The successful real estate professional can take many forms. Drive is important, salesmanship of ideas or properties is crucial. A sense for numbers, either mathematical or intuitive, is also important. And wit, confidence, hubris and poise all have their place. For a long time, these traits were reserved for conversations about men.

No pure measure of women's rise in the real estate industry exists, but the growth of the National Network of Commercial Real Estate Women (NNCREW) provides compelling evidence. From its national inception the organization has grown from 11 chapters and 1,100 members to 41 chapters and 4,500 members - a fourfold increase in only 10 years. Just as striking are the positions NNCREW members hold at their companies - 64% of them are owners, presidents, CEOs, partners or senior managers of their firms.

For recent entrants to the industry, the presence of women in real estate is not remarkable. Women not only hold some of the highest positions in the industry now, but they are common in offices across the nation. There was a considerable surge in the ranks of women, especially in office leasing, during the 1980s. Women working in the industry today can tip their hats to a handful of women who got the ball rolling decades ago.

Those pioneering women do not perceive their groundbreaking role as much more than following their calling. "I just wanted to be a broker," says Helen Brooks, vice president of Towle Real Estate. "I wanted to be one of the guys." She entered the industry as an industrial broker in 1965. "I did not want to separate myself by gender in the early days. I wanted to be judged on my merits, which, once I was in, was usually the case. Though I seemed to be the only one who didn't smoke cigars."

Evelyn Andreda started working as a personal assistant for a broker in Tampa, Fla., in the 1950s. She is now senior vice president of The Krauss Organization and has an impressive list of industry honors. She has earned the Howell H. Watson Distinguished Service Award, Florida Broker of the Year Award, both Society of Industrial and Office Realtors' awards (SIOR), and induction into NAIOP's Hall of Fame.

Andreda was also the first woman to join SIOR. There were a few instances where members at meetings would introduce themselves to Andreda's husband until they recognized her as the member. But, she maintains that she has always been accepted as an equal there.

"Sometimes when a woman would try to make a point in a meeting in those days, the men would pause, and then quickly go back to what they had been talking about before." She says that didn't happen at SIOR. "I was always accepted as an equal at SIOR."

Andreda relates an experience at a Chicago hotel during an SIOR conference that shows the social climate outside of the organization in 1971.

"Helen Brooks and I were sharing a room and we decided to go down to the bar for a drink after the day's seminars wereover. The management at the bar told us that they didn't allow unescorted women in the bar and shuffled us off to a little cubbyhole of a room on another floor. Luckily, there was a phone there to call in our drink orders. It was too much."