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Ladies, it’s about time you got on your knees, now where’s my coffee?

Some people believe that sexism is a thing of the past, but it is sadly alive and thriving in some boardrooms in America. Here is an outline of how it still plays out and how women can react.

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misogyny in real estate

A young woman in an executive meeting

I was wearing a black pant suit from Ann Taylor petites and a teal button up shirt starched within an inch of its life. I was the second to be seated and organized my contracts in my leather bound holder as seven grey haired men filed in, one by one. One made a comment about the Texas heat and about how far outside of town our corporate offices were but how beautiful it was. I sipped water from a short tumbler glass and was the only one using a coaster.

The board room was in the front of the main building and was completely glass walled, making skirts nearly impossible for me, thus pant suits. I was 21 and because of my young career accolades and achievements in education, I was head hunted sight unseen as the marketing director for a medium sized commercial real estate developer. I was the only woman in the entire company with a private office, the only in executive meetings, made more than double any other lady in the organization and had a female assistant.

In this meeting in my teal shirt, as we waited for the client, the President of the company said, “sweetheart, can you grab me some coffee?” Coffee? I quickly weighed my options- politely get coffee and deal with it later as most Southern gals would, stand up and walk out to pack my office, or hold my ground.

“Coffee? Really? I’m sitting at the same table with you, you’re barking up the wrong tree, princess.” I attempted a smile and held it.

My heart raced and in a quarter of a second, my career flashed before my eyes. Well, at least I would be leaving on a high note that would make for a great story for my future children. He smiled, hesitated, said, “okay then,” walking out of the room for his own coffee.

I stood my ground but I knew the risk would be that I would have a “bitch” reputation. It is confusing for women in the corporate world because you’re supposedly hired based on the merits of your qualifications, you sit at the same table with hundreds of men, yet are asked for coffee or thought of as a bitch- neither of which indicates respect.

My tolerance for jokes is high

I’m a native Texan, I love southern culture. I am laid back, silly, sometimes crude, and always southern- we don’t insult you behind your back down here, we smile and say it to your face.

I was born in the 80s and from a generation of rap enthusiasts and epithet abusers, I’ve even given a very popular Ignite presentation on curse words. My generation calls our friends “bitch” and “skank” and it doesn’t mean much. I’m not easily offended by much of anything and my threshold for cuss words and crude jokes is very high.

My tolerance for direct insults that strike at the core of my abilities as a professional, however, is extremely low.

It isn’t a thing of the past

Since The American Genius was founded, we’ve been asked to be part of many projects and companies, and we are very protective with our brand and rarely lend our name to anything outside of our own company, so when we do, it is a major endorsement.

One fall, we flew out to California for a board room meeting for a new company we were joining as leadership. The room was small and there were only six of us (including me and Benn). We were all tired for our own reasons, but there was an air of excitement in the air because this idea Benn started had come to fruition, had a little bit of funding, and now all we had to do was finish the product.

The air felt electric and enthusiasm was high, but it was deflated in an instant when a beloved male figure in this real estate web space that a lot of people including me looked up to said, “it’s about time you got on your knees” as I plugged in my laptop at his feet underneath the table.

Screeching halt.

Remember, I’m not easily offended, I love cussing and dirty jokes are awesome, but this was crushing. Shattering. How could someone everyone loves so much be so cruel? He revealed he had no respect for me (nor my husband). This time, I didn’t stand up, I sat down because it hurt more than some sexist Texan idiot. This was someone who is supposedly progressive, someone we had talked to for almost every day over the previous year.

It all became clear when later on that day while discussing the company’s Advisory Board, I was asked, “hey do you know any black women in real estate? We probably also need an Asian guy, who do you know?” Oh. Silently, I realized that I was invited to sit at the table because I fit some checklist of demographics. How shallow and ignorant. I thought my expertise and merit brought me to the table, but it was my tits. Needless to say, our relationship ended that day with all individuals of the startup. We left that night and never looked back.

Politics reveals sexism is alive and well

Mysogyny is common in politics, women don’t exactly have it easy in the world of public scrutiny. When Hillary Clinton ran for office, people talked about her pant suits. Her PANT SUITS! Who the hell cares about her fashion? But she was chastised for her outfits while fat old white guys wore paisley ties, shiny black belts, brown pants and blue shoes without a second thought- they were there for business, don’t look at their clothes, right?

Women on women mysogyny is common as well. Remember when Democratic Representative Janis Baird Sontany of Nashville said regarding her female Republican colleagues, “You have to lift their skirts to find out if they are women. You sure can’t find out by how they vote.”

Bill Maher is under fire currently not for constant berating of former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin and calling her stupid (which honestly is kind of funny sometimes), but for calling her a “c***,” possibly the most offensive word in the American lexicon. Using the word at a bar when you’re shoved by a drunk chick is far different than using it on national television (if that’s what you’d call HBO). How disgusting.

Maher gets a pass because he’s liberal, so that must mean he’s sensitive to women’s lib, right? False. Gross. Sick. That word is culturally unaccaptable, even if you’re a comedian. UPDATE: I have been told the word he chose started with a T and rhymes with clot, yet other reports say it starts with a C and rhymes with blunt, both of which are equally offensive in modern culture.

It isn’t just women politicians, it’s women in real estate

I recently called out an old school trainer for his fundamental misunderstanding about social media which resulted in a lengthy offline discussion with the trainer. He left an anonymous comment on our site referring to me as a “professional tweeter,” and used a tone as if I was a pig-tail wearing toddler who needed my lollipop taken away, not a seasoned marketer and Editor-in-chief at one of the largest digital publications in the industry.

In this situation, he looked a lot like the ridiculous Texan who demanded coffee.

The sexist nature of the industry is nothing new. It’s older than the inception of selling a house. NAR and NAHB were founded by older white guys, are run by older white guys and both act like an old white guy. “Go get me coffee, inferior person.” News organizations behave the same way- I was offered $35k to join up while my male counterpart would be making more… sorry, guys, my current income has the comma in a different place.

Women are defiminized in this space, even by other women- you go to a women’s organization or club within the industry and see if attendees aren’t catty about what other women are wearing. Really? You’re going to act like that too? You can’t get upset that you’re not the CEO if you GIVE permission to men to continue their current thought pattern, you’re proving them right.

Women have to be outrageous to lead in this industry. One growing brokerage comes to mind, led by an extremely intelligent woman, but she has to wear the hottest pink jacket on the market and Prada shoes to get attention. She has to get on stage and poo poo tradition to be seen. It shouldn’t be that way.

Where are all the women?

Of the 12 largest real estate brokerages in America, only one has a female CEO and even then, the Chairman of the Board is male. Century 21, Coldwell Banker, Keller Williams, Prudential, Weichart, Realty World, ERA, Exit, Realty Executives, Sotheby’s and Windermere all have older white male CEOs. It doesn’t stop there, look to Trulia, Zillow, Move, Inc., HotPads and others. That’s not their fault and they certainly shouldn’t invite a woman simply because they need a girl (or black woman or Asian guy). I wonder how many times RE/MAX CEO Margaret Kelly has been called a bitch for being a leader or asked to get coffee and declined?

Even awards lists are missing women, but where are the women leaders? I was recently named as one of the Top 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders and I got a flood of emails that praised me for being a female leader. I was disappointed that that was what people chose to focus on- my being a default feminist because I was on a list, rather than congratulations for being accomplished. Only 11 other women were on that list, and the award was chastised for being sexist, but I have to ask again, where are all the women in leadership roles? Are too many women scared of being called a bitch and just stick to gender-appropriate roles? What a waste.

Becoming a default feminist

The truth is, I get along best with men. I’m scrappy and kind of a smart alec, and that works for me. I grew up as one of the boys, I like sports, and I drink beer, but I love skirts, jewelry and home magazines too.

Because of the stand I’m taking today against sexism in the real estate industry, I’ll be labeled a feminist, a Code Pinker. I’ll be a default feminist and called upon to speak at conferences about the disparity in the industry between men and women.

That’s too bad, I don’t actually support most feminist groups, they’re more hippie than my Texan flavor cares for (I think the term is often abused and used as an excuse to complain). I believe in every American worker forging their own way DESPITE any obstacle. Despite the guy asking for coffee, despite the HR director calling you “babe” or “sweetheart,” or a real estate industry leader calls you “nothing more than a hot wife.” Life is a challenge, and we teach our daughter how to deal with all challenges rather than cry foul when they’re asked to fetch coffee.

I make my stand by calling my highest superior “princess” and smiling rather than complaining, but what can the women in real estate do to take their stand? The two best ways are to stand firm and dish it out, even if you’re called a bitch, and to get revenge by succeeding and rising above.

Ladies, let men think they’re the head, but as My Big Fat Greek Wedding teaches us, you can be the neck that controls where the head turns.

Rest in peace, Geraldine Ferraro. Thank you for inspiring us all.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius - she has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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71 Comments

71 Comments

  1. Felicia Adams

    March 26, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    Lani, I have had some of the same experiences as you in the RE industry. I worked for a builder and was not only asked to make/bring the coffee, but also expected to bring in the paper! I was their marketing dept! About the coffee: I told them, “thanks, but I don’t need any right now, so I am not going to make it.” About the paper: “I don’t take the paper so I have no way to bring it in.” Everyone was uncomfortable and then it passed. Another female employee ended up taking over where I refused on both things. I was sad for her. Those were the two most blatant things that happened to me in that job, but there were many, many more less obvious sexist “rules” at the company. I was their one weird liberal employee and so they sort of expected that I was going to be trouble. The job was optional to me at the time so I didn’t mind causing waves. I feel for all the women there and at other places like that who can’t lose their jobs and so they stay silent. It seems crazy to me that this still goes on, but I’ve seen it in other industries as well. (I’m talking to you, venture capitalist companies)

    One of the many reasons I adore you, Lani, is your scrappy fun personality that also can reflect deep personal values, extreme professionalism/knowledge, and a big heart (I won’t tell anyone). 🙂 I hate that we as women are compartmentalized into categories of feminists, liberal, conservative, SAHM, working mom, etc. We are all so many of these things all at once and we are all so much more. Others need to quit putting us in a box and quit asking us to get the freakin coffee!!!

    • Lani Rosales

      March 26, 2011 at 9:14 pm

      Felicia, that’s one of the cornerstones of being able to stand up- the willingness to risk your career and for many, that is just too much to ask. Thus the situation our nation remains in. Sad.

  2. Melissa Zavala

    March 26, 2011 at 7:52 pm

    Lani: When you made the hundred most influential list, I didn’t realize that there were only 11 women. I was more awestruck because of how much you have achieved thus far. Even the most influential women are likely struggling to balance it all, yet somehow they are still expected to serve the coffee, wash the boxers, and prepare Sunday dinner (unless, of course, they have money to pay someone to do it for them). Like so many other women (including you), Geraldine Ferraro was and still is an amazing role model.

    As far as real estate goes, I guess we just need to continue to demonstrate how amazing we are. I know that I always fly under the radar, but then blow most of the locals out of the water when they aren’t even looking. It’s not about tooting your own horn; it’s just about doing, and about doing so with passion.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 26, 2011 at 9:17 pm

      Melissa, your last line sums it up perfectly. Thank you so much for your compliments, I’m a little overwhelmed as we reached out to YOU because of YOUR accomplishments and how well respected you are in the industry.

      Keep flying under that radar, friend. 🙂

  3. Harold Cook

    March 26, 2011 at 8:04 pm

    This is absolutely brilliant.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 26, 2011 at 9:19 pm

      Thank you, Harold- coming from you, that means a lot!

  4. Amanda Quraishi

    March 26, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    I hear a lot about women in other parts of the world being treated like second-class citizens, but the fact is–IN EVERY SOCIETY, INCLUDING THIS ONE–the subjugation of women is so deeply ingrained that people don’t even THINK about it. Our society really thinks that we are somehow advanced–when women have barely been able to vote here for the last hundred years. Even freed male slaves got the vote before we did. On top of that, the dynamics between men and women remain such that it is the woman that does most of the domestic work, regardless of whether she is gainfully employed. And of course, the wage disparity between the sexes is well documented. Add to that the objectification of women in advertising, media, and “art” (also well documented) and it adds up to this: Women have come a long way in gaining equal rights–and equal respect. But we still have a long way to go.

    I’m sorry, Lani. You’re one of the hardest-working, most ambitious, most driven women I know–and that’s what makes it even more pathetic that someone would choose to judge you on your gender rather than on your abilities.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 26, 2011 at 9:22 pm

      Q, the irony is that I have a high tolerance for what some call objectification– I don’t have a problem with bikini models in videos or music video dancers and I don’t care about my girlfriends saying “bitch,” so when it goes beyond that to a disgusting point, it has nothing to do with sexuality, it has more to do with a blatant unwillingness to return respect.

      Thank you for your compliments!!

      PS: I’m so sorry I missed the Taco Party, I thought today was Friday…

  5. Paula Henry

    March 26, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    Lani – I’m certain you have hit a nerve with many professional women, not only those of us in real estate. Having personally gone up against the stiff coats who sit in board rooms, unable to look outside their neatly designed ideas – I firmly believe, there are more of them than they would even like to admit to.

    One thing I loathe is sitting at a table with men and a nice looking woman walks by and they comment about how well she’s built or they would like to take that home with them. Yes, I have actually heard this. It’s the lowest form of insult.

    I don’t consider myself a feminist; not even close. I love my family, I cooked, cleaned and took care of our home and family. Not because it was what was expected; it was what I wanted to do, but I get to choose if I want to bring you coffee. If I do, it’s because you’ve earned my respect or it is simply a nice gesture or I love you. Get on my knees – you can forget that one! I can’t believe you didn’t let him have it right there and then, but of course, you are Lani and you have more class than that. You let him know there would be no deal.

    In my opinion, men who behave like this have a huge inferiority complex, fed by a fragile ego and they have to demean others to make themselves feel superior.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 26, 2011 at 9:24 pm

      Paula, you’re right on. Ego has everything to do with it and many women think it’s a self assured ego, but it’s typically the least secure that are the most misogynistic. What many don’t understand is that feminism is simply a movement to point out that women should CHOOSE just as you choose to take care of your family as do I.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment, I know that your career is so wildly successful that you’re super busy, strong gal! 🙂

  6. Frances Flynn Thorsen

    March 26, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    More than 40 years have elapsed since I met Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem in New York and feminist activists offered the promise of change.

    I am dismayed to read the lament of an accomplished young woman that sounds so similar to the stories of women in so many generations who preceded her.

    Have women made significant advances in industry? Assuredly so!

    Still, sexism is rampant in the real estate industry and women executives still receive less compensation than their male counterparts despite the fact that women outnumber men in the sales ranks.

    I cannot fathom that a woman emcee must dance on a stage at technology conferences before engaging her audience with serious, salient discussion of Internet trends and best practices. There is no corresponding offer of beefcake on the same stage.

    I am inclined to think the testosterone/estrogen imbalance is a major factor of the national housing crisis.

    Sexism in real estate and in the real estate social space is a matter of serious private discussion in the last month. I’m impressed with this article and I admire the honesty and the courage attached to publication here.

    In the last month I’ve been called a bitch, a bully, and a bulldog. Methinks the RE.net is choking on an overdose of testosterone.

    I think this article marks a seminal moment at AgentGenius.

    Bravo!

    • Lani Rosales

      March 26, 2011 at 9:31 pm

      Frances, few people have insight into the inner workings of this sector and even fewer understand all of the moving parts, and I think that recent events point a more obvious divide.

      Seminal moment? Wow, that’s a huge compliment, thank you Frances.

  7. Claire

    March 26, 2011 at 9:14 pm

    Lani,

    I am on my knees! But in thanks to you for being brave enough to write this. I quit worrying about being a bitch a long time ago. I had to. I knew, as you all know that my behavior/comments/attitude was not bitchy – it was the same as all the (usually better paid) pasty white guys sitting around the same table with me – the difference was my behavior/comments/attitude came with a uterus.

    I have had to joke recently about my need to create a new Twitter account called My Hysterical Uterus to give my uterus a voice. My uterus is fed up with the all too frequent characterization that my Hysterical Uterus somehow brings unecessary drama to the dialogue. ‘Cuz you know what? You need my “drama”. And I’d rather be a Hysterical Uterus than just a plain old dick any day. So there.

    And you are absolutely right. The only way without your Hystericla Uterus taking over and telling them just what you think is to stand firm and dish it out, albeit politely and respectfully, even if you’re called a bitch. And it goes without saying I fully intend to get my revenge by succeeding and rising above. I do it everyday.

    Finally Fabulous Ladies of Real Estate, I give you one of my favorite songs. An old tune – Belafonte, Baez and enumerable jazz bands in New Orleans all play it. Of course being a Texan AND a hippie, I love the Grateful Dead verison. But here I found the most vanilla version ever – peformed by the Carpenters of all people – Man Smart, Woman Smarter:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNln4WU-8yA&feature=fvwrel

    • Lani Rosales

      March 26, 2011 at 9:35 pm

      That video is FANTASTIC! 🙂 I hate that tits play such a huge role in respect levels. I could have sworn this is 2011 and what is most ridiculous is that a super hippie and a Republican Texan can agree on the topic. 😉

      Looking forward to your psycho twitter handle….

  8. Kristal Kraft

    March 26, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    Lani,
    As a females I think we all have our stories of frustration for being treated as a 2nd class citizen. I can remember more than once I had to defer to a male as I was “a broker’s wife” when I first started in the real estate business.

    Like you it made me very angry. I managed to channel that anger into positive energy. I look back at my success and realize it was my attitude of “watch this, I’ll show you!” that helped my drive. I far surpassed the male turkeys and enjoyed every minute of it!

    Sexism still exists today, but it’s nothing like it once was. I do believe we have come a long way. Proof is found be comparing my sons who cook and take care of their kids to my father who wouldn’t have been caught dead “doing woman’s work!” LOL. I pity the poor confused men in the middle (like my dearly departed ex) who wanted to be like Dad, but was forced to change with the times.

    My parents had very defined roles, Dad brought home the bacon Mom cooked it. Today’s roles have changed in so many ways, sometimes before we can get used to it.

    Next time some dude asks you to get him coffee just smile and ask if he was planning on wearing it…

    • Lani Rosales

      March 26, 2011 at 9:38 pm

      Kristal, you’re right, we are NOT in the same place as even 20 years ago, so I suppose it is why it stands out so starkly now. I don’t have any problem with the Dad-bacon model, I actually prefer that in my personal life, but in my professional life, there is no use for that division, like you noted.

      My internal monologue about getting coffee involved the word enema… I’ll leave it at that. 🙂

  9. BawldGuy

    March 26, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    Lani is a truly strong woman. Most women in real estate who are actually strong, produce results, do their thing, and don’t complain about gender inequality. They’re too busy depositing checks anyway. There are those who do, and those who blame gender when they can’t do. Real estate is an equal opportunity club, ladies. I’ve been watchin’ since the mid-1960s, and the women who succeeded then are not much different than those who do now — with one exception.

    They did a lot less whining. Oh, and they got the coffee — when it was their turn.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 26, 2011 at 9:40 pm

      Jeff, you’re exactly right. The women here that have commented, I believe, are in the class of “do something about it, don’t complain” strong women. I love hearing about your upbringing, especially the Chiefs you came up with!

      Thank you for taking the time today to chat with me about this and forming a comment here. You and Benn and I make jokes, even bad jokes, but you have never and would never insult my professionalism or capabilities and I thank you for that. (For those that don’t know, we’ve worked with Jeff in a professional capacity before, it was seamless.)

  10. Ilene Haddad

    March 26, 2011 at 9:35 pm

    Very interesting article, Lani, and so sad you had to write it. I’m more of the Ms. Magazine, hippie feminist type, but fortunately I haven’t run into the kind of sexism you described in your industry. I’d like to think I would be as strong as you are if faced with similar ignorance. I admire your choices and hope more young women are brave enough to take action when necessary.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 26, 2011 at 9:47 pm

      Ilene, I’m so glad you haven’t been through it- insanely enough, these are just three of my many anecdotes. It was prevalent in marketing as it is in real estate and women often are scared to speak up. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

    • Lani Rosales

      March 26, 2011 at 10:15 pm

      Alan, you’re right, KW is female heavy as are several others, yet the driver’s seat is still occupied by a male. I will say that if I were to predict which company would produce the next female CEO, I would point to KW.

      • Benjamin Bach

        March 27, 2011 at 5:59 pm

        Mo Anderson was CEO of KW for about a decade, I believe, and she was one of the main forces driving our growth (and still is)

  11. Juan Carlos

    March 26, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    Finally had a chance to read this. It’s appalling the things women let themselves be pit through. I’ve worked on places where the women are hired based solely on their looks…. most play the stupid game and are still there, fetching coffee so that the management can check out their asses as they walk away.

    I think some of them don’t even realize that that’s not their role!!!

    • Lani Rosales

      March 26, 2011 at 10:16 pm

      Carlos, I think you’re right and in other industries (like entertainment), women almost feel as if it is their PLACE to take those roles. Good points.

  12. Joe Manausa

    March 26, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    Wow Lani, what a great read. My Mom would have beat me silly if I treated another woman (person actually) the way you were treated. You handled yourself admirably.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 26, 2011 at 10:17 pm

      Joe, thank you. It will be interesting to see how *my* mom reacts when she reads this…

  13. Michael Bull

    March 26, 2011 at 10:18 pm

    Women are among the most successful commercial real estate brokers in Atlanta and in my office. Great article!

    • Lani Rosales

      March 26, 2011 at 11:17 pm

      That is GREAT to hear, Michael, and even greater that you’re enthusiastic about it!

  14. Nanette Labastida

    March 26, 2011 at 10:26 pm

    yeah lani! really great post. and boy am i glad i work with a bunch of gay men, i’m just one of the girls 🙂
    But get this, when i asked my plastic surgeon what size implants i should get after my mastectomy, he said “well how many houses do you wanna sell” – we have a funny raport so i really wasn’t offended, but it does show you how people see women & real estate. I’ve also had “jokey” comments about the little black dress & pumps to sell sell sell.
    and i have definitely felt the condescending tone from a few male realtors during negotiation, especially if it has to do with construction/remodel stuff.

    i have to say though, i am not offended by Bill & the c word.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 26, 2011 at 10:55 pm

      Nan, in the context, I am offended, and you know me personally (as I you), so gals like us aren’t usually offended, even by that word, but he didn’t mean it in a playful way like I would be okay with.

      Regardless, your surgeon playfully pointed to a common mentality that sex sells, but people like you and those who have commented here prove that sharp negotiation, hard work and not caring if you’re called a bitch for succeeding- those are the things that put women in the driver’s seat.

      • Nanette Labastida

        March 26, 2011 at 11:14 pm

        i understand about the bill maher comment, i did not hear it or about it. unecessary for sure.

        thanks for including me in that category 🙂

  15. Dori Lacamu

    March 26, 2011 at 11:09 pm

    Love this post! To my knowledge I have never read a post of yours before but I will definitely be making a change. It is so refreshing to see a post like this from someone born at least a decade after me. Thank you from a fellow Texan!

    • Lani Rosales

      March 26, 2011 at 11:18 pm

      Dori, thank you for your compliments and for stopping by- you know what it’s like to be in Texas, it’s an extra challenge for sure! I look forward to learning about your journey!

  16. Ken Brand

    March 26, 2011 at 11:26 pm

    Thanks for sharing this important piece.

  17. Joe Sheehan

    March 27, 2011 at 8:10 am

    Extraordinary editorial, Lani. Thanks for writing it. Misogyny is as offensive to me as to most but certainly not nearly as hurtful as to the victims. I actually cringed as I read some of your descriptions.

    This is a very important piece that should be read by all men. Hopefully some of the troglodytes among us will become just a little more sensitive to the pain they cause.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 27, 2011 at 10:33 am

      Joe, I can’t fault how someone was raised and what is inherent in their behavior, but CAN ask the generations that accept it as par for the course to at least FAKE not thinking that women are stupid and inferior. Thank you for being one of the men who won’t tolerate sexism, Joe!

  18. Melanie

    March 27, 2011 at 8:49 am

    Bravo Lani and I think Gerry would have liked this too-a fitting tribute.

    It saddens me that we have not made more progress on this front. As a young lawyer I had similar experiences to yours. I was one of three women in a mid-sized law firm in California who’s practice included prosecuting sex discrimination and sexual harassment suits. Despite this, I was subject to all kinds of ridiculous conduct from partners and clients alike. When I reported the conduct-I was labeled a trouble maker and dismissed. Even more regretful is that the senior woman in the firm–viewed me as a threat because I was getting more “attention.”

    Now that I’m older and wiser (I hope) I really don’t care about being labeled a bitch or a trouble maker and when given the chance to mentor young women…I try to teach them to trust their judgments and hold their ground. I’d like to think I’ve helped one or two young women navigate the workplace gender waters with less turbulence than I experienced. I think that sadly it is up to us women and possibly a few sensitive men with daughters to make the changes that still need to happen.

    Thanks for starting this important discussion Lani. RIP Geraldine Ferraro.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 27, 2011 at 10:36 am

      Mel, I would assume that in law it is still rampant given that part of the practice revolves around pee contests. That must have been tough. I was one of the lucky ones who if I stood my ground had a husband to come home to that had I wanted to quit or mouth off, he would have supported me emotionally and of course financially while I looked elsewhere. Most women don’t have the option to call a boss “princess” at the beginning of a career.

      Thank you for being a mentor to women around you!! 🙂

  19. Mark

    March 27, 2011 at 11:44 am

    Now, I do have the deepest respect for you and your writing style. I struggle with the ability to create meaningful prose. To educate while entertain. But, I personally take umbrage to you wailing on the “old white guy”.

    I am an old white guy. It seems as though we are labeled the ‘bad guys’ nowadays. Let’s blame all of our woes on the old white guy. Believe me when I say I also respect your marketing skills in attracting an audience of your choosing with emotional trigger story selling.

    But still, ‘old white guy’….really? Now youve gone and hurt my feelings. I guess I’m gonna have to go and get my own coffee while I read this month’s issue of Playboy.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 27, 2011 at 12:03 pm

      Hey Mark, I totally understand. I struggled with using the term because as I mentioned above, I think the “old white guys” complaint is crap (and I don’t think my old white guy dad would appreciate it). I think you missed that I wrote that it is up to women to push their way into a seat at the table (like all employees fighting for a job) rather than point to “old white guys” and that we are teaching our daughter not to pout and blame “old white guys,” rather stand up or make a choice and deal with life challenges.

      Additionally, I come from a long line of old white guys who I dearly love and respect, I get along best with old white guys, and as I said, I think it is up to women to call their old white guy boss “princess” and refuse coffee and up to “old white guys” not to sit around the board room table and ask if I know an Asian guy. But enjoy your Playboy, I hear they have great articles. 🙂

  20. Jay Papasan

    March 27, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Lani,

    Thanks for the heartfelt reminder of how far we still have to go. Before joining KWRI I worked at HarperCollins Publishers, one of the few major publishers run by a female CEO Jane Friedman (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_Friedman ) a true pioneer who resigned in 2008 to be replaced by, you guessed it, a dude. No knock on Brian Murray’s considerable merits but the trend continues.

    Like real estate, publishing was dominated by women in important decision making positions but largely run by men. I was pretty naive frankly before working with Mia Hamm on her biography and following her and her pioneering teammates — Julie Foudy, Kristine Lilly, Brandi Chastain, et al — for two years through their amazing 1999 World Cup victory. As these women tried to claim a space in the dominant world sport they faced appalling sexism at every turn. Sports announcers would talk at length about Mia’s shampoo commercial hair instead of her ownership of the international scoring record for men and women. Hundreds of thousands of adolescent girls packed stadiums and filled them with ear-crushing screams of support. Mia and her teammates would literally require IV drips after a game and would then emerge to sign autographs for hours. Their mission was clear — to blaze a trail for these young girls dreams, to make the path a little easier for the rest. And to do it based on merit alone.

    Every arena, from books, to soccer, to real estate, needs leaders to point to the destination and underscore how far we have yet to go. I want far more for my wife and my daughter. Thanks for writing this. I’m hopeful that it instill a sense of purpose in people and maybe inspires everyone to do better on a day to day basis instead of just paying lip service to equal opportunity.

    Warmly,
    Jay P.

    PS — Thanks for the kind words about KW in the comments. After 1999, I wouldn’t still be there if I didn’t think we were part of the solution.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 27, 2011 at 1:11 pm

      Jay, I do believe you’re part of the solution rather than the problem. I think all brokerages have made huge strides at the executive level, and it is beyond that which we have to look at now as we consider the next leaders in the CEO roles.

      Female sports figures (besides tennis) really have it the worst- they are demeaned simply for choosing a “masculine” station in life, whether they are talented or not.

      The issue I take is that real estate is filled with far more women than men, yet so few are in the driver’s CEO seat unless they branch out on their own. That is where there is the most room for change at all brokerages. Thank you for thinking of your own daughter, Jay!

  21. Genevieve

    March 27, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    Lani,
    You always seem to hit the nail on the head; whether your telling your own personal story or the one that rings true for so many of us. This is powerful stuff, and I am right there with you trying to help pave the way.
    I honestly feel like I saw this a lot more in the good ole’ boys network of Commercial Real Estate and Commercial Development when I first got started in my career as well. I say this because when I have my residential real estate hat on, everything is peachy-keen… but when I’m out on new construction job sites in my cowboy boots and a hard-hat right along side the gentlemen and one of them calls me “sugar, darlin’ honey or sweetie”… I notice the gender-role “discomfort zone”- they all really want me to be in an office fetching them coffee, donuts and xeroxing til the cows come home; however, I will generally dish it right back out by scaring them half to death – meaning: knowing more than they do about their own craft- which is fun for me… I think that many of the men that I work with up in the DC Metro area are starting to realize that women of our generation aren’t afraid to get out there and create change that “Rosie Riveter’s” set forth for us… We just need to keep on keepin’ on and create the change and do not allow for others men or women who try to stifle us to stand in our way.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 27, 2011 at 1:20 pm

      G, I think you were in Ms. Maxey’s 6th grade English class with me, right? We sat on the floor in a circle to read our final papers and I remember my throat closing up as it came time to read mine. It was called “True Lies” and it was about a woman who lost her true love to war (long before Avi’s “True Lies” novel or the dumb movie). Several people, including Ms. Maxey were choked up and Marcus giggled and when she asked why Marcus was laughing, he said “she writes like a girl” which the guys laughed at. I remember her slowly standing up, her crinkled skirt becoming the loudest thing in the room, their smirks faded, and she said, “her writing is beautiful. You are closed minded and are destined to a life of demeaning women. I feel sorry for you.” She sadly went back to her desk knowing that a misogynist was in her midst.

      Little did she, Marcus, or the class know that because our final story had a lag of several weeks between turning them in and reading them, I had submitted mine to a literary magazine and been published. I never shared that with them, I just relished in her defending me and I understand it so much more deeply today.

      G, our paths have been so similar. When we sipped tea from red and blue pots recently, I was struck by that. The Steeping Room was so loud and there were people everywhere, but I felt our paths had paralleled so closely for decades without our knowing. Because of that, I know that you have experienced the construction mentality that I have and the sad part is that it exists in residential sales just as much, but is hidden and only seeps out in quiet ways because men’s social graces are better in residential.

      We have a long way to go…

      • Genevieve

        March 27, 2011 at 2:31 pm

        High five sista-friend! I totally remember that day in Ms. Maxey’s Class… I randomly see Marcus/Brody’s FB posts: take note that it is the same old-same old. You know the Deep-Texas drill. We’ll see each other more, and our paths will surely intersect again. SOON!

  22. Benn Rosales

    March 27, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    I checked my man card at the door, and am waving the white boxers.

    Having known these stories in advance of this article, I’m really surprised at how much I’ve learned from reading them here along with the comments.

    I’m guilty of the same things, things I think are funny or innocent can be so demeaning and for that ignorance I’m truly sorry. Having said that, it’s pretty obvious we have a long way to go, personally and as a society but I think there is a will as it’s virtually impossible to ignore raw talent in this space and others regardless of gender or race. We can be better, and so can I.

    Lani, would you like anything from the kitchen? 🙂

    • Lani Rosales

      March 27, 2011 at 1:25 pm

      We can all do better. Most definitely. But what most people don’t know about you is that for years, your employ has been almost all women, so for that we thank you. And I know that when you decide to name the next generation leader it will most likely be a woman, given your track record. I’ve always considered you progressive which is why it is comfortable for me to write this article in the first place. Like I’ve said in comments, I am one of the few lucky ones with a husband that would never in a million years tolerate someone demeaning me.

      Thank you for being willing to be the one pregnant and in the kitchen 😉

  23. John Perkins

    March 27, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    Brilliant writing! I will be sharing this with my 14 & 17 y/o daughters and anyone on Facebook. “My tolerance for direct insults that strike at the core of my abilities as a professional, however, is extremely low.” Great way to finish that first section and then continue on to say some extremely important facts. This needs to be shared.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 27, 2011 at 1:37 pm

      Thank you so much, John- I hope your daughters can learn from it as ours has!

  24. Michelle Greer

    March 27, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    What’s sad is that men often want women in the workplace too. We know what we know and what we don’t and tend to be guided by our conscious rather than our personal ambition.

    I experienced exactly what you experienced in California. An angel I pitched literally asked me if i wanted to have a one night stand. Who even says that term anymore?

    I don’t know what the answer is. I just find the whole debate exhausting.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 27, 2011 at 7:27 pm

      Michelle, I agree. The only answer I can come up with is standing firm- most women don’t. The debate has been raging in the tech world for some time, but is the secret in our real estate industry that is quietly swept under the rug. The average Realtor is a 54 year old woman, yet almost all brokerages are run by men.

      Who asks for a one night stand? Ugh. That’s just ridiculous, Michelle, “thanks for all of your hard work, superior intelligence, extreme creativity and savvy that is so rare in this field, I’m so turned on.” #lame

  25. Tina Merritt

    March 27, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    When I first entered the real estate industry in 1998, my mentor told me of how the owner of our company used to visit each office and make sure the women were wearing attire as dictated in the policy manual (pantyhose and skirts or dresses).

    We’ve come a long way…but still have so much further to go.

    Lani, you are a gifted writer and this is a column I will cherish and read for a long time. Thank you.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 27, 2011 at 8:35 pm

      Tina, we have come a long way for sure, that’s what pains me to write this in the first place! There are so many more men that get it than don’t.

      Thank you for the wonderful note, Tina!

      ps: in 2004, I was required to wear pantyhose at all times. In Texas. In 3 million degree weather. Bleh.

  26. stephanie crawford

    March 27, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    Right on Lani. I’ve never experienced any overtly sexist attitudes in my career in real estate, at least none that come to mind, but my mom was a Nashville police officer in the south starting in 1972 – only the seventh female officer in our city (Nashville, TN). You should hear some of her stories.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 27, 2011 at 9:33 pm

      Stephanie, I can’t imagine the tales of your mom- makes our struggle look like a whiney baby cake walk, I bet!

  27. Ines

    March 27, 2011 at 10:38 pm

    Lani,
    I’ve read this post a couple of times and didn’t even know where to begin. Yes there are ignorant and arrogant people all around us that will find a way to try to put you down – either because you are a woman, or you are latin, asian,black,have an accent, they feel threatened by you, or whatever.

    What makes us better people and professionals is the fact that we can overlook the ignorant comments and keep growing and becoming better people. I’ve been surrounded by all kinds of chauvinists all my life and they become transparent. I know that this was a way of you to get some things out of your chest, a rant of sorts, but you leave me in total awe.

    If a person I admired, or was “beloved”, as you put it, would have said the “on your knees” comment to me, I would have called him out on the spot!! I would have announced that he had offended me and there was no room for that in our “relationship”. Sexist jokes are uncalled for, but if this person had any sort of backbone, he would have made it up to you. If you have been holding this is and not discussed it with him, it would be extremely sad….but then again, I don’t know what kind of relationship you had or wanted from that individual.

    What I’m saying here is that even our closest loved ones make HUGE mistakes that can break our hearts, we do have the choice to react, ignore or forgive.

  28. Theresa Kraa

    March 28, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    Lani,

    Thank you for such a great article. Such a shame that it had to be written, but I am glad I took the time to read it this morning. It brought back memories of times where I went through similar situations but before real estate.

    I am fairly new to the real estate marketing world (just over 2 years in the business) and I am now a Marketing Director for a Commercial Brokerage and the executive assistant for the broker and all his residential listings at the same time. It’s a pretty tough job but I love every minute of it. I am not college educated in marketing, just self taught and have worked independently with numerous agents with their online marketing before coming on board here. My broker (boss) is a wonderful man who treats me with full respect and I realize that this is rare in the the industry. But there is hope out there for equality while still sad that it exists in our everyday lives.

    We need to keep plugging away and keep picking at the glass ceiling so that it crashes down for all of us! Also important, don’t forget to help those coming into the industry below us (men and women,) mentor them and it builds strength in all of us.

    Thank you again.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 28, 2011 at 1:00 pm

      Theresa, wonderful thoughts and I praise you for acknowledging a strong male figure who doesn’t bow to former societal pressure to demean women.

      Welcome to the industry, it’s actually a really amazing place to be, just one that I’ve had a few disparaging moments in. I do believe most men in the industry are like your boss, which makes the sexist men stand out even that much more. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us!

  29. LesleyLambert

    March 28, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    I loved this post upon first read and what was great about it was that it stayed with me. It got me thinking and remembering things that I had completely forgotten.

    You inspired me to do a video post on this topic and I tell how a sexist work environment actually led me to my real estate career. https://abouthom.es/2011/03/abouthom-es-girls-lesley-on-isms/

    I also remember a time when I was in my mid-20’s and in a meeting with the City…negotiating some business rights. The 40-something man says to me, “Young lady, we are the 600 lb gorilla. It is our way or the highway.”

    I stood and very politely said as I opened our door, “In that case, Mr. Monkeyman, the highway is right out this door.”

    I won’t tolerate being treated with disrespect from anyone.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 30, 2011 at 4:49 pm

      Leslie, I loved the ISMs video, you’re right- it’s mostly negatives.

  30. Kristin Moran

    March 28, 2011 at 9:39 pm

    Lani,

    I admire the way you spoke up for yourself & didn’t freeze in the midst of his disparaging comments. Brilliant!

    I admire Margaret Kelly as the CEO of our company, she is a spectacular role model for women everywhere.

    You are a truly gifted writer. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 30, 2011 at 4:55 pm

      Thank you, Kristin- Margaret Kelly is indeed a role model. I don’t know her personally but all interviews/videos I’ve seen of her, she carries herself with a calm assuredness that is striking.

  31. Kelsey Teel

    March 29, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    WOW! This was great…and so are you! 🙂

  32. Katie Minkus, R(B)

    April 8, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    Aloha Lani. Were you an agent or a Broker with the Hawaii Life team here on the Big Island, it would be my honor to serve you coffee, regardless of either of our gender. 😉 Great post.

    It’s amazing to me that people in general – especially those who theoretically are “smarter” or “leaders” or are perceived to be somehow “in charge” because they are in a top spot – still even behave this way at all – to anyone.

    I’ve been called a lot of things, from “the enemy” to “caustic” and of course more than once, bitch. And my company is no better than the rest – all three owners are men, and only 3 of 9 leaders are women, in an industry that is overwhelmingly female. I giggle sometimes when people can’t figure out why the Big Island Hawaii Life team is so “cooperative”… well, duh, look at the roster and figure it out… (And, btw, we’ve also been busy cashing our fair share of checks, too, clocking in at #6 out of 220+ offices on island by the end of 2010 – in less than 2 years of business, in one of the worst economies in history.) You are absolutely right, success is the best “revenge.”

    It might be good to point out that I’m the President of our local NAR Association – the West Hawaii Association of Realtors, and here’s the great – but maybe not surprising news (we are a volunteer organization, after all) – only 2 Board of Directors are male – out of 13. Yet, we are the leaders in our industry, we are rising above – and succeeding.

    Thanks for writing this post, perhaps it will lead all of us to a new way of thinking about “feminism.” One that is more inclusive all all types, walks and backgrounds of women.

  33. Olga

    April 11, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    You know…this was one of those posts that I needed time to digest. I read this over 2 weeks ago and finally can articulate my thoughts on this.

    I remember graduating from college and thinking that the professional world was this incredible place, budding with opportunities left and right. And it was, except I was in a different place. I was cute. I have struggled with this label for years, especially because I may be cute, but I’m also smart and strategic, just like my male counterparts. The thing that has impacted me the most over the past two years (when it became so much more apparent) is that there is so little respect toward a young ‘cute’ girl. It drives me crazy. That being said, I have (or I suppose) had yet to learn how to ‘not get on my knees’. I let things happen, things be said, because I didn’t know any better. I thought I was being nice. But no…I was allowing them to disrespect me and treat me like a ‘cute girl’. It drives me bananas that I didn’t learn this in college.

    I didn’t learn this from my mother or any of my female family members. Not even my friends. The closest I ever came to learning this was from Sex and the City. How sad is it that we all as women live this phenomenon of ‘getting on our knees’ and never spend the time talking it about it to each other?

    That’s one of the reasons I started a group in Austin called the Young Women’s Roundtable. I figured if we had female execs that had already experienced things like this, then they could share that with their younger counterparts.

    Thank you Lani for sharing this. I don’t feel so alone in the world of inappropriate comments. AND for telling me how you dealt with it. I think that’s what I love most about this…how you dealt with it. I don’t really need to be scared anymore to not get on my knees anymore. Thank you.

    • Lani Rosales

      April 11, 2011 at 4:10 pm

      Olga, I didn’t grow up with a female figure for some of my life, so I learned from boys that they don’t intentionally disparage, it just happens, so my solution of setting it straight always worked with my father and brother and has worked *pretty* well in business, but it hasn’t gone without getting a bitch reputation at the negotiation table.

      The “cute” girl is a label I deal with as well and it’s almost the worst class of girl you can be- the attitude tends to be that at least ugly girls had to work their way through school and earn their respect whereas cute girls MUST have had everything handed to them… I assure you not ONE thing has been handed to me, I’ve worked my ass off much like I bet you have!

  34. Victoria Jacobs

    January 5, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    Thank the lord above for you missy and this article.

    I have MORE than once in personal and professional been the "bitch" and this hits everything dead on….

    I for one still keep marching on knowing that the people who truly know me, respect me, and want to work with a confident, strong and smart cookie are the only things that matter when I lay down at the end of the day.

    This article is beyond award winning and spoken with prefessionalism and strength and again I thank you for writing it.

  35. Kimi Correa

    February 21, 2017 at 8:19 pm

    Hi Lani,
    As a real estate agent this article really spoke to me. I know it’s an older article and you may not even be a part of this thread any longer but if you are, I just want to thank you for writing this. I hope you are continuing to write these days. Thank you from Hawaii.

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Opinion Editorials

Study says women need to be seen as “warm” to be considered confident

(EDITORIAL) A new study reveals that despite progress, women are still successful when they fall into a stereotype. Let’s discuss.

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About 15 years ago, I took a part-time job in a mental health clinic handling bookkeeping and billing. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but I attacked the job with what I felt was confidence. For the first few days, I simply felt as if I was an imposter. I kept asking questions and pushing forward, even though I didn’t make much progress. Within just a few days, I felt the hostility of the office manager.

It got progressively worse, and I couldn’t figure out what the heck I’d done to make her so confrontational with me. I thought I was pleasant and respectful of her position, and I was getting along with the other employees. When I talked to our boss, I was told that I intimidated the office manager. HUH? Me? Intimidating? I was a complete mess at the time. I could barely put together a business casual wardrobe. My emotional health was so fragile that I rarely went anywhere new. And she found me intimidating?

Researchers have been studying how people judge others. Susan Fiske, researcher out of Princeton, found that competence and warmth are two of the dimensions used to judge others. Based on that research, Laura Guillén, Margarita Mayo, and Natalia Karelaia studied the competence and warmth at a software company with 236 engineers.  Guillén and her team collected data at two separate times about these engineers and their confidence and influence within the organization.

They found that “men are seen as confident if they are seen as competent, but women are seen as confident only if they come across as both competent and warm.

Women must be seen as warm in order to capitalize on their competence and be seen as confident and influential at work; competent men are seen as confident and influential whether they are warm or not.”

We encourage women to be confident, but based on current research, it may not be enough to close the gender gap in the workplace. A woman must be seen as helpful and dedicated to others to have the same influence as a man. As a woman, it’s easy to be seen as the #bossbitch when you have to make tough decisions. Those same decisions, when made by a man might be considered just “business as normal.”

I guess the lesson is that women still have to work twice as hard as men just to be seen as equals. I know that I have to work on empathy when I’m in an office environment. That office manager isn’t the only person who has thought I’m intimidating. I’ve heard it from it others, but you know what?  As a self-employed writer, I’d rather be seen as undeterred and daunting than submissive and meek.

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Opinion Editorials

“Starting a business is easy,” said only one guy ever

(OPNION EDITORIAL) Between following rules, finding funding, and gathering research, no business succeeds without lifting a finger.

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While browsing business articles this week, I came across this one, “Top 10 Business Ideas You Can Start for Free With Barely Lifting a Finger.” These types of articles make me mad. I can’t think of many successful freelancers or entrepreneurs who don’t put in hours of blood, sweat and tears to get a business going.

The author of the article is Murray Newlands, a “VIP Contributor.” Essentially, he’s a freelancer because he also contributes to Forbes, HuffPro and others. He’s the founder of ChattyPeople.com, which is important, because it’s the first business idea he promotes in the article.

But when I pull up his other articles on Entrepreneur.com, I see others like “How to Get Famous and Make Money on YouTube,” “Win Like A Targaryen: 10 Businesses You Can Start for Free,” and “10 Ventures Young Entrepreneurs Can Start for Cheap or Free.”

I seriously cannot believe that Entrepreneur.com keeps paying for the same ideas over and over.

The business ideas that are suggested are pretty varied. One suggestion is to offer online classes. I wonder if Newlands considered how long it takes to put together a worthy curriculum and how much effort goes into marketing said course.

Then, you have to work out the bugs, because users will have problems. How do you keep someone from stealing your work? What happens when you have a dispute?

Newlands suggests that you could start a blog. It’s pretty competitive these days. The most successful bloggers are ones that really work on their blog, every day. The bloggers have a brand, offer relevant content and are ethical in how they get traffic.

Think it’s easy? Better try again.

I could go on. Every idea he puts up there is a decent idea, but if he thinks it will increase your bottom line without a lot of hard work and effort, he’s delusional.

Today’s entrepreneurs need a plan. They need to work that plan, rethink it and keep working. They have to worry about liability, marketing and keeping up with technologies.

Being an entrepreneur is rewarding, but it’s hard work. It is incredibly inappropriate and grossly negligent to encourage someone to risk everything they have and are on the premise of not lifting a finger.

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Opinion Editorials

New age stranger danger: teaching kids about AI

(OPINION EDITORIAL) The world is changing and so is technology. As tech changes so must we, in teaching kids about the dangers about AI.

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When I was younger, when my siblings and I would come home from school, we were required to nourish our minds for an hour (study, homework, read, do math practice, whatever we were feeling that day) and then we were banished from the house until dinner.

We had to go outside and create our own fun. We rode bikes to friends houses, we went “fishing” in the creek, sometimes before we left the house we’d search the couch for loose change and go to our favorite corner store and share a bag of skittles.

Our neighborhood was a safe one — it was one of those ideal 90s neighborhoods where our house was seated on the end of a cul-de-sac so there was little traffic and there were enough kids on the street to field two kickball teams.

Each parent on the street was allowed to reprimand us and there were rarely any locked doors. As a 10 year old it felt like ultimate freedom. But, with that freedom came a very important lesson in strangers and what to do if we were ever approached by one.

I’m sure stranger danger is still a thing taught by parents and schools alike but we went from don’t talk to strangers online or get in strangers’ cars to getting online to request a stranger to drive us somewhere.

With the advancement of technology has come a readiness to bring strangers in (/near / to) our homes. The most invitations coming from those personal assistants many homes can’t seem to function without.

Alexa, Google Home, Bixby or whatever assistant you may use are all essentially strangers that you are willingly bringing into your home.

Just yesterday I had a conversation with a college kid that didn’t know that the microphone on those things are always on — as such is true with the Facebook, Instagram and Facebook Messenger apps.

In a recent article from Rachel Botsman (BOTSman, hmmmm), she describes the experience her three year old had with an Alexa.

Over the course of the interactions, her daughter asks the bot a few silly questions, requests a few items to be bought, asks Alexa a few opinions, she ultimately sums up her daughter’s experience as saying, “Today, we are no longer trusting machines just to do something, but to decide what to do and when to do it. The next generation will grow up in an age where it is normal to be surrounded by autonomous agents, with or without cute names.”

I’m not a mother and I’m definitely old enough to be extremely skeptical of machines (iRobot anyone?) but the effects smart bots will undoubtedly have on future generations have me genuinely concerned. Right now it seems as harmless as asking those assistants to order more toilet paper, or to check the weather or to see which movies are screening but what will it become in the future?

A MIT experiment cited in the Botsman article 27 children, aged between three and 10, interacted with Alexa, Google Home, Julie (a chatbot) and, finally, Cozmo (a robot in the form of a toy bulldozer), which are all AI devices/ toys.

The study concluded that almost 80 per cent of the children thought that Alexa would always tell the truth.

Let me repeat that — 80 PERCENT OF THE KIDS BELIEVE THAT THE AIS, CREATED BY COMPANIES WHO WANT TO SELL PRODUCTS, WILL ALWAYS TELL THE TRUTH.

The study went on to conclude that some of the children believed they could teach the devices something useful, like how to make a paper plane, suggesting they felt a genuine, give-and-take relationship with the machines.

All of these conclusions beg the question, how can we teach kids (and some adults if we’re being honest) about security and privacy in regards to new technology? How do we teach kids about commercialism and that as innocent as they may seem, not every device was designed altruistically?

We are quickly approaching an age where the strangers we introduce our kids to aren’t the lurkers in the park with the missing dog or the candy in the van, but rather, a robot voice that can tell a joke and give you the weather and order +$70M worth of miscellaneous stuff.

So now, it’s on us. Children of our own or not, we have to start thinking about best practices when it comes to teaching children about the appropriate time to trust in a computer. If the 5 year olds with smart devices are any indicator, teaching kids to be stingy with their trust in AIs will be an uphill battle.

This story was first published here in October of 2017.

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