades, different challenges, different worlds, yes, but the market is wide open for change. The status quo must be challenged, as it was, and surely will be again.