Women in Real Estate: Leading the Charge Toward Equal Access and a Level Playing Field


Desirée Patno has led women toward leadership and success throughout her three-decade career. As president and CEO of Desirée Patno, Inc. and founder of Women in the Housing & Real Estate Ecosystem (NAWRB), Patno leads the charge toward equal access for women and a level playing field for all.

“We have to look at this not as a feminist movement, or something in which there are too many movements because it becomes a ‘kitchen sink’ kind of thing, but more of an equal access thing,” says Patno. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a woman, if you’re a person of color, if you’re a Caucasian man, as long as we all have access to equality so that the best person gets the best job. This way, we will be able to achieve a better equilibrium.”

Here, Patno shares her strategies for success, and what it means to be an influential woman in the real estate industry.

What types of changes in real estate can help promote gender equality?
Desirée Patno: The reality is that women have been outpacing normal statistics, but we’re not as involved. If we’re going to build new construction, we’re going to have to be more integrated in that construction—to be heard and seen in the design of the home. We think of our homes as a sanctuary, and having women have their own four walls and hold control of their own domain is the base. We can mirror that success in the industry. If you see women saying, “I can do this,” others will say, “Hey, I can relate to her and maybe I can achieve that success, too.”

How do you measure success, and what motivates you?
DP: In the end, it’s about quality of life, and if I can help you go through your journey, then I feel I’ve been successful in my purpose of being on this earth. That’s why I created the podcast “Know the Rules of the Game.” If you know the rules, you can play the game. By taking those powerful words, you can get through anything. What motivates me is seeing that I have done something that makes you say, “Wow, thank you for being there to educate me,” and when I see their excitement, it gets me excited.

What do you hope to achieve in the long term?
DP: The end goal is creating and leveraging resources, especially for women, because we are siloed in society today. We have experts providing several angles, but what the industry needs is to connect those angles to create an ecosystem of thought and actionable deliverables. The NAWRB Women Housing Ecosystem Report was developed to connect those dots—the volumes cover everything from diversity and inclusion to residential real estate to blockchain and proptech to access to capital. We have to focus on getting the information out regularly, because we have very few people teaching it.

What’s standing in the way?
DP: The biggest obstacle today is developing a culture where women support women. Because women have been suppressed in some capacity, we don’t always take a stand and put ourselves in the forefront, highlighting what we bring to the table. Women who are jealous will also put other women down because of their own insecurities, or they feel they run the risk of speaking out if a woman is deserving of credit.

How can the industry overcome these challenges?
DP: We need to get women on the same playing field. The unconscious biases are still there—like women are better multitaskers so it’s in their inherent nature to run the household—but it’s not that women aren’t getting their jobs done. It’s that they aren’t applying as much. Our inner doubters tell us not to go for it, but we’ve got to put that self-doubter away. The worst anyone can say is “no,” but they can’t say no if you don’t apply. Additionally, we have a lot of women at the bottom and at the top, but not so many in the middle, so we don’t have as many coming up the ranks.  

What’s one piece of advice you can give to anyone looking to step into a leadership role?
DP: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I believe I can do anything and everything myself, and “no” is not in my vocabulary. It’s the hardest thing for me today and for many women because they see it as a failure. As long as you’re seen and heard, and you make an impact, there’s no reason to feel insecure about asking for help.

Those interested in getting involved in the gender equality movement can consider the following initiatives Patno is working with:

Do you know someone who is making strides toward the advancement of women leadership in the real estate industry? Contact ldominguez@rismedia.com to learn more about our Women in Real Estate series.

Liz Dominguez is RISMedia’s senior editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at ldominguez@rismedia.com.  


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