No one can predict the future of real estate, but you can prepare. Find out what to prepare for and pick up the tools you’ll need at the immersive Virtual Inman Connect online Nov. 1-2, 2023. And don’t miss Inman Connect New York on Jan. 23-25, 2024, where AI, capital and more will be center stage. Bet big on the roaring future, and join us at Connect.
Following a blistering New York Times exposé released on Saturday that alleged an ingrained workplace culture of sexual harassment at the National Association of Realtors — most blatantly by President Kenny Parcell — industry professionals expressed wide-ranging reactions to the news on social media and in interviews with Inman over the course of the weekend and the following week.
From exasperation to fury, to calls for more evidence and everything in between, opinions were strong.
The exposé, which drew on interviews with 29 current and former NAR employees and leaders, detailed claims from 19 members who said they endured sexual harassment on the job, and depicted an overall culture of harassment, retaliation and evasion.
“It’s time for more than statements,” Valerie Garcia, a real estate consultant and motivational speaker, said in a Facebook post on Inman’s Coast to Coast group page. “It’s time for consequences.”
A few commenters noted how tiresome it can be to see the same kind of sexual harassment issues in the workplace over and over again with few lasting changes.
“I am astonished at how often harassment is avoided or ignored for the greater good,” Rosemary Phinney Buerger, a licensed agent who is now Executive Director of the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce in Ohio, said. “The greater good should be that they face this issue head-on. It cannot be ignored. Women and any men who have faced harassment and unwanted advances shouldn’t have to sit quietly so as not to disturb the apple cart … ”
A number of Inman Coast to Coast commenters also expressed disappointment at the lack of public response from executives named at the top of T3 Sixty’s Power 200 list, a list released annually that ranks the most powerful and influential execs in the real estate industry.
“Yesterday, I looked at the socials of the top 15 or so in the T3 Sixty list to see if they had anything to say,” Jay Thompson, a retired industry vet and Inman contributor, wrote on Coast to Coast. “Crickets …”
By Monday, a few industry leaders started to release public statements, including Anywhere Brands President and CEO Sue Yannaccone.
Brown Harris Stevens CEO Bess Freedman and Coldwell Banker Realty President and CEO Kamini Lane, both of whom are vocal advocates for female empowerment in the industry, also sent Inman a comment.
“These allegations are indeed disturbing,” Freedman told Inman in an emailed statement. “There is no place for such behavior in real estate or in any other industry.”
“These troubling allegations underscore an unfortunate truth: that many women continue to face harassment, sexism, and unfair treatment in the workplace,” Lane added. “We always applaud the courage of women who speak out against bad actors. However, we can’t rely solely on their bravery to hold offenders accountable. NAR must enact unbiased structures, policies, and equitable practices that ensure a safe and respectful workplace for all.”
‘It’s high time for a deep cleanse’
Several agents and industry professionals said President Parcell’s resignation was a necessary first step in remediation, alongside properly acknowledging the experiences of the women in the expose.
“I’m certainly no stranger to bad actors in the industry and have experienced situations at industry events that made me really uncomfortable and had spoken out at that time,” Stacie Staub of West + Main Homes told Inman. “I really urge the organization to properly investigate and take immediate action. We just have to do better.”
“I’m calling for the immediate resignation of Kenny Parcell as a first and immediate action, I think that’s pretty cut and dry,” she added. “I would also like clarification from Bob Goldberg on what action the organization is going to take and that there will be a complete acknowledgment of the women who stood up, to make sure there is a better environment provided to everyone from the top down.”
Industry coach and Inman contributor Bernice Ross echoed Staub’s sentiments and said NAR must go a step further than simply removing Parcell. The coach said the organization must address “widespread” issues that enable Parcell’s alleged behavior to go unchecked.
“Debra Kamin’s investigative report has revealed deeply troubling allegations of sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliatory actions taken against NAR staff and volunteers that can no longer be ignored,” Ross said in a statement sent to Inman. “While Kenny Parcell is a central figure in these claims, Kamin’s story suggests the issues are much more widespread.”
“These behaviors have no place in an organization that stands for ethics and standards. Every implicated individual, regardless of their position, must be held accountable,” she added. “It’s high time for a deep cleanse of the senior leadership team at NAR and for those who have been complicit to face the consequences of their actions.”
Agents received the remediation they were looking for late Monday when Parcell announced his resignation.
“This letter serves as my resignation as President of the National Association of Realtors. Being elected to this position has been a highlight in my career,” he said. “My resignation comes after a series of accusations against me that are categorically false. I am deeply troubled by those looking to tarnish my character and mischaracterize my well-intended actions.”
“Putting the organization and the Brand first comes with the title of President,” he added. “Leadership is about making tough choices; this resignation signifies that I will put the organization’s needs first to move forward above my own personal needs to stay in this position.”
‘It’s the beginning’
With Parcell’s resignation in the books, agents told Inman that’s only the first step to fixing a culture that’s rife with sexual harassment and gender inequality issues.
“Here’s our moment — if not now, when?” Staub told Inman. “Unfortunately it’s not the first time, and I’m afraid it won’t be the last. But right now, we can take the opportunity to update NAR’s policies and practices to make sure that sexual harassment doesn’t have a place in the organization.”
WAV Group Managing Partner Victor Lund said a first step for NAR would be improving its sexual harassment policy and requiring board members, consultants, contractors and vendors to complete training.
“Companies often overlook board members, consultants, contractors and vendors in their sexual harassment strategy,” he said in a text to Inman. “It is just as important to get a verification of sexual harassment training from those categories of people as it is to get an NDA signed.”
“The training programs are offered online for free in most states, and take less than half of a day,” he added. “There is no reason why every association and MLS would not make them mandatory for anyone interacting with their staff. It puts the staff and others on the same page. Education is a big part of eradicating sexual harassment in the workplace.”
Garcia said she wants she wants total transparency from NAR going forward, instead of neatly packaged quotes aimed at quickly sweeping a situation under the rug.
“If you’ve done internal investigations, be transparent about the results of those,” she said. “If you guys are saying, ‘Oh, we’re taking action,’ be transparent about what those actions are. We want more than just a statement saying, ‘We take this seriously.’ Show us.”
Garcia said the lack of transparency and accountability at NAR keeps the organization’s employees and members in danger, inside and outside of the office. Garcia said it’s unacceptable that female Realtors must live with the fear that they’ll be sexually harassed, in addition to the other well-documented dangers that come with being a woman in the industry.
“We preach about safety in an industry with 66 percent women who have to go out and literally be in situations where they could die on the job,” she said in reference to the tragic 2014 murder of Arkansas agent Beverly Carter. “We talk about realtor safety, and yet at the very top level, we’re not willing to say, ‘No, not on our watch, not in our conferences, not in our building.’”
“It’s not OK for us to have so many people walking around feeling unsafe and terrified,” she added.
Manhattan-based Compass agent Jason Haber who created the Change.org petition, “Demand the Immediate Resignation of Kenny Parcell, President of NAR,” reminded agents to continue putting pressure on NAR, even though Parcell has stepped down.
In a conversation before Parcell’s announcement, Haber said he was encouraging agents to boycott upcoming NAR events. The agent went a step further and contacted pro athletes Kurt Warner and David Robinson, both of whom have keynotes at two upcoming NAR events.
“Both are men of faith. Both are men of family values. I don’t think that they should be speaking, given the circumstances, and I think if they withdrew, that would send a huge statement that this kind of behavior is unacceptable and not tolerated,” he said. “That’s why I’m calling on this boycott of NAR events until this matter is resolved.”
In a brief follow-up conversation, Haber didn’t say if he still planned to boycott; however, he said he’s dedicated to making NAR change.
“The toxic culture existed at NAR before Kenny arrived, and it will be there after he departs until wholesale changes are made,” he said. “This is not the end of our work, it is the beginning.”
In a public statement Monday evening, newly minted NAR President Tracy Kasper said her tenure would usher in a “culture of comradery” with a Culture Presidential Advisory Group. Kasper didn’t share specific details about the Group; however, she said it would help create a “welcoming, safe and respectful workplace” at NAR.
“We have taken everything we have heard to heart. Our commitment to our staff and our members is unwavering, and we will continue to enhance the way we foster a welcoming, safe and respectful workplace,” she said. “We will work to ensure the relationship between staff and members acknowledges not only staff expertise and their commitment to the association in addition to the members.”
“The Culture Presidential Advisory Group we announced is one step forward in that. Bob Goldberg and his team also will be working in parallel with staff on their own culture council,” she added. “We are looking to make lasting and positive change and to do so as quickly as possible.”
North Carolina Realtor and former NAR Vice President of Advocacy Leigh Brown, who was quoted in the NYT exposé, said NAR must change at the systemic level. Brown said she specifically wants a fully transparent committee selection process along with term limits that prevent one person from holding a position year after year.
“The committee selection team that puts people into positions of leadership should not be the same people year after year, and it should be a published list,” she said. “Instead, that is a very internal process and I believe it feeds this culture of fear.”
“Our members want to serve. They want to do good things for property rights. They want to do good things for entrepreneurs,” she added. “They are afraid of losing the opportunity to do good things and so they won’t go against the leadership.”
Brown also encouraged Realtors to keep their NAR memberships — contrary advice to the growing number of Realtors who said they wanted to cancel their memberships or withhold dues until NAR adequately addressed the NYT allegations.
“Do not leave the organization, and do not stop paying dues,” she said. “If they would read the Teddy Roosevelt speech, ‘The Man in the Arena,’ they would realize that you do not affect change from the sidelines. You affect change by being in the middle of the room, even when it’s uncomfortable.”
“That’s one of the reasons I have continued in leadership, even when it’s uncomfortable because somebody has to be in the room,” she said.
Brown also encouraged Realtors to engage in some grassroots activism and pressure their local and state directors to call for a special meeting about Parcell and the overall issue of sexual harassment in NAR. “Any member who is upset should be researching who their local and state directors are that are appointed to the National Board of Directors,” she said. “Those are the people you should be calling.”