Women are a force in title. Literally. According to the 2021 State of the Title Industry Report, they make up more than 80-percent of the title industry. However, when we look at the top-earning and decision-making roles within organizations like owners, partners, VPs, or executives, just 48-percent are females.
In the white-collar working world, women are also more likely to work in lower-paying administrative positions. In the title industry, this translates to support roles like processors, paralegals, or closers.
It was the year 2000 before Cara L. Detring, NTP, became the first woman president of the American Land Title Association. And while many title companies are women-owned, just last year, a title company in Tallahassee, Fla. made headlines for being the first women-owned, black-owned title company – in 2021. There are still a lot of strides to make to get to a place of gender equity in the title industry, but there are some amazing women leading the way.
In honor of Women’s History month, we took the opportunity to hear from three female title professionals in leadership roles who share about their path to the top, the challenges they faced, and the ways in which they’re working to make way for other women in title.
Started From the Bottom, Now They’re Here
A common thread among the three women we interviewed for this article is that they all started from a young age at the lowest level at a title company or real estate law firm.
Shelley Stewart started working as an errand runner for a title company at just 16 years old in 1976 and now is the president and CEO of Daytona Beach, Fla.-based Southern Title. Along with running the title company since 1994, she’s been instrumental in working with regulators to design Florida’s data call forms and helping design time-tracking software specifically for title agents. She’s also been heavily involved in helping get legislation drafted and passed that bolsters the title industry.
Kristin Horne was born into the title industry but got no favors in getting to where she is. After starting in a post-closing role making copies, she’s now the Chief Operating Officer at Tampa, Fla.-based Flagship Title.
As an executive in her early 30s, Kristin shared a story about meeting with senior, male attorneys to give a presentation and being mistaken for someone who was there to “just look pretty.” She said men–and even women need to be more open-minded when it comes to assuming what they’re capable of: “We look at people, whether it be gender or age, and we have this preconceived notion that the man is going to be the leader and the younger person is going to be in a lower role.”
The COO says having sat in every seat at Flagship Title, she’s able to make informed decisions about the company’s operations. She works alongside her mom, Alberta Bland, who is an owner at Flagship Title. Kristin says Alberta is a strong leader that knows how to bring out the best in her team. She adds that her mom has always been willing to share opportunities with other women to bring them up along with her.
For Cindy Koebele, who owns Twin Cities-based TitleSmart Inc., she started in the business straight out of high school. She got her start at the order desk for a title company and then quickly moved into closings. Cindy was eventually recruited by a Keller Williams franchise where she helped set up multiple title offices for their title arm. When she finally grew tired of not having a voice and not being allowed the authority to make decisions to improve the organization, she decided to strike out on her own and start a title company with her sister.
Carving Out Their Own Path
Cindy’s story is a pretty familiar one. The best way for women wanting to forge their own path to leadership may be to branch out and start their own title company in order to run things the way they’d like. While our survey found that women made up less than half of all executive leadership roles, 52% of respondents who identified themselves as owners were female, meaning that if a woman is in a leadership role in title, she’s more likely to be an owner of a title company or real estate law firm.
Cindy explains why she decided to make the move from working for a large realty franchise to embarking as an entrepreneur and why it’s the way so many women in title go.
“I’m sure that people realize that there’s an opportunity there, or maybe they’re not getting promoted or recognized in the way that they think they should, which is probably one of the reasons I started my company,” said Cindy, “My bosses were all these owners of this realty franchise and I was at a point to where I couldn’t make any decisions to change the company or grow the company the way I wanted to.”
Now Cindy runs one of the most successful independent title organizations in the Twin Cities.
Primed for Leadership Roles
Studies show that women may be more empathetic than men, a quality Kristin Horne says is crucial to successful leadership. However, data suggests that women are not innately more empathetic than men, they just get more practice.