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Published in the early hours of Saturday morning, Debra Kamin’s New York Times exposé detailing a culture of harassment and intimidation at the National Association of Realtors is having a seismic impact on the industry, and on the 66 percent of its dues-paying membership that’s made up of women.
Update: Following publication of the NYT story on Saturday morning, NAR President Kenny Parcell resigned before the end of the day on Monday. Find out more: NAR President Kenny Parcell resigns after NYT exposé
With so many people talking on the record and on background, there is a lot to get a handle on and a variety of ways to process the stories being told. Much depends on your personal perspective and the way that your own background resonates with the experiences being described here.
Thus, there is no “right” answer to the question of “What are the most important takeaways?” However, here are five things that stood out to me on a first reading.
1. Most of the women interviewed are over 50
One of the things that people often use as an excuse in these types of situations is that “times change” or that the women involved “misunderstood” what was happening. Often this is chalked up to an age difference between the harasser and the harassed, with the assumption being that the person being harassed didn’t understand that it was all “just a joke.”
The women quoted in this story were, for the most part, over 50. They have been around long enough to know what’s appropriate and what’s professional and to understand what’s a joke and what’s not. While young women in this position are often dismissed as “snowflakes” or “triggered,” the women in this story were experienced professionals, often with decades of service to real estate and to the organization. They didn’t misconstrue the behavior on display.
2. This is about more than sex
One woman quoted in the story, Amy Swida, NAR’s director of business meetings and events, was sidelined professionally after she became “visibly” pregnant. Roshani Sheth who was fired from her job as a product manager for NAR subsidiary Realtors Information Network, was told that her ambition was “unattractive.” North Carolina Realtor Leigh Brown said that leaders are expected to sign a pledge vowing to “report those who disparage the organization.”
Sexual harassment and assault are about power, not sex. The ways in which the women in the story were undermined were about diminishing their power, including the power to talk about what was being done to them. In some cases, it’s less about sexuality and much more about gender dynamics and the “appropriate” role for women to play in society and in professional settings.
3. This is bigger than Parcell
While Parcell is prominently featured in the story, the incidents related here took place in a variety of NAR-related settings, including Move, Inc. This is not a case of “one bad apple.” This is a case of systemic corruption that was allowed to go on unchecked, supported in part by payoffs and non-disclosure agreements.
One passage from the story includes details about a 2020 lawsuit brought against Move for “multiple incidences of sexual harassment.” Move executives, according to the complaint “minimized violent, sexually charged conversations at work events, describing them as male Realtors ‘just being boys.’”
4. Kamin brought the receipts, literally
One of the ways some may have sought to assuage their concerns about harassment at NAR was the withdrawal of Janelle Brevard’s lawsuit after only nine days. Kamin’s reporting, however, shows that this followed a $107,000 payout from NAR. Other women quoted in the story were also offered “severance payments,” in exchange for dropping their legal actions and signing non-disclosure agreements.
Brevard’s current attorney, Bruce Fox, takes issue with NAR’s characterization of the payment to Brevard as “a payment to help [Brevard] move forward in life.”
“Feeling intimidated by such a powerful adversary, she agreed to promptly settle her case,” he said.
5. Denial is NAR’s only plan
In the year or so between Brevard’s termination and the publication of the Times’ article, NAR published several pieces of content on the topic of sexual harassment, including an op-ed from CEO Bob Goldberg just days before. Even in the article itself, denial was the organization’s only strategy.
“I am a friendly and outgoing person in a world that is growing ever more cynical, conflicted, and cold,” said Mr. Parcell in a statement. “Well-intended actions on my part are being twisted and distorted.”
When asked in an interview if the organization has an issue with sexual harassment, the N.A.R. chief executive Bob Goldberg said, “I would not characterize it as a problem.”
The one thing no one has seen, either in the article or in any of NAR’s direct communication, is an acknowledgment of any issues or a reckoning for any of the individuals named in complaints or legal actions.
At the time of this writing, the only people who have lost their jobs are the women who spoke up in the face of unconscionable harassment.