A New Group For Women In Real Estate Is Expanding Across The Country
A new organization that aims to help women network, learn and support each other as they work to advance their careers in the real estate industry is beginning to expand across the country.
The group, called Women in Real Estate, or W.I.R.E., started by hosting audio chat rooms on social media app Clubhouse, where it now has 55,000 members. It has expanded this year into an official organization with paying members, corporate sponsors and ticketed live events.
W.I.R.E. was founded by Kelani Blackwell, a Columbus, Ohio-based broker at CBRE, and Brittany Rose, a Northern Virginia-based real estate consultant and small-business owner.
The group is organized as a for-profit business, and the co-founders aim to eventually open chapters across the country as they continue to expand its membership base. W.I.R.E. is open to anyone, including men, but the two co-founders said they are especially focused on providing a space for women of color to learn about the industry and grow their networks.
"It was never really my intention to get on Clubhouse with the thought of creating a business," Blackwell said. "We just created safe spaces for women to talk about their experiences. When you lead with a cause, that resonates with people, and women wanted to be heard."
The group still hosts free chat rooms on Clubhouse, and it is planning to release free podcasts, but it is also now touring the country with paid live events that feature panel discussions and networking sessions, including brunch meetings.
The events, which cost between $60 and $75 to attend, began in April and have so far been held in Atlanta, Houston, Long Beach and Chicago. Blackwell said they have had between 80 and 120 people at each event. The group has additional events planned between October and January in New York City, Cleveland, New Orleans, Dallas and Miami.
"We choose venues that are less professional in nature," Blackwell said. "We're not doing conference centers or hotel ballrooms. We try to find minority-owned restaurants or lounges to create a more relaxed environment. By creating a relaxed environment and removing those corporate stigmas, I think people enter our events a lot more relaxed with less walls."
The organization also launched a subscription-based group called Women In Real Estate Mastermind that currently has around 55 members. The subscriptions cost $35 per week, $119 per month or $1,200 per year. Membership provides access to twice-monthly group meetings where members support each other with professional challenges, smaller discipline-specific meetings for women in similar sectors, monthly seminars with leading industry experts and an invitation to a members-only Slack channel.
Blackwell said W.I.R.E. has been adding members to the group in small cohorts, onboarding a few at a time to make sure they are getting enough attention. She said she has received strong interest from potential new members, and she expects the group could surpass 100 members in the next two to three months.
"Today, we're sitting at around 55, which is actually pretty incredible because these women are super committed and they're paying to be a part of this, which I think is a sign of taking this really seriously," Blackwell said.
Rose said they are especially focused on providing a space for women of color to feel comfortable talking about the challenges they face in the industry and to help each other advance their careers.
"We know that women are paid less and women of color are paid less than Caucasian women, so my viewpoint is when we lift from the bottom, everyone rises," Rose said. "When we are welcoming to everyone and we are intentional about helping those who are most in need, that we'll see greater results for anybody who's involved."
"With Kelani and I being women of color in the space, other women of color feel comfortable being more vulnerable than they might be in spaces that lack diversity," Rose added.
The co-founders said they are supportive of other women's real estate groups like CREW Network, an organization founded in 1989 that has thousands of members nationwide, and they think there is room for other groups to emerge in the space. Rose said it differentiates itself from groups like CREW by being open to women in both residential and commercial real estate.
"We're more approachable than some of the other organizations, and I like that there's a diversity in what we're providing to members," Rose said. "It's not just for commercial or residential, it's really for every woman."
The group's corporate sponsors include CBRE and Guaranteed Rate's Padi Goodspeed, who manages a branch for the mortgage lending firm, Blackwell said. She said it has also had one-time sponsors for individual events.
CBRE Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Manager Davina Linguist, who manages partnerships with diversity organizations, said the firm sponsored W.I.R.E.'s events in Chicago, Atlanta and Houston, and she has seen it as a positive way to connect with women and people of color in the industry.
"Women in Real Estate is a startup that has expanded rapidly, and they have proven their value in the way that they are bringing Black and Brown women and men to the table to learn more about commercial real estate," Linguist said.
Linguist said the group stands out from others in the space because its members aren't as established in the industry, and many are either entrepreneurs who have started their own businesses or industry newcomers who are looking for jobs in real estate. She said this helps CBRE with its initiatives to increase the diversity of its own employee base and of the suppliers with which it does business.
"It gives us both avenues where we're able to not only connect for talent but also to connect for business," Linguist said.
W.I.R.E. has organized itself as a for-profit business, the co-founders said, and they may launch separate nonprofit entities in the future for advocacy purposes. Rose said being a for-profit organization creates less paperwork and fewer restrictions on the group's activities.
"People often look at for-profit organizations as folks that aren't necessarily dedicated to doing good in the world, and for us our whole mission is to serve others and the money is just a byproduct of that," Rose said.
Rose also said being for-profit will help the group grow faster. She said it aims to establish local chapters in markets across the country, fund scholarships and create more opportunities for women to learn real estate skills and access resources to help them advance their careers.
"We've seen such amazing success," Rose said. "The community, camaraderie, the resource-sharing that's happened has just supercharged the trajectory of where our members are going. And we really want to be able to do that for so many more women and supporters of women."
Blackwell said she also hopes to bring on full-time staff and open a headquarters that could serve as an office and meeting space for its members. She said she hasn't decided where the headquarters would be located.
"As the brand continues to boom, and it's spreading like wildfire at this point, the goal is to be as accessible to people as possible," Blackwell said.