Women in Real Estate: From Miss Emmie to Jenni Bonura

Today, a great number of REALTORS® in the United States are women, coming in at 64% according to a recent study by National Association of REALTORS®, Women in Real Estate. Women have been involved in real estate since its inception in the late 1700’s working in clerical or administrative roles and by the 1880’s women were moving into the roles of agents and brokers. Even with the early adoption and acceptance of women in the business of real estate (albeit as a small minority), the field was dominated by men until 1978. In fact, even though female REALTORS® were assisting clients in the sell or purchase of their homes for decades prior, women could not legally obtain a mortgage without a male co-signer until 1974—that is less than 50 years ago.

Merely 20 years after the first female member was accepted into the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) in 1910, Mrs. Emmaline Harrison Norman (known as Miss Emmie), entered the real estate business out of her sincere desire to see customers receive better service. The combined events of building a home in Atlanta with her husband Harry Norman, Sr., a stock market crash, and the lack of customer-service focused residential real estate representation lead Miss Emmie to obtain her business license for $5 at Atlanta City Hall. Shortly after, Mrs. Harry Norman & Associates (now known as Harry Norman, REALTORS®), Atlanta’s first exclusively residential real estate company was born.

From the beginning, Miss Emmie’s enthusiasm and determination to provide the best real estate service possible was both inspirational and infectious. Her first group of sales associates, “Miss Emmie’s Girls”, grasped her vision and together they forged an enviable place in Atlanta real estate by providing superior customer service. Her vision continues more than 90 years later, with a metaphorical passing of the torch to Harry Norman, REALTORS® current President & CEO, Jenni Bonura.

Jenni Bonura grew up in homes her family built from scratch. She watched as her determined, self-starter grandfather, despite modest beginnings and a lack of higher education, invested in real estate and formed construction company with her father. She watched her entrepreneurial mom run an interior design business, as well as her household. All of the Miami native’s early influences would lay the foundation for the professional path that led Bonura to becoming CEO of Atlanta-based luxury real estate firm Harry Norman, REALTORS® before the age of 40.

Part of a rare group of women CEOs in real estate and even rarer at such a young age, she brings a unique perspective to the company, one that includes a true understanding of what it’s like to be an independent contractor. After studying Business Administration at Samford University and working for three years in technology consulting at Accenture, Bonura became a real estate agent in 2002. Throughout her leadership trajectory and in building her management team, she has maintained the value of staying connected to the realtors on the real estate frontlines within the company’s 14 sales offices that she now leads.

“It is rare for anyone to achieve great success completely on their own. Supporting other women begins with recognizing that we need each other to achieve the highest degree of success. Then, having the willingness to genuinely invest in the growth of that individual as a person, not just an employee, and this goes beyond what they can do for you, or your company. One of the most rewarding components in my professional life is the mentor relationships that span many years and many organizations,” shares Bonura.

While undoubtedly the women of today enter a much more accepting world than their predecessors of the early 1900’s, they are still likely to face adversity, whether it be passive or direct, during their career. The efforts to overcome stigmas or stereotypes from the past remain an underlying current, however the impact women have made (and continue to make) in real estate is remarkable. Women bring with them unique strengths and skills – some of which are naturally occurring in female physiology, and others that are acquired through education and experience.

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