A businesswoman stands at a conference table presenting to a group of male and female colleagues.

Men, it's time to do better 

Sexism isn't just a societal problem, it's a real estate industry problem. And if anything is going to change, men will have to step up — and speak up.

September 19, 2023
6 minutes

A recent New York times investigation into systemic sexual harassment and a "culture of fear" within the hallowed halls of the National Association of Realtors, and the subsequent resignation of NAR president Kenny Parcell, has resulted in an outpouring of opinion across the real estate space. 

Many are shocked, some are sad. There are disbelievers, and there's plenty of anger. Solutions have been proffered ranging from firing all existing NAR staff and leadership to withdrawing membership and boycotting NAR events. Calls for "more transparency" — ambiguous as that may be — are rampant.

There are also the jaded ones who say nothing will ever change. That misogyny and sexism are baked into the culture at large, not just NAR's culture. 

While it may feel like sexism, sexual harassment, patriarchy and the revelations behind the #MeToo movement have only recently become common topics of discussion, the issues themselves have been around since the dawn of time.

Changing ingrained culture, belief and action is difficult. There's a lot to overcome in order to affect a genuine shift in attitudes and behaviors. 

We are well past the point where something must be done. And any change to a culture of sexism and fear is going to require men to step up — guys, that means we have to stretch way outside our comfort zone.

I would like to say that no one finds sexual harassment acceptable, but sadly, some men seem perfectly fine with it. The jaded are right — men like that won't ever change. What can change is our collective reaction to that type of man. Since they have no place in the workforce, no place dealing with clients, certainly no place in any leadership role, then they need to be fired. Swiftly, and without remorse. 

I believe, strictly from anecdotal evidence gathered in my 62 years as a male, that those who engage in sexual harassment or are indifferent to it are a significant minority. At the same time, a significant majority of men tolerate the abhorrent behavior of the harassers. They ignore the obvious signs. They can't, or won't, step in and call out unacceptable behavior when they see it.

These are the men who must do better.

And we all need to be allies with women. True allyship is what can create the systemic change so desperately needed.

So how do we do that? It's more than just talking the talk. Allyship requires action, and it's not easy. Here are some tips to get started.   

1. Acknowledge male privilege

For centuries, men have had privileges that women do not, including the right to own property, control their own finances, hold public office and vote. Those examples may seem archaic in the 21st century, but male privilege is alive and well today. Pay inequality exists. Men are more likely to hold leadership positions at work, in politics and elsewhere. Men are less likely to experience certain forms of gender-based violence and harassment than women. And we tend to have greater visibility and representation in all types of media.

Don't believe male privilege is real? Then please explain why only 47 women made the 2023 Swanepoel Power 200 list of the most powerful leaders in real estate. NAR says 65% of agents are female, yet only 23% of real estate's top leaders are female. Male privilege plays a part.  

Denying our privilege only perpetuates gender inequality.  

2. Listen

Many studies have found that men are often perceived to be poor listeners. This should not be a shock to anyone. Research has also shown that what women appreciate most in their male allies are good listening skills. In one study, women described those skills as "generous listening with an intent to understand and not fix her or fix her problem." 

Not only will good listening skills help you be a better ally, it will help you be a better real estate agent, broker, friend, father, husband and human.

Listening is hard. It takes practice to be a good listener. That practice will pay off in spades. 

3. Speak up

We have all heard "locker room talk" and "boys will be boys" as excuses for bad male behavior. We've all seen men say inappropriate things to and about women. And we have all done nothing about it. 

Time to man up, fellas. To coin a cliche, if you see something, say something. Ignoring it implies you accept it. It doesn't matter if "it's just a joke," or if it seems like no big deal because a woman isn't around to hear it. It's wrong. Period. And it needs to be addressed. Right then, right there.

4. Shut up

Yes, we need to speak up when some knucklehead is being sexist (or worse). We also need to learn when to shut up. Stop the "mansplaining." No one, man or woman, needs to be talked down to like they are a child or an idiot. You are not a world-renowned expert on everything. There's no need to prove your superiority, ever. 

5. Suck it up

You know what's hard? Stepping up and telling another man he's being a jackass and needs to stop. But unless we speak up, this sort of behavior will never end. 
Yes, someone might think you're soft, not a "real man," if you step in and shut down bad behavior. Suck it up and get over it. Do you really care about the opinion of someone who judges you for doing the right thing?

6. Ask women for help

As men, we will never understand what it's like to be a woman and what they have to deal with at work, in school, at home and in life. I think most women would be glad to help a man become an ally, if that man genuinely asked them for help — without mansplaining. 

Guys, we can affect change. It will take time. It will take effort. It won't be easy, in fact it will be painful. But we cannot sit around doing nothing. This has been going on far too long.

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