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A powerhouse group of female real estate leaders took the Inman Connect Las Vegas stage on Wednesday to share their stories and encourage other women in the industry to be empowered and step into their own as leaders.
Kymber Menkiti of the Menkiti Group at Keller Williams Capital Properties started out her professional career as a social worker, but when her husband decided to transition into real estate and she saw that there were few young female executives in the industry, she recognized it was her time to step up.
“I stepped into leadership as a way to say, ‘Hey, there’s not enough of us [women],” Menkiti said.
Vanessa Bergmark of Red Oak Realty previously worked in criminal justice, but realized she had a calling as a salesperson, and although she has yet to pass a broker’s exam (she’s hired out brokers instead), she became CEO of an indie brokerage.
Melissa Sofia of The Avenue Home Collective fell into real estate as a young adult as her immigrant-real estate agent mother’s assistant in her business. When her mother died suddenly when Sofia was just 21, she had to take on the responsibilities of raising her younger brother and taking over her mother’s real estate business.
“I’m so grateful for that loss because it changed me into a stronger, better person,” Sofia said.
Kendall Bonner, on the other hand, got her law degree by age 24, but was ultimately inspired by her single mom, who was a doctor and entrepreneur, to become a business owner herself. Today she owns a number of companies, including a RE/MAX franchise, a mortgage company and an insurance company.
The four leaders discussed with panel moderator Clelia Warburg Peters some of the most challenging issues facing women working towards leadership roles today.
Peters brought up one stumbling block that all of the panel’s participants have shared during the careers: “Waiting for permission to step into the position of power and realizing you have to step up yourself,” Peters explained.
Menkiti pointed out that, statistically, women who are often over-qualified for positions tend to wait for an opportunity to be presented to them, while men, who are often under-qualified, go ahead and take opportunities for themselves.
“It’s not our industry,” Bergmark noted of the phenomenon. “It’s our world. We’re asked to prom. We’re asked to be married.”
“We need more people stepping into their power,” Bergmark added. “And we need more women stepping in, owning it, taking the risk.”
Peters added that women also face the challenge of an unspoken social tension that underlies the question of whether women are allowed to be outspoken, or how they might be publicly perceived if they’re assertive leaders. (The group had joked backstage that they should rename the panel “The Badass Bitches.”)
But the women added that leadership roles are often typecast as “alphas,” even though leadership is a very individual thing that can take many forms among different people.
“I don’t think you have to be an alpha,” Bergmark said. “The conversation has to change.”
Sofia noted that “feminine” qualities of leadership are often under-appreciated, and should be recognized as valuable, like creativity and building good relationships.
Bonner created her own acronym for “LEAD,” to remind herself of how she hopes to behave as a leader in her companies. “Listen, Empower, Appreciate and Develop,” she said. “That’s what a good leader does.”
In closing, the panel’s speakers imparted words of wisdom for female audience members to take with them.
“Own it,” Menkiti asserted. “Own what you bring to the table.”
Bergmark said that individuals in leadership roles must constantly evolve, and advised burgeoning female leaders to keep exploring and learning.
“Leadership is so ongoing,” she said. “Always stay curious. Keep exposing yourself.”
Sofia shared some advice for her younger self that she thought would also help growing leaders in the room.
“I would tell myself, ‘Don’t let anyone ever make you feel like you’re not the smartest person in the room,’” Sofia said. “Be unapologetically you.”
Bonner, meanwhile, used her platform as a leader to impart a message to all audience members about the importance of increasing diversity in the industry.
“One of the things that I think we’re missing in our industry is more diversity,” Bonner said. “I want to encourage you to have a commitment to more diversity.”