Women play an important role in the real estate industry today, making up 61% of the membership at the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors®. But that wasn’t always the case. As the association marks its 100th anniversary, one female past president recalls when the state association didn’t allow women to join.
Sally Heimbrook has been in real estate for 65 years. When she first became an agent, the association didn’t accept females as members. “When I started, of course, women were not recognized in the real estate industry,” she recalls. “After a few years, I was able to join the board. And eventually, I moved up through the positions and came to a point where they actually wanted me to be their president.”
Heimbrook went on to serve as president of the Beaver County Association of Realtors® and in 1986, she became the second woman to serve as president of PAR. Since Jane Theuerkauf of Erie served as PAR’s first female president in 1978, eight other women have led the state association.
Sandy Stevens was PAR president in 1992 and recalls one of the first local association meetings she attended when someone asked her if she was the entertainment for the meeting. Stevens has the unique distinction of being part of the only couple who both served as president. Her husband, Thadd Stevens, was PAR president in 1984.
“I was quite discouraged, after my initial Realtor® meeting to continue as an active Realtor® in Johnstown, and very well may have left the industry except for the encouragement of a man I met at a seminar in Pittsburgh,” Stevens recalled. “He encouraged me after we had talked a considerable amount at the table we were seated. He simply told me I had what it takes to become a really good, productive, real estate agent and to stick with it. He also told me I could contact him if I wanted to talk to someone. That man was Howard Hanna, who turned 100 years old, this past year. Today, I am licensed with Howard Hanna Realty Pioneers. Mr. Hanna was my hero and I have carried his words with me through my 50-year career.”
PAR’s fourth female president Janice Smarto, who served in 1999, recalls the same issues. “When I was licensed 42 years ago, real estate was a man’s profession,” she said. “It was difficult to move forward because the local association was comprised of businessmen. I was the only woman at the meetings.”
“Over the years, I’ve seen many more women get into the business. One of the major reasons is the flexibility,” she added. “As far as women moving into leadership positions, I think it’s great because we have a different perspective on leading. There’s a place for longevity in the Realtors® associations and for identifying future leaders.”
PAR’s 2013 President Bette McTamney said she was determined when she entered the real estate industry. “I remember that sometimes I was looked at as if I was a bit bold, pushing ahead, and both men and women told me to take it slow. But when I realized it was only me who was going to push myself to excel in real estate, that changed my approach,” she said. “Being an independent contractor made me focus very quickly.”
McTamney has noticed more women joining the Realtor® ranks. “This industry gives us many different opportunities to advance and grow and with that comes another level of fulfilling accomplishments of a different category,” she said. “Being a friend and mentor to some new Realtors® made me very happy as I watched those individuals become strong successful Realtors®, and some have followed the path of leadership as well. Whether opening their own offices or becoming strong forces in our communities, they advanced and moved on because they believed they could do it. I do like to encourage men and women to consider serving as leaders, especially when you can see their attitude and commitment to this business.”
“I would absolutely encourage other women considering becoming a leader to focus on what you need to get into this phase of your life,” she said. “I believe one of the most accomplished highlights of my career was serving as president of the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors®. That came after a lot of preparation, dedication and a dream and goal I set for myself. It took me a long time to do it and I honestly wish I did it sooner so I could have accomplished a lot more. Having faith in yourself is where it starts, then an ‘I can do this’ approach will make it happen.”