‘She-cession’ Takes On New Meaning For Moms In The Real Estate Industry
Women contribute nearly $8 trillion to the national GDP each year, according to the Center for American Progress.
And women exiting the workforce now, as a result of the pandemic, could have a significant ripple effect on women in the workforce at large and in leadership roles in years to come, according to a study by McKinsey that showed senior-level women in the workforce are more likely to champion gender and racial diversity and more likely to mentor other women compared to their male counterparts.
Still, the pandemic has forced many working women to make difficult decisions about work-life balance, and a sizable portion have opted to drop out of the workforce in order to help keep things functioning at home, giving genesis to the term “she-cession.” As of February 2021, almost 3 million American women had dropped out of the labor force since the year before.
Real estate hasn’t suffered the same economic losses as many industries during the pandemic, however. With the market operating at a record pace since the industry reopened in late spring of 2020, many women in real estate now have actually had record years. But that doesn’t mean keeping their business operating while managing duties at home has been easy.
Although there were exceptions, most female real estate professionals with kids at home Inman spoke with said they became the primary caregiver of their children during the pandemic, which meant acting as mom, teacher and businesswoman at different points throughout the day — or sometimes all at once.
Time, sleep and relationships were some of the most striking sacrifices women spoke of to Inman. These are their stories.
Engel & Völkers, Chicago
Jennifer Ames is lucky if she gets six hours of sleep a night. Before the pandemic, she was working on self-care, aiming for at least seven-and-a-half hours of sleep a night, but now that she has to make lunches and get her three kids set up for school in the morning on her own, that doesn’t happen anymore. She has a pair of twins in eighth grade and one kid in ninth grade. At the start of the pandemic, her family let their nanny go because of concerns over COVID.
“I’ve actually never had to work as hard as I do now,” Ames told Inman. “This should be the time when I can kind of coast along, but I think — and this applies to a lot of people — women especially, because even though the world has changed a lot, I think household responsibilities still in many families land on the shoulders of the women. So, there’s this whole range of things that changed for us as working moms, which, we had to worry about things that we never really had to worry about. Like, I never had to worry about my children’s mental health until this year.”
One of the most challenging parts of adapting to pandemic life for Ames has been learning how to switch her hats quickly from responsible mom to strong team leader to caring daughter. She worries about her kids, she worries about the health and livelihood of all her team members, and she also worries about the physical and emotional health of her aging parents who have been largely isolated during this time. Many of her agents too have discussed among themselves this type of code-switching they have to constantly be prepared to do.
“The way that I’ve coped with all this, is I’m just getting a lot less sleep right now,” she said. “You can’t really focus.”
Like many women Inman spoke with, Ames has taken to diligently scheduling out her time, to the point where she has a recurring appointment on her calendar for her whole team to see for when she needs to go home and make dinner for her family.
“I think as a woman, you do tend to be responsible for a broader range of things simultaneously,” Ames said. “You know, we’re the ultimate multitaskers. The pressure on every front, for me at least, has been crazy.”
While expressing gratitude for her husband’s support during this time and how the pandemic has brought them closer together, Ames also pretty matter-of-factly noted that his adoption of responsibilities at home just didn’t match hers.
“He’s still a guy, so he can only do one thing at a time,” Ames said. “Guys are helpful, they just don’t seem to be as much wearing all those hats. But we make it work.”
Coldwell Banker, Harrisburg
Not that they could have anticipated it, but Christina Bailey, a team leader at Coldwell Banker, and her husband, were completely blindsided by the pandemic. Days before things began shutting down in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, they closed on a bar that her husband had quit his job to run.
“My husband quit his job, and he had a very good job, and that was to be his income basically,” Bailey told Inman. “So we were looking to replace his income, about $120,000, and we took on the debt of the bar.”
On the real estate side of things, Bailey largely manages and runs her team and isn’t out selling houses herself anymore. So it was imperative that she made sure her team members could continue to conduct transactions smoothly, now that the livelihood of she, her husband and her 18-year-old son depended on it.
Fortunately, the team, which was Coldwell Banker’s top team in 2019, ended up selling more in volume during 2020 than the year before, helping keep Bailey’s family afloat.
“From the standpoint of women in business, I’m the sole income here at this point … our only income is real estate [now] and thank God the real estate market is good and didn’t go down at all like a lot of businesses did because I don’t know what I would do,” Bailey said. “We had to rise and overcome and figure out a way to keep going and keep selling houses and I think that was so crucial in the pandemic.”
While Bailey and her husband have struggled to keep business at the bar up, other members of her team have had their own multiple responsibilities to juggle. Bailey relayed the story of two different assistants on her team, both of whom have multiple kids at home: one is a single mom who just couldn’t continue being productive during the day while also making sure her four kids all kept up with schoolwork, and the other is a mom of two kids under the age of five and wife to an essential worker, who now regularly begins her days at 4 a.m. so she can fit it all in.
Meanwhile, Bailey said through it all, her son, who graduated from high school last spring, probably bore the brunt of the sacrifices her own family had to make.
“Quite honestly, I think in my life at least, my son took the biggest sacrifice, where I just wasn’t available to him because I had to do other things to keep money flowing,” Bailey said. “And … I don’t want to say he doesn’t care, but he’s old enough to understand and know there’s other things going on right now.”
Lyon Real Estate, Sacramento
Tanya Curry became the “huntress” in her family because of the pandemic. With an older husband and a 13-year-old son at home, Curry felt responsible for minimizing their risk of catching the virus. Since she was deemed an essential worker and had to leave the house for home showings anyways, it made the most sense to become food-gatherer too.
“I actually had to be more organized, more disciplined, more planned to make sure I could go out and do the hunting and get the food because I wanted the kid and the husband to … be exposed as little as possible to the outside bubble of our home,” Curry said. “That was a juggling act.”
The first time she had to go out and show a home after shutdowns, Curry was so worried about bringing contaminants back home to her family that she didn’t go into the house for the showing with her client, and subsequently stripped her clothes off in her garage when she got home before entering the house.
Fortunately for Curry and her husband, who has also been working from home since the pandemic’s start, she said their son adapted really well to Zoom school, because as an only child, he was already pretty independent. But for those times when he might need help, she said they mostly share the responsibility.
“It was 50/50 really, we still shared that [responsibility],” Curry said. “So, it was having to adjust my schedule and knowing when he might need help so that I wouldn’t be in that serious online meeting.”
Alyssa Hellman and Lynn Johnson
Keller Williams Realty Platinum, Raleigh
Alyssa Hellman and Lynn Johnson are a married couple with one 11-year-old and one 9-year-old.
They also run the My Southern View Team at Keller Williams Realty Platinum outside of Raleigh, North Carolina. With the two women out running around every day to help clients buy and sell homes in this hot market, it would be understandable if their home life suffered as a result. But the couple told Inman that after an initial adjustment period, they really hit their stride as a couple and a family during the pandemic — even if some days it feels like they’re just two ships passing in the night.
“Lynn and I often joke that we pass each other in the night because with both of us in real estate and the market as active as it is, it’s kind of rare that you have both of us home right now,” Hellman told Inman. “But normally it’s like, she comes [home], and I tap out so that I can go show a house or be with a client or vice versa, so it’s not really a ton of us both home at the same time during the workday, which is a lot of how we’ve been able to manage all of this.”
Even though the kids’ school has allowed in-person learning to resume at this point, the family opted to continue learning remotely through the end of the year, just to keep consistency for everyone, particularly with the market being as quick as it is right now. Since the kids get done with their school day much earlier than Hellman and Johnson get done with their workdays, there have been many times when the kids tag along with them either together or separately for appointments and showings, which has been a good learning experience.
“I think both of our kids could probably pass a real estate exam with flying colors at this point,” Hellman said.
The way the couple has adopted a flexible mentality and open-minded approach to balancing home and work life has helped them achieve a pretty rare equal share of responsibilities.
“I think the biggest takeaway from Alyssa and I being a same-sex couple is that we don’t have clearly defined roles in our relationship, so we are both mom, and we’re both dad in this situation,” Johnson said. (The kids do spend weekends with their biological father.)
“She and I both take our responsibilities very [seriously], and also it’s not like, ‘hey, you go to work, and I’ll stay home, and I’ll be the mom, and I’ll take care of the kids, and I’ll do everything for the kids.’ We are both very much focused on our careers, but the only truly way we’ve been able to be so successful and focused on our career is that we’re able to help each other and we are true partners in this relationship and it’s not, one has this role and the other has that role. We share so many roles.”
Engel & Völkers, Atlanta
Christa Huffstickler jokes that during the pandemic she got a second job: full-time mom.
The owner and CEO of Engel & Völkers Atlanta has three daughters, all 10 or under, two of whom are twins. With three young girls to raise, Huffstickler noted that she was already stretched thin before the pandemic because most responsibilities involving the girls fell on her.
“I love my husband, and he’s really good at taking direction, but oh dear God, he cannot come up with a unique idea for solving problems. I mean, bless him,” Huffstickler told Inman. “If I left these things up to my husband, there’s no telling what these little girls would look like. I mean, don’t get me wrong, but it just falls on me.”
When she was forced to stay at home for a month or so of shutdowns, Huffstickler said it was almost “a relief of sorts,” because it reconnected her to her home and children, a place she often felt guilty for running in and out of amid her busy schedule.
Not having to run her kids and herself around to different activities or meetings allowed Huffstickler to gain about an extra hour a day, but that time was easily eaten up by helping her kids with remote learning, which often translated into working later into the night to tackle things on her own “perpetual to-do list.”
“What happens is, you have to find the time somewhere,” Huffstickler said. “And we’ve often talked about this just even with [my] other staff members, that working from home or being remote, we were all working longer hours, we were all putting in more … because once you get the kids situated, and then you do have to carve out some amount of time to then become a part-time school teacher.”
Huffstickler’s company did booming business in 2020, increasing volume production and unit sales by about 50 percent. But she said the emotional toll the pandemic took on everyone in the company wasn’t negligible.
“We may have financially done better, but the sweat equity impact, emotional impact on the last year was certainly substantial,” Huffstickler said. “Greater than I’ve ever known in my career.”
M.N.S. Real Estate, New York
About two-thirds of the executive and management team at M.N.S. Real Estate are women, and the majority of those women have children at home, Highlyann Krasnow, a partner at the brokerage, told Inman. That kind of team composition resulted in a pretty stressful pandemic for everyone at an individual and group level.
Krasnow, who has two teenage daughters, felt like managing two teenagers while running a company during this time was stressful enough. But her sister, who has two kids who are 7- and 8-years-old and also works for the company, probably had it even harder, she said.
“She was still trying to manage Zoom calls for work and her work life, as well as managing her kids’ education, and that was a very stressful time,” Krasnow said. “And I think that’s pretty much the same story with every female in my office who has young children. Becoming a teacher, as well as a parent, and as well as having a full-time job, ended up being an exhausting and … a large emotional toll I think on everyone.”
Through juggling it all, the company was actually able to grow over the last year, “as the work kept piling on,” Krasnow said. But that came at the expense of a lot of personal sacrifices.
“Everyone was extremely dedicated,” Krasnow said. “However, I also feel a lot of guilt because we were all working a lot longer hours than we would have been normally. A lot of that has to do with the fact that it would almost be easier to take calls and make appointments, like Zoom appointments and things like that, and get work done after school hours, meaning we wouldn’t be working until 5, 6 [p.m.], but until 7, 8, 9 [p.m.] instead.”
For the one male partner on her executive team who does have kids, Krasnow said his pandemic experience as a parent has been a lot different from the women parents on the team.
“I think for him, the experience is actually a very positive one, because he was able to spend more time with his kids at home during quarantine and because his wife was also home taking on the burden of the childcare and schooling,” Krasnow said. “He just had the benefit of eating lunch with his kids every day.”
Living Room Realty, Portland
Once the pandemic’s gravity became clear — and it was obvious that their 7-year-old daughter wouldn’t be going back to school for a while — Kim Parmon and her husband made the joint decision for him to close his small business as an energy assessor and stay home with their daughter full-time.
“It’s a combination of me being the higher earner and also him having asthma and being concerned being at people’s properties,” Parmon explained. “So we made the decision to keep him home in the long term. He’s also just a more patient human being, being honest. He’s better at the home schooling piece and so we just really evaluated it from the position of our strengths as a couple and made that decision — and it’s been challenging for him.”
Since their daughter was born, Parmon said she and her husband have consciously taken turns prioritizing each other’s careers, “trading off when necessary.” But their relationship wasn’t always as equitable as it is now, and Parmon said it’s taken hard work and effort to get to the point they’re at today.
“Frankly, at the beginning of our relationship, we didn’t have the same dynamic that we do [now],” she said.
“He’s always been a very progressive and open-minded guy, but it’s deep-seated in this country, this idea that women are the caregivers and men are the breadwinners and I had to kind of force the position to some extent, despite the fact that I have a husband who describes himself as ‘being raised by wild hippies.’ He’s very open-minded and progressive, but even still, there have been times where I’ve had to push a little bit, the boundaries. And now, years later, we’re very equal in our contributions and the way we do things …”