Men, we need to learn when to shut up

Men, we need to learn when to shut up

Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent over six years working for Zillow Group. He’s also the co-founder of AgentLoop. He “selectively retired” in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column is published every Wednesday.

OK fellas, it’s time for a lesson — a lesson that I’ve been trying to learn for 60-plus years. A lesson that, while I’m doing better with it, I still fail on a semi-regular basis. We all do, some of us more regularly than others. To be frank, some of us fail repeatedly and miserably. Worse, some of us can’t even acknowledge that there’s a lesson to be learned. The overarching lesson is how we treat, talk to, live and work with women. That’s too broad in scope to digest in one column so let me narrow it down to one subtopic — respect.

Generally speaking, men do a pretty poor job of respecting women. Right now, someone reading this column is thinking, “Oh dear God. This guy is a ‘woke’ liberal. I have the utmost respect for women. I don’t need to hear this.”Yes, you do need to hear this. I am a white, cisgender, heterosexual male. Given that, I can’t possibly fully grasp what a woman, a “minority,” a non-binary/transgender person, or a bi/homosexual thinks, feels or is subjected to in their day-to-day lives.

Oh, I may think I know. But I can’t know, and neither can you. What I can do is try to understand, keep an open mind and observe. And in the proper place at the proper time, I can speak up.

First-hand disrespect, misogyny and ignorance

When it comes to women, here are just a few things I’ve observed over the years:

  • While watching a woman present on stage at a real estate conference, two guys sitting behind me were commenting about the size and shape of the presenter’s ass, and what they’d like to do with it.
  • In the workplace, managers were meeting to discuss employee promotion cycles. “We can’t promote her now, she’s publicly mentioned she’s trying to get pregnant,” came up in the conversation. As the department’s human resources manager at that time, I shut that down immediately. But the damage was already done. Not all that surprisingly, the manager that spewed this nonsense was terminated a few months later for sexual harassment.
  • A broker telling one of their female agents to “put their big girl panties on.”
  • A broker telling their entire roster of agents, male and female, “Real estate is a man’s world.” About two weeks later, a female agent in that office was reviewing a difficult transaction when a male agent said, “Well, real estate is a man’s world.” Another female replied, “You need to STFU with that nonsense!” He looked at me with, “Help me out, Bro!” All I could say was, “She’s not wrong, you’re on your own. Bro.”
  • A seller my wife represented addressed her with, “I need a strong go-getter negotiating my position. Your husband should do the talking.” (Note, my wife immediately fired that client. He turned to me and said, “What are you going to do about this?” My response was, “Nothing. Goodbye.”)
  • “How am I supposed to focus on what she’s saying if she’s wearing that low-cut blouse?”
  • The “good old boys club” still reigns supreme in parts of the industry. Look no further than the answers to the most recent Inman Pulse survey, “Here are the barriers you see to leadership for women in real estate.”

Those are all pretty glaring examples of disrespect, misogyny, and ignorance. I don’t know how deep this sort of thinking (and action) lies in our industry, but one instance is one too many.

Sadly, it’s far more than a one-time occurrence. It took all of 15 seconds to recall the examples listed above. I honestly can’t count the number of snide comments, furtive glances and sexual innunedos I’ve seen directed toward women first-hand. It needs to stop.

Stop with the denial

Another thing that needs to stop is the dismissal and denial that happens whenever this topic is broached. Saying, “I’ve never seen this” doesn’t mean that it’s not a problem. “I haven’t observed this, therefore it doesn’t happen” is a fallacy known as an appeal to ignorance. This ignorance ran wild when Newsday’s Long Island Divided project was published.

Over and over agents commented that they’ve never witnessed the racial discrimination and profiling Newsday uncovered, therefore there was no discrimination in real estate.

The same thing happens in discussions on women’s issues. It’s not just ignorant, it’s nonsense. Then, there is just flat-out denial that women have issues and concerns specific to their gender.

“The only REAL ‘barrier’ to women in real estate leadership is personal limitations/choices. Just like it is for men in real estate,” was a comment left on the Pulse survey answers.

That smacks of not just ignorance, but victim-blaming.

Even the well-meaning make mistakes

Men probably mean well when they respond in “women’s issues” discussions with things like, “I have a daughter (or mother, or wife), so I actively promote women in the industry.” Good for you. But that creates the impression that you only care because you happen to have a daughter.

This, in effect, grants permission for other men to dismiss women who are not directly related to them or who they don’t have strong feelings for or friendships with.

Sometimes we need to simply step back and allow women to discuss women’s issues with other women.

Again, well-meaning as you may be, as a man, you do not, and cannot, know what women have to deal with.

It’s OK, good in fact, for women to have a “safe space” to discuss things. Perfectly fine to have LGBTQ+ spaces. Black spaces. Hispanic Spaces. Old people spaces. Young people spaces. And sure, even male spaces.

Stop butting into others’ safe spaces

I’m personally guilty of doing this as recently as two days ago. A thread was started in the Inman Coast to Coast Facebook group to take a deeper dive into the “Good old boys” Pulse responses. Men started in with usual redirection and denial, and a woman replied with, “Maybe the men should recuse themselves from answering on this one … ”I’ll admit it, I found this a bit annoying. So, with little thought, I replied, “I’ve seen examples of the good ol’ boys club in action, have written and spoken about it, and supported a lot of women (and men) in this business. But my observations don’t count because I’m a male? Really?”There I went, invading a space that wasn’t really meant for me. I most certainly could have, and should have, worded that differently. Or better yet, just sat back and observed. Listened. Sometimes (many times) all we need to do is just listen.

Take what you hear to heart. Stop mansplaining. Stop feeling the need to jump in and defend yourself in every thread. Respect the safe spaces. Start with being tolerant of other people’s thoughts and opinions.

You don’t have to agree wholeheartedly, just be tolerant. You may be amazed what simply exercising professional courtesy and respect can do for your reputation, and for your growth personally and professionally. Let’s do better.

Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and co-founder of AgentLoop living in the Texas Coastal Bend. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty. Called “the hardest working retiree ever,” as the founder of Jay.Life, he writes, speaks and consults on all things real estate.

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