By Chris Fleisher
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Great Q&A with Helen Hanna Casey-President and CEO of Howard Hanna Real Estate.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Helen Hanna Casey has been called “the most powerful woman in residential real estate,” but she’d prefer to drop the reference to her gender.
Why? Because she doesn’t think it should matter. Casey said her rise to the top of Howard Hanna Real Estate Services in O’Hara, where she is president & CEO, had nothing to do with her being a woman. She earned it.
Still, Casey does not get too worked up over her “most powerful woman” superlative honor from the research firm Swanepoel.
Instead, she said she’s focused on growing Howard Hanna and ensuring both men and women have equal opportunities to be promoted from within it.
Casey’s parents started the company back in 1957, and she now runs it with her siblings Hoddy and Annie. She spoke recently with the Tribune-Review about her career and opportunities for women in real estate. An edited transcript follows:
Trib: What is it like to be the most powerful woman in residential real estate?
Casey: It’s amazing that in this day and age we even have to say who the most powerful woman is. We don’t say who the most powerful man is. It’s really an honor, but it’s understanding that our industry is really fueled by women of the sales field. For the most part you find that level until you start to get up the ladder into senior leadership and management. And certainly when you talk about presidents and you talk about ownership, then you get a very narrow group. In a sense, I’m a role model for some people.
Trib: What do you think it’s going to take to break through that glass ceiling?
Casey: I think it’s happening more and more often. But I also think it’s going to take more women in sales saying, “Yes I can.” And we just, my sister and I, had lovely notes from companies that join us that say to us it’s so wonderful to know they had the opportunity to lead. We aren’t the only women leaders in our company. It’s our regional managers, it’s our state presidents, it’s senior department people. You go right down the line.
Trib: What do you do differently to give women opportunities that they might not have at another company?
Casey: Obviously, you can say promotion is one of them. But most important is getting to know them and providing them with opportunities to succeed. Spending time with people one-on-one that are looking for a future. And that’s not just women, by the way. It extends to everybody in the company.
Trib: Was there ever a time when you were frustrated because you didn’t believe you had those opportunities?
Casey: No, but I have been frustrated at things men have said.
Trib: Like what?
Casey: “Don’t worry your pretty little head about it.” I suppose it’s nice to be considered pretty. But somehow I didn’t take it that way. This was never in Howard Hanna company. That was years ago. I thought it had passed. But a couple of years ago, I got a call one night for a conference that was a week away saying, “Look, so and so can’t come now and we have to have a woman on the board. We have to have women on the panel, so can you fill in?” I have to say I went wild. It was a national organization that I had chaired 10 years ago. A national organization that was calling and saying we have to have a woman on our panel.
Trib: So you took insult to that because you were being asked as a woman and not because you had expertise?
Casey: I took it very much that way. I think a man should take offense when you say we have to have a man on this panel. So anyway, there are things like that, that you have heard through the years.
Trib: Much has changed, but as you noted at the beginning of the discussion, we’re still talking about “most powerful woman.” What more do you think needs to change before those distinctions dissolve?
Casey: I think that we have to stop the separatism a bit. Right down to we have wonderful organizations that do tribute to women dinners. But you don’t see that for men. You might see them that they are unisex, but you don’t see them for men, the most powerful man in business, the most powerful man in education. You’d have the most powerful person. Or you have that they are women. I would love to get to the point where we don’t need to do that because women feel empowered enough that they don’t feel they need to be separated that way. Women on their own have had to find their own recourses to be recognized and more and more they are being recognized. A woman being nominated for president is pretty phenomenal. No matter which political side you take. It’s the ultimate glass ceiling.
Trib: Is there anything that you’ve identified with as you’ve watched Hillary Clinton’s campaign?
Casey: I don’t think I would just ask it about her, I would say it about any woman who wants to achieve that level of leadership, whether they be a senator or governor or mayor, anyone that’s finding that balance with our innate personalities but also being tough in doing it. I think I recognize that. It’s not always easy to be tough and soft at the same time. But that’s what one of the advantages of strong women is, that we can be tough and we can be soft, but you have to sometimes be tougher than people would expect.