Bess Freedman

CEO, Brown Harris Stevens

You have to find what’s your truth and what your journey tells you, do what’s right for you, not what society constructs for you. You know you need to decide for yourself what feels freeing and true… we need to have new rules for what’s okay, that’s all.

Why did you decide to go from being a lawyer to working in real estate?

I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer. Since I was a child, I knew I wanted to be a voice for people who didn’t have one. I diligently pursued that path until I gave birth to my daughter, Isa. I wanted to spend more time with her and wasn’t ready to go back to being a legal aid. I ran into a friend who suggested getting into real estate because of the flexibility. I decided I could always go back to law and took a chance. I immediately fell in love with real estate. That’s why I feel people should allow themselves the flexibility to change their minds. I am so grateful that I took that risk on myself to do something different.

What do you think are the qualities of a Power Woman?

A Power Woman is somebody who empowers other people. As women, we have to do a better job of helping each other grow and become better at what we do. Women sometimes feel that if they give a space to another woman, it takes from them. This is untrue and that’s a mindset that we must learn how to change. There’s space for everybody, and each person offers something different. We need to be able to open the door and help each other in a better way. A powerful woman helps other women achieve success and doesn’t feel threatened by doing so.

What benefits and advantages does a company with gender equality have over a male-dominated space?

Diversity creates an intellectual space of challenge in which we all learn from each other. In male-dominated environments, there is a lack of emotional intelligence. There’s nobody better at navigating relationships than women in our society. Women are incredible leaders because they can empower people with love and respect, and kindness while being strong and warm at the same time.

What do you think are the number one steps our society can take towards empowering women and achieving gender equality?

Besides more women supporting other women, we also need men’s partnerships. We need men in these power positions to open the doors and invite women in. Women have made huge strides in countless fields, but many areas of our society are male-dominated. If you look at the top 15 hedge funds, they are all run by white men. These men in positions of power must insist that women be represented at the table.

Can you tell me a short story in which you may have encountered a gender block?

I am sure there has been a scenario where I was treated differently because of my gender, but I did not recognize it. My parents installed in me that I was equal to everybody else. I never identified those obstacles I faced due to my gender because I saw myself as an equal player that could achieve anything through hard work. When I was nine years old, I heard one of the first women in the House of Representatives, Bella Abzug, speak. She stated that women belong in the House of Representatives, which totally transformed my thinking. From then on, I understood that women could be anywhere and do anything.

Do you think that asking for previous salary requirements, or if a woman plans on having children, in a job interview contributes to the pay gap between women and men?

I believe women’s confidence in their abilities and their value would greatly help this problem. To help bridge the wage gap, women need to understand what they’re worth and be able to ask for it. Asking women if they expect to have children is wildly unfair. A man would never be asked this in a job interview. Many professional women decide they want to continue pursuing their careers and have children, and they absolutely can. It’s a challenge, but you can certainly do it and do it well. We shouldn’t be judged for that, crucified, or treated differently. We should not be paid less because we take some time off to have a family. Men are a part of that too. They’re just not the ones giving birth.

Have you seen changes in the political landscape for women within the past few years?

Unfortunately, I think the political landscape has gotten worse for women. We made some progress but have also taken a few steps back. This is partially because there is so much polarity in our political environment. Many people actually have quite moderate views. The media chooses to focus on the extremes, despite that being an inaccurate depiction. Most people are in the middle. They want sensible criminal justice reform and smart immigration. We all want similar things, just different versions. It is difficult for women as we don’t have a lot of great women in politics right now. We need some fresh new leadership in policy for women.

Do our education systems need reform?

Education is the fundamental key to our society’s success. We need to make huge improvements to our education systems. As a country, we should be worshiping teachers. They spend the majority of each day with our children. We need to pay them better, teach them better, and ultimately idolize them. Our education system has faltered in that area. Teachers are absolutely everything. Additionally, the curriculum needs adjusting. We must remember that attention currency is so short today due to technology and social media. Everybody is so consumed with all of the quickness they have lost their patience and ability to focus. We are easily distracted, and school programs should reflect this change.

If you could have someone else’s job for a day, who would it be and why?

I would 100% be Judge Judy. Firstly, because I am a lawyer by trade, but I would love to have her job. I would love to be in a courtroom, address people, and work through their issues.

Could you tell us the best piece of advice that you have been given?

Who you spend your time with is who you are. I tell my children to question what their friends are doing and what are the people they’re spending their time with doing because that is a direct reflection of you. Spend time with winners – and this has nothing to do with money. Spend time with people who are showing up in life the right way, giving their seat up for an elderly person on the bus, feeding someone who is hungry, being kind, looking people in the eye, shaking their hand, reading books, and caring about what goes on in our society.

What is your favorite book?

Some of my favorites are: The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer, Outliers by Michael Gladwell, The Seed of the Soul by Gary Zukav, and Just Kids by Patty Smith, which I’ve read over and over. The Color Purple was probably one of my favorite books growing up. For books about business, I love Jim Collins. His book Good to Great is a fantastic read on how to improve your company and some good philosophy and advice.

What trait are you most uncomfortable about in yourself? What is you favorite trait?

For a long time, I was not good at being vulnerable and showing weakness. I’ve improved on that and gotten better at showing that side of myself. My favorite trait in myself is my courage. I believe that without courage, you can’t have any other positive traits. Courage gives you the ability to say no and demand what you need.

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