Last week, a new lawsuit against the National Association of Realtors was filed by a former executive at the trade who claims its president, Kenny Parcell, harassed female employees and fired her after she ended a relationship with him.
In the days since, NAR has doubled down on its support of Parcell, rejecting the claims of the executive, Janelle Brevard, even in the face of ongoing demands for accountability from its members, whose ranks now stand at 1.55 million.
Laws against sexual harassment and racial discrimination exist for good reason. Allowing such behavior to persist is not only morally wrong, but it’s also illegal. The leadership of all Realtor associations, but especially NAR, should set the standard for the highest levels of professional conduct for the entire industry.
The question is what happens if it doesn’t?
NAR says an independent law firm dug into Brevard’s claims, but what does that entail, and did they take her deposition? Did they review all of the evidence?
Brevard’s complaint references three other women who allegedly have claims against Parcell. How can NAR decide to “vigorously defend” against this suit when the law firm they hired may have had only some of the facts? Shouldn’t NAR be digging deeper into these claims to discover what other evidence may exist against Parcell before spending members’ dues on a “vigorous defense?”
Women are fed up and finding their own workarounds to avoid these situations
The California Association of Realtors (CAR) WomanUP! initiative launched in 2017 when CAR discovered that only 16 of the top 100 revenue-producing firms were run by women, despite the fact that women make up 66 percent of NAR membership. Their goal was to help more women step into leadership roles at senior positions in the industry or start their own brokerages.
Unfortunately, the problem is getting worse rather than better. The 2023 WomanUP! data show that the number of women in executive positions has decreased from 21 percent in 2019 to 15 percent in 2023.
As part of the WomanUP! initiative, I conducted 75 interviews over three years with senior women leaders and broker-owners about their leadership path. The most surprising finding for me was,
All but one of the women interviewed who had started her own company did so due to the failure of the major brands to meet their needs both professionally and personally. Although women reported gender, racial and age discrimination, there was universal agreement that you push through these issues rather than using them as excuses.
In other words, an increasing number of women are opting to create their own businesses that are designed to support their goals and dreams as opposed to climbing the corporate ladder or putting up with the politics inside large companies and associations.
The only woman in the room
I’ve been running my Awesome Females in Real Estate Conference since 2007. About 80 percent of our attendees have been the only woman in the room during at least part of their career.
All of us have our own stories about being marginalized, “patted on the head,” having our ideas coopted by the men in the room, being told we talk too much, being forced to resign, or being “laid off” when we dared to speak up about accounting irregularities, violations of the law, sexual harassment and discrimination.
Sadly, the behaviors described above create tremendous pressure on women to stay silent when they experience sexism, discrimination, and even outright abuse. Many factors contribute to this phenomenon, including the perceived risk of retaliation, concerns over damaging one’s career, and societal norms that tend to blame the victim rather than the perpetrator.
One of the most fascinating things I have discovered is that the guys are often not the problem — instead it’s other women who are threatened, jealous, and/or covet someone else’s status or position. They can be far more vicious than most men.
Why it’s so difficult to share the truth
During the 20 years I taught at Pierce College, I discovered that about one out of seven of my students had been sexually abused or assaulted, in most cases, by a family member or friend.
The courage it takes to step forward and speak the truth about what they have experienced is profound. Time after time, I’ve been the first person they have ever opened up to because they were ashamed, blamed themselves for what happened, or literally were afraid for their lives and those of their children.
What it takes to leave an abusive relationship, report rape or incest, or other horrific events where you are blamed and the perpetrators lie about it, simply isn’t worth the risk to most women. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what allows this behavior to continue.
In fact, during the last year alone, I’ve personally heard of at least eight examples of women I know who have experienced sexual harassment or were “laid off” after having an affair with someone higher up in their company.
In one of the most horrific cases, a female administrator at a small-town brokerage was being forced to have sex with the broker-owner if she wanted to keep her job. Even though I explained what could be done, she couldn’t afford to move and had two little kids she had to put first.
In another disturbing example, a new female broker-owner was targeted by four other male brokers intent on putting her out of business. They cornered her when she was by herself at association events, told her how incompetent she was, that she could never cut it in their market, and then ruthlessly went about bad-mouthing her as a strategy to recruit her agents from her company.
In the case above, however, she had the last laugh. Her firm just became one of the top-producing companies in her market area. When the top-producing companies were honored by her local board, she put on her high heels and pink lipstick and proudly claimed her place at the table.
By the way, while her agent count was increasing, the men who bad-mouthed her were having recruiting and retention problems.
Sadly, our culture encourages women to remain silent about their experiences of sexism, discrimination and even outright abuse. Many factors contribute to this phenomenon, including the perceived risk of retaliation, concerns over damaging one’s career, and societal norms that tend to blame the victim.
When individuals experience discrimination or harassment in the workplace, they often grapple with complex emotional responses. Fear, shame and self-doubt can prevent victims from speaking out. Encouraging an environment where these experiences are shared without fear of retribution is paramount.
Women have had enough
Sarah Zdeb, broker-owner, JPAR Carolina Living, summed up the attitude of the women who attend my Awesome Females regarding this kind of behavior:
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked, “Who did you sleep with to get here?” I’m proud to say the answer to that question is Zero — I got here on my own.
This has gone on long enough. For decades, women have fought to have a peaceful place in the workplace. We’re fed up and were not willing to tolerate any more.
Systemic change is needed NOW
Another woman who holds a very senior position in the industry summed up what she’s hearing from other women in leadership as well as those who are too terrified to speak up.
I am infuriated and exhausted. Here we are… AGAIN.
This is a clear example of the abuse of power wielded by a man over the women around him. Let’s be clear — MULTIPLE WOMEN have come forward. This is one man denying the claims of many women with various harassment and discrimination claims. I believe the saying “the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle” — and even the middle of this situation is nowhere for a leader of a powerful organization to be.
The Association of Realtors “volunteer” leadership structure is antiquated and begging to be redesigned. These individuals have a ludicrous amount of power and often reign with fear, intimidation, and an “untouchable” attitude — because they are (for the most part) unstoppable. The checks and balances are missing. Who governs the committee to oversee, correct, or challenge their behavior, spending, and selections? It reeks of the misogynistic, wretched systems designed by the power-hungry many of us are fighting in other aspects of our lives.
The people who ascend into volunteer leadership positions are treated like royalty during their short terms. They appoint people to powerful committees that change the trajectory of the entire industry and become part of the community that nominates and trains future leaders. The character of the president of such a powerful association should be beyond reproach.
I wholeheartedly believe NAR should request that he [Kenny Parcell] steps down from his position while this suit moves forward. It is the right thing to do. This industry may be male-designed, but it is female-dominated — and we are no longer keeping quiet. In true Gen-X style, you may not see us shouting all over social media, but don’t be fooled by our silence -— we are filled with righteous rage, and we are rising.
Bernice Ross, president and CEO of BrokerageUP and RealEstateC