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Celebrating National Women's History Month at RE/MAX Professionals

Updated: Mar 2, 2021

Hello March! This month marks Women's History Month, and is observed throughout the world. Women's History Month was proclaimed in Canada in 1992, where its purpose is to give Canadians "an opportunity to learn about the important contributions of women and girls to our society – and to the quality of our lives today". The National Women’s History Alliance selects and publishes the yearly theme; the theme for Women's History Month in 2021 captures the spirit of these challenging times. Since many of the women's suffrage centennial celebrations originally scheduled for 2020 were curtailed, the National Women's History Alliance is extending the annual theme for 2021 to "Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to Be Silenced."

To mark this month here at our office, we're sharing a Q&A series from some of the dynamic and inspiring women of RE/MAX Professionals, who discuss advice, accomplishments, the importance of inclusivity, and more. Included (left to right):

  • Lee Almstrom, REALTOR®

  • Jenny Wildeman, Office Receptionist

  • Jennifer Queen, REALTOR®

  • Donnette Odidison, Broker Owner

  • Emily Wood, Marketing/Photography/Graphic Design

  • Meagan McKillop, REALTOR®

  • Marla Klassen, REALTOR®

  • Lesley Cass, Business Administrator

What advice would you give to women new to the real estate industry?

Jennifer: Find your voice and stand your ground. People will try to push you around in the business, sometimes just because you are a woman or because they sense a newbie. Always trust your gut. Find your voice, and let it be heard!

Marla: To a woman coming into the residential real estate industry, I would encourage her to make boundaries. Block time for those components in your life that make you well-rounded and happy, like family, exercise, fun, volunteering and work. Consider them appointments that won’t be broken. Clients appreciate you more if you give them times where you are available.

Donnette: It's okay to want it all and strive toward that. Do not give up and settle because you think that is as good as you can get. Greatness is waiting for you, and you deserve all of it!

Meagan: Ask LOTS of questions, and don’t be afraid to ask for help! I was lucky enough to have a few amazing mentors that I still bounce ideas off! Our industry is forever changing and it never hurts to ask for advice. Also, don’t be afraid to be assertive 😉

Lesley: Follow a strong mentor. Be bold, trust your instincts, and don't be afraid to speak up. Maintain balance.

Lee Almstrom in a 1992 newspaper article

Lee: I love REALTORs®! I’ve always enjoyed the interaction with this group of people from a dynamic profession. Cooperation and kindness as well as maintaining professional conduct is key to success, I think. From the days when I first started in 1990, things have changed a good deal. As the above article highlights, 30 years ago there were many more men in the industry than there were women. Today however, there are many more women outperforming their male counterparts and the playing field has been levelled. Being confident is key to performing well. As Serena Williams demonstrates so well, you can be very competitive while being respectful of those you compete against. Our technology has changed as well dramatically and social media is the new “cold call”. Being relatable and interesting while reaching out to your audience is super important. There are so many realtors to choose from.. .you will have to go the extra mile to get noticed and retain existing clientele.

Do you have a favourite quote, or words you live by, related to your career?

Meagan: "If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life!"

Emily: I pretty much collect quotes that inspire me. I have portions of a bunch tattooed on my body. My email signature contains a quote from Theodore Roosevelt: "Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.” I also love a lyric from a Frank Turner song: "It doesn't matter where you come from, it matters where you go; no-one gets remembered for the things they didn't do."

Jenny: What goes around comes around. Leave a bad attitude at the door; nobody wants to deal with it!

Lesley: "Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass. It's about learning how to dance in the rain." – Vivian Greene

Marla: Be patient, listen, anticipate, and solve the problem.

Donnette: My favourite quote is actually a favorite poem, and it is one of many quotes or poems, but it is the first one that came to mind today:

Jennifer: "Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right". Another one I like, and is up in my home office, is: "Be a voice, not an echo".

Lee: “Treat others as you would like to be treated” resonates with me. It was advice my mother shared. She was a salt of the earth woman, always doing kind things for others and volunteering at different causes. She was also my greatest fan throughout my athletic days and through my career achievements. She would always say, “Toots, all the good you do will come back to you, but that’s not why we do it.” Many years later I use the same words often. I am fortunate these days to spend time in Hawaii and have learned much from the people there and their strong sense of Aloha. One of the sayings they have is “always be pono (virtuous), even when no-one is looking…especially when no-one is looking.”

What is your proudest accomplishment?

Lesley: Being single, it's often difficult to pick myself back up when life gets hard. I am very proud of the fact that when things go wrong—and at times, when I've been at my lowest—I was able to do what needed to be done to pull myself back up.

Jennifer: My three children. They are all so loving, thoughtful, and happy. They are still quite young though, and I hear that can change in the teenage years!

Lee: I am super proud of my daughter and her generation who champion for inclusivity, diversity and standing up for others. I have hope for a more peaceful world because of this. I have been recognized for my achievements in Real Estate over the years: Lifetime Achievement, Hall of Fame Award as well as Platinum Club with Re/Max and am most grateful to my family and friends for these distinctions. In terms of my proudest accomplishments though, I have since my earliest days designated a portion of every commission to the Children’s Miracle Network. In 2005 I helped raise $10,000 for the Children Hospital Foundation in a head shaving promotion. For several years I was one of the organizers for the MREA Easter Dinner at Siloam Mission and collected all the food to donate as well as gifts for kids and helped with the serving of Easter Dinner. Currently I sit on the Board for Playing4aPurpose which has far reaching benefits to many in our community from “At Risk Youth" to new Canadian families to school supplies for students in need and athletes who benefit from scholarship awards. Kelly Butler, a former Winnipeg Blue Bomber, began the no-for-profit charit,y and I have been “Auntie Lee” to the many kids in the program.

Meagan: Setting out on my own at a new office and being recognized as a top producing agent four years in a row.

Donnette: Achieving all the goals I have set out to achieve. I was not given the easiest road growing up, and being raised by a strong woman, and watching strong women I wanted to emulate allowed me to start a promotion company at a young age, and years later own a large real estate brokerage. I enjoy breaking the glass ceiling and hoping there are many more for me to break along the way.

Emily: I want to say a project I did about a decade ago. I lived with severe anxiety for many years, to the point of literally throwing up after speaking up in a meeting because I was so afraid of judgment, or being afraid to eat in front of people or take the bus. I decided enough was enough at 25; I had big dreams but big fear and I realized that the only one preventing me from achieving or taking on the things I wanted to was myself. I had a blog at the time, and made a list of 25 things I was afraid of that I wanted to overcome during the year I was 25. I put it out there publicly for accountability, and blogged about each thing I attempted. Some things were small (finally getting a driver's licence), some were bigger (teaching a class; performing music in front of an audience). The year was incredibly transformative, and since then I've achieved things I never thought I would. I recorded a CD and had national radio play; I started my own business and built it to the point I could make my living off of it (pre-COVID!). I've also been lucky enough to receive some awards in my photography business; awards achieved by some of the biggest inspirations in my artistic career that I only ever dreamed of. To be honoured alongside such incredible talent is indescribable, and only fuels me to become even better. The biggest realization that I'd achieved something was when people started to see me as an extrovert, and say things like "I'd never know you were ever anything less than confident." I still remember the days I longed to be seen as someone like that.

Jenny: Being independent. I've never been someone that "needs" a partner or someone; I can do things on my own.

Marla: My proudest achievement is raising my family of young boys into men while being a consistent award winner, rising to the broker’s status in two different cities in three different decades.

Who is a woman you greatly admire, and why?

Donnette: Rosa Parks, because all those years ago she decided she was tired of what was happening around her, tired of watching people of colour being wrongfully accused, jailed, and worse—simply for being black. She decided that she wanted to know what her rights were as a human being and as a citizen, so she sat, and ultimately was arrested for it. The reason I admire her is because of the strength she had to take back then to do something that we, today, deem so small, that helped propel us forward, yet so many years later we are still fighting some of those same battles that people like Rosa fought for us.

Jenny: Shania Twain. She came from nothing, and look at her now!

Marla: I have a dear girlfriend who has a close relationship with her family and has invested her time, expertise and money into businesses supporting other women.

Lee: There are so many great ladies I admire... Serena Williams has such perseverance and strength. Her composure in tough situations is certainly something to aspire to. Her dedication to her sport and the way she remains graceful and kind to her competitors stands out as exemplary. Ashley Graham is one of the most successful plus-sized models in the fashion industry and has paved the way for others struggling to be seen and heard. Judge Ruth Bader Ginsberg changed things dramatically in my lifetime and levelled the playing field in her time on the bench on the U.S. Supreme Court. Kamala Harris is a big deal for generations old and new, as is demonstrated by the following graphic:

Lesley: The woman I have always admired the most is Eileen Lewis, co-founder of RE/MAX Professionals. She believed in me and inspired me when I didn't believe in myself. She was a powerful businesswoman.

Meagan: My mother. A women who raised two children while being a successful realtor and running her own brokerage. Most selfless and determined woman I know.

Jennifer: My Mom. In her mid-forties, she lost her husband (my Dad) to cancer and managed to put herself through law school all while providing emotional support to her children (aged 17, 19, and 21).

Emily: Lady Gaga! At the beginning of her career, she exuded confidence in an incredibly difficult industry. She stood up for the underdogs, for those facing discrimination, and wrote anthems about being proud to be the way you are. I remember at her concert here, a fan threw a letter on stage about how her music had helped him during his darkest days. She picked it up and invited him on stage, and told him she believed in him. Her musical talent is beyond amazing, and where most women in pop music are obsessed with physical perfection, she adds alienesque prosthetics as she sings about subjects that matter. In the late 2000s, she encouraged her fans to support ending discrimination against LGBTQ+ people being forbidden to serve in the military. Since then, she's gone on to found the Born This Way Foundation alongside her mother to help disadvantaged youth and build better communities. So much of her work has been done in the name of kindness. I almost cried when she performed at this year's presidential inauguration. She truly is an ambassador for peace, acceptance, and diversity.

How have you helped to foster/what do you notice about an environment of inclusivity here at RE/MAX Professionals?

Marla: I chose to join RE/MAX Professionals because of its environment of inclusivity and sharing. An office that encourages sharing of information, fosters healthy growth and respect for one another.

Jenny: I try to treat everyone the way I would want to be treated.

Donnette: I have tried to foster an inclusive work environment where everyone feels welcome in their own skin. It is a diverse workplace, which brings me pride, as there is no one type of Realtor® or office personnel.

Jennifer: Much like any home, the kitchen is the heart of our office. Everyone is always welcome to gather and share a meal (and regularly, fellow agents cook for one another there). I feel it is quite inclusive and very welcoming. I always feel bad when I have to turn down the invite because it's a busy day!

Emily: At RE/MAX, I'm extremely grateful to work for someone who gets my sometimes unorthodox/outspoken ways, because everything I do stems from a place of wanting to do the best thing for everyone. Outside of the office, I've been campaigning hard recently for equality in the government's treatment of the photography industry (had a news interview here last Friday!), but at RE/MAX, I thought it would be a good idea to mark National Women's History Month here at the office with this Q&A series, as we are such a diverse team; last week, I remember chatting to a few people around the office about gender-inclusive pronouns.

Lee: Today I am still with the same company Eileen welcomed me to over 30 years ago. I am proud to be part of an organization who has a young woman of colour at the helm. Donnette Odidison just became the Broker/Owner of RE/MAX Professionals. Her vision of providing a first class environment for Realtors® and their clients includes a full service gym, a marketing department that provides high-level professional marketing material, a conveyancing person, an accountant and her as manager. The office is so much more diverse than when I began in this industry. I am proud of my Indigenous heritage and hope in some small way that my efforts show there is a place for everyone on the ladder to success.

Lesley: I'm very proud that I work in a multicultural office, where different cultures are seen as a strength. Our office is not afraid of difficult conversations, and are open-minded about change.

What inspires you?

Meagan: My clients! Seeing how proud they are to buy their first home, or upsizing to provide for their growing family. It’s honestly an honour to be involved in such an incredible process.

Lesley: Music, particularly piano pieces. Great music can move people, change your mindset, change your mood... the movement of a great piano piece requires such creativity.

Emily: I find inspiration everywhere in different ways. Music is a big one; I've always found it such an incredibly universal language of expressing human emotion. Whether it's words that are perfectly strung together, a story you can relate to, or even just a haunting melody... there's a reason some of us get goosebumps! The night sky is another; I've looked toward the stars for as long as I can remember, and the beauty of a soaring sunset or glittering constellations coupled with the idea of the infinite helps ground me and appreciate where I am. I'm also inspired by those who choose to stand up for what's right, especially against injustice of any kind, no matter the consequence.

Jennifer: Seeing others succeed. I love an underdog story especially.

Lee: Shortly after becoming licensed in the Real Estate industry, I was interviewed by Eileen Lewis of RE/MAX on Stafford. I called my mother to tell her afterward. “Mom, I met a woman today that I want to be just like when I grow up!” It was intended as a laugh but it was sincere in my admiration for this strong role model of a Realtor®. She was the first female President of the Winnipeg Real Estate Board and owned the brokerage I wanted to be a part of. The fact she would welcome me to her team motivated me beyond measure.

Marla: I find inspiration in music, in nature at my lake home, by being of service to others, and when I learn of other people’s stories of overcoming obstacles in their lives.

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