President and CEO of Anywhere Brands Sue Yannaccone writes that this is the time for leaders to find and use their voices so that the industry reflects the values it promotes.
For many women in the industry, the stories are all too familiar.
“There is no way she is doing that well on her own. What kind of ‘mentor’ is he, really?” I was in my 20s, she was my assistant, and he was, truly, an amazing business mentor.
“Can you just come over and meet me in my apartment?” I was in my early 30s, he was in his late 50s and he was a superior. My answer was a weak, “I’m sorry, but I can’t.”
“Hey, no one else can say their boss has legs as amazing as ours.” I was in my 40s, he was an employee speaking to a customer — in front of me. The customer, thankfully, stood up for me and the employee was addressed by me directly and counseled.
You see, sexual harassment and discrimination can take many forms over the course of one’s career. It can come from all genders, at any level, and not necessarily from a direct manager. Although my harassment and discrimination experiences may not have been as overt and career-limiting as many of the women in our industry have recently shared, all forms of sexism can be insidious and damaging not only to individuals but also to the fabric of an organization. And none of it is ever acceptable.
In my case, there were times that I said no, times when I pushed back, and times when I took the opportunity to educate someone. And throughout my career, I found myself in search of a company that I could call home — a place where I felt that my expertise and leadership were fully embraced. Essentially, I had quit until I felt that I didn’t have to anymore.
I quit. Imagine my feeling that quitting in search of something new was my best course of action. It’s hard to admit considering my current position and passion about empowering women to find their voices in this industry. But, when I was young, naïve, scared, or worse, questioning myself, my instinct was to remove myself from the discomfort and unfairness that I felt in those settings, while the offenders, of course, faced no consequences. And I am far from the only woman in our industry who has chosen this path.
I quit, until I found an environment where I felt that I could thrive, where I am applauded for supporting women (including the many who join me at the leadership table), and where we have a zero-tolerance policy on harassment and discrimination of any sort.
Allegedly, complacency and ignorance have been deeply ingrained into the largest of the industry organizations, the National Association of Realtors. Let’s think about that for a moment: There are serious allegations that an organization, designed to support those in the trade — who are predominately female and who pay them to be a part of it — may have had a problem not just with sexual harassment, but with covering it up.
Forget the words. Time for action. Now
Earlier this week, I shared some of my thoughts on social media about the allegations and the need for swift action. The outpouring of support and outreach from all walks of life has been overwhelming. It underscored what I already knew: That people are eager for real change — not just a reiteration of policies — and that the mutual support from allies in this cause is stronger than ever.
Again, this isn’t about words and policies — it hasn’t been for a long time. Real change demands real action. A policy only works if the policymakers are held accountable for enforcing it. A Code of Ethics is only as ethical as those who are monitoring its enforcement. A leadership change only works when the systems for holding leaders accountable are strong.
Women need to be able to turn to leaders who aren’t afraid to use their voice, directly or indirectly — those who take very seriously the obligation to protect them.
It isn’t easy. Standing up, using your voice and finding your power is not easy. But it is right.
It is incumbent on every organization in real estate to establish, maintain and model the rules and behaviors that protect women in our profession. Ours should be an industry of integrity, inclusion and respect.
After all, we have the profound duty of guiding one of life’s most meaningful and symbolic transactions. Let’s act like it.
Sue Yannaccone is president and CEO at Anywhere Brands.