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  • Writer's pictureChristy Murdock

Top 5 WTF moments from The New York Times exposé of NAR

We've been waiting for weeks(?) months(?) and it's finally here — The New York Times' big article about a culture of sexual harassment that permeates NAR's leadership strata. If you haven't read it already, run, don't walk, read it all, write thank you letters to all of the brave women quoted there, then come back and let's talk.

Obviously, there's a lot to unpack and the repercussions of this will (and should) go on for years to come. But for today, for right now, here are the 5 things that made me sit up and take notice — things that even I didn't know after scores of discussions on this topic over the past weeks and months.

Before I begin, let me say that this isn't about the gross come-ons or vulgarities. Those are in the story and they are a lot. But I'm just looking here at the facts of the reporting and the way that the story is being told.

1. The NYT story is looking at a lot of folks, not just Kenny Parcell.

Yes, Parcell is a big part of this story, but reporter Debra Kamin goes out of her way to show that this is a systemic issue and goes further than his alleged behavior. There's information about the culture at Move Inc. There's talk about behavior at events. This is not an isolated incident.

2. The sheer number of people speaking out is kind of amazing.

The top of the story has this note:

Debra Kamin spoke to more than 25 members, employees and former employees of the National Association of Realtors, traveling to both Chicago and Washington, D.C., while reporting this story.

Further in, it says this:

Within the organization, known as N.A.R., and its affiliates, 29 employees and former leaders told The New York Times that even after years of complaints of sexual harassment, discrimination and retribution by Mr. Parcell and other leaders, little changed.

According to sources close to the Times, it's my understanding that the number of people who spoke on background to Kamin number close to 100. And that's the first story. Imagine how many more people will start to come forward.

3. Many of the women who spoke up are over 50.

As a Gen-Xer, I've struggled with the way that women my age have often stayed silent in the face of abusive systems and organizations, allowing more vocal and active millennial and Gen-Z women draw boundaries we should have drawn years ago.

That is not the case here.

Many of the women who spoke on the record, both within and outside of the organization, are over 50. One of my favorite passages comes from 69-year-old Kaki Lybbert:

Harassment has become ingrained in N.A.R. culture, said Kaki Lybbert, 69, a Texas Realtor who served on N.A.R.’s leadership board last year. At conferences and official N.A.R. gatherings, she said, she saw Mr. Parcell ostracize female Realtors who failed to flatter him — behavior he did not repeat with men. “I’ve seen up close and personal how people are treated, and it made me sick to my stomach,” she said.

I am so glad that these women are taking a leadership role in this conversation. I hate that it has taken so long for the industry to get past its culture of denial and boys-will-be-boys bullshit.

4. NAR's denial goes DEEP.

Speaking of which, over the last few months, NAR has been churning out denials. As recently as this past week, when everyone knew the Times story would be coming out any day, they placed a long denial with RISMedia, who then paid for a sponsored Google Ad so that the first thing you'd see when you Google "NAR sexual harassment" is Bob Goldberg's denial. It's still there; I took this screenshot just now:

As I originally talked about in my column The Download for Inman and in my own newsletter The Ketchup (subscribe here for the print and podcast versions, please and thank you), NAR's first instinct at the time of Janelle Brevard's lawsuit was to pay her off, hunker down and wait. This was in the face of repeated calls to cut Parcell loose, which Goldberg and the leadership cronies ignored. (Both the payoff and the requests to offload Parcell are detailed in the Times article.)

Goldberg is quoted in the article, so he and leadership clearly knew what was coming down the pike.

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.”

They chose to double down and wait it out. Are they also going to choose to spend members' money to continue going down this road, even in the face of bombshell lawsuits that are poised to upend the industry and individual members' businesses?

5. 'Blame the victim' was baked right in.

According to the article, far from holding men accountable, NAR's own guidance was all about putting the onus on women to protect themselves. Kamin details harassment training that included the following:

As recently as last summer, the organization’s guidance on harassment put much of the burden on victims to prevent unwanted behavior. “Should a member, colleague, vendor, or other attendee refer to an employee as ‘sweetheart’ or ‘honey’, the employee may inform that individual that they would prefer they use the employee’s name,” the group’s human resources department announced in new protocols for conferences and gatherings. These guidelines also included, “Staff should avoid going to anyone’s hotel room,” and “Physical contact with anyone is never required.”

Of course, this is the same old compost women have heard for years.

  • What were you wearing?

  • What did you say?

  • What did you do?

  • What were you doing out that late?

  • Did you lead him on?

  • Why didn't you say no?

My first job was as a grocery store clerk when I was 16 years old. My boss, who was at least two decades older than I, constantly made vulgar comments to me, sometimes in front of others and sometimes only to me.

When I told my brother and his teenage sons what was happening, they put me in the car, drove me to the store, and stood in the doorway while I quit that job. When the manager started to say something, I saw his eyes dart toward the door. He smiled, and said, "No problem. Thanks for letting me know." That was the end.

I was so lucky and blessed to have the men in my life let me know in no uncertain terms that being harassed in that way wasn't "boys being boys" or "business as usual." It was gross and wrong and a violation and I didn't have to put up with it.

It wasn't just me feeling weird or nervous or being young or being immature. It was wrong.

Compared to a lot of women, it was easy for me. I didn't have a mortgage. I didn't have bills to pay. I was working for Taco Bell and wine cooler money.

No woman should have to be subjected to harassment because she's at work or because she's a woman or because she's pregnant or because she's unmarried or for whatever messed up reason these men convince themselves they can talk this way and act this way.

I'm so proud of the women in this article. I hope that more women speak up and speak out. You and I know there are more. They are in local and state associations as well. They are in brokerages and on teams.

If you are a man or if you are a woman who's in the position to help someone else, I hope you'll be brave enough to do so. I hope you'll be a protector and a shield for someone. I hope you'll use whatever power and privilege you have to stand up to someone else's power and privilege.

And if you are being victimized in this way, I want you to know it's wrong. I don't know you and I don't know your life, but I know that it's wrong for you to be treated this way.

Here are some resources that can help:

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