Editor's note: This article appears in the March 2021 issue of MReport, available here.
To celebrate Women’s History Month, a panel of female employees from three different departments at Planet Home Lending joined MReport to discuss how they have found success in the mortgage industry and how other women are able to do the same. Sharing insights from their experiences on the front lines, ranging from originations to information technology to recruitment, the panel explores their experiences as minority women in the mortgage industry as well as the changes they have seen during their years in the business.
This panel of women includes Aneeza Haleem, VP of Technology; Dalila Ramos, VP of Talent Acquisition; and Alishea Pipkin, Retail Branch Manager in Shreveport, Louisiana.
When you decided to enter the mortgage industry, what thoughts did you have regarding it being a male-dominated profession with few minorities?
Aneeza Haleem: Coming to the mortgage industry was not very different from college, given that I majored in computer science engineering. I graduated in the early 2000s, and there were, and still are, very few professions where you feel truly represented. The mortgage industry did not stand out as that different from other industries when it came to minority representation. Growing up as a woman of color with a penchant for STEM, you are constantly required to prove your worth.
Alishea Pipkin: Honestly, I did not perceive the mortgage industry as a male-dominated field when I first began. At the time, I looked at a career in the mortgage industry as a dream job, as it served the needs of my family and lifestyle well. It was the perfect job fit, allowing for flexibility to care for my children when needed, without being stuck behind a desk. Now, after 10 years in my role, I am so glad to be a part of the industry.
Dalila Ramos: This question makes me laugh because I do not think anyone really “decides” to enter the mortgage industry. Often, individuals fall into it and stay for the entirety of their careers. I did not put much thought into it being male dominated until my mid-30s, when I started to grow and move up in my career. Then, I realized that no one looked like me, which could be hard at times, leading me to not speak up and feel uncomfortable on occasion. It was not until coming to work for Planet Home Lending that I was surrounded by so many powerful women in leadership.
What has been your experience being a minority woman in the industry?
Haleem: I used to feel a lot of pressure because I felt like I represented women in every interaction that I had, needing to do well so more women could get an opportunity. Over the years, that pressure has died down. Part of it may be my own maturity and experience, but I believe the world is changing as well. Equality is no longer considered a “woke” concept. It is becoming more mainstream. I see it every day at Planet, surrounded by smart, capable women and men who are open-minded enough to accept ideas at their merit and not be blinkered by the source of the idea.
Pipkin: As a minority woman and a mother, I have found myself driven to work a little harder and feel the urge to prove myself every day. Though I love my career in this industry, it does not come without challenges, such as encountering and overcoming prejudices. For example, there have been male agents and other individuals who feel uncomfortable working with me because I am a female and a minority. To overcome this, I work to be prepared and knowledgeable, while being honest and seeking to learn what I do not know. Over the years, I have gained a lot of respect from different agents, being a source of knowledge and guidance for many. The challenges only drive me to outwork my counterparts and bring the best possible quality to my clients.
Ramos: Learning and growing over the past 20 years in my career, the experience has been great overall. However, it has come with many challenges, such as coming from a different educational background than many others and wearing many hats throughout the day. However, being a woman of color and a single mother, I am only further encouraged to bring everything that I have to the table and work with passion to pave the way for the array of women I represent.
How has your demographic affected your business?
Haleem: Sometimes, when I walk into a room, it’s obvious the people there do not expect me to be leading the conversation or providing the solutions. I have not let what other people think about my gender or race affect how I approach projects. I simply prove that I can do my job and do it well by doing so.
Pipkin: Being a minority woman has helped me open the door for other women. My role has allowed me to help women of all races and ethnicities purchase new homes, many of them first-time homebuyers. With more and more women entering the mortgage industry, I am happy to see more women feel enabled to go through the mortgage process.
Ramos: Being a minority in the mortgage industry has given me a level of trust with my minority peers and candidates, allowing me to connect with them and build a true relationship. I hold that dear to my heart, and I hope to never lose that.
What kind of change have you seen in the industry in regards to minority women? Acceptance? Participation? Mentors?
Haleem: I do not feel like a minority and that is a huge change. I do not feel the pressure of needing to be twice as good as everyone else in the room to get half the credit. I feel like I can be myself, that my ideas can stand on their own and do not need a stamp of approval from a majority representative. A decade ago, I was hard pressed to find ladies who not only pursued a STEM-based career, but also continued a full-time career post-motherhood. Now, it is more acceptable and more importantly, there is far more support. There have always been women in junior positions, starting their careers and then there are a few women in the C-suite, but middle management was usually an “ovarian desert.” I am happy to see this change.
Pipkin: In recent years, I have seen the number of women in the mortgage industry and the number of women seeking mortgages grow significantly. It is a ripple effect. As more and more women enter the industry, more women feel empowered to enter it, and I think that mentorship is a powerful piece that will grow the number of minority women in our industry even further. When entering the industry, I had one strong mentor who allowed me to ask questions, and in turn, brought questions to me. Now, as more women enter the industry, I take that approach with them.
For example, I encouraged a young mother to enter the mortgage industry, as I felt the field would allow her to be the parent she needed to be. Now, she has worked with me for six years. In addition, about a year ago, there was a divorced, single mother who was worried about being able to care for her sons. After speaking with her about the industry and helping her to prepare academically, she began working for me as my assistant, and she will soon transition to a loan originator role. Over the years, I have led many women to the industry through similar means. The way I look at it, there is enough business out here for all of us. We just need good people who want to take care of people in this industry, and in the coming years, I hope to see more women take part in mentoring others in the mortgage industry.
Ramos: As women, we have grown so much. Being in the mortgage industry for 20 years now, I am happy to see how far we have come. There has been such a wave of acceptance, women encouraging other women, partnerships, friendships and now that some of us are more tenured, we are opening doors for the future women in mortgage leadership. As someone gave me the opportunity to enter the mortgage space 20 years ago, I am passionate about ensuring other women and minority women have equal opportunity.
What have you done to help increase the number of minority women in the industry?
Haleem: Mentoring is key. Irrespective of gender, we are social beings and want to feel like we belong. In addition, increasing participation starts young. Girls need to see that their options are not limited. I support Girls Who Code and FIRST. My daughters have been participants in a variety of STEM-related programs. They may choose a nonSTEM career, but it will not be because they thought that they could not have one.
Pipkin: Simply put, I just talk to women about the benefits of being a mortgage loan officer. Often, I can tell by their personality if they would be a good match for the industry, and I enjoy asking them questions and sharing more with them. Once, while conducting business at a local bank, I spoke with a young African-American woman about those benefits, and now, she is preparing to enter the mortgage industry. I believe that she will be a great asset to our team, and it all started with just one conversation.
In addition, by participating in educational courses and being a part of a community, I have seen the number of minority women increase in the industry, many feeling more comfortable with having a mortgage, and eventually, joining the mortgage industry themselves. Educational courses, such as homebuyer seminars, empower women to purchase homes as they are more confident in their own knowledge about the process. These can be powerful tools in increasing this number.
Ramos: With my new role at Planet Home Lending, I have recently had the opportunity to hire women with skill sets that align with the mortgage industry, without a mortgage background. For example, one recent hire came from the airline industry, which has been greatly impacted by the pandemic. In addition, as our industry has struggled to introduce college students, I have worked to build relationships with industries that partner with mortgage.
How can companies contribute to improving the numbers of women and specifically minority women in the industry?
Haleem: To improve this number in the industry, companies should look to more entry-level training programs and support, such as childcare and benefits.
Pipkin: Companies can contribute by creating a community. By creating occasions where connections can be made, such as a Women’s History Month celebration or a local event hosted by a board of Realtors, companies are able to provide a supportive community that engages and interests women, strengthening their confidence in the industry.
Ramos: They can contribute by ensuring that their leadership team reflects the employees they want to attract. By partnering and participating with organizations promoting women and minority leadership, such as the American Mortgage Diversity Council, NEXT Mortgage Events, and NAMMBA (National Association of Minority Mortgage Bankers of America), companies can continue to grow those numbers. Also, sending company representatives to events helps to further engage and take full advantage of the partnerships.
What characteristics would you tell other minority women they need to succeed in this industry?
Haleem: For most people, getting a job is either reliant on knowing the right people, who can open a door for them, or having the right parents, who can send them to the right college, which will then open the right door for them. I would tell them that no one succeeds on their own. They must focus and work hard toward their goals, but keep in mind it always takes a village to help them to succeed. So, is there something special that minority women need to do? No, I do not think so.
Pipkin: Determined, strong-willed women who have a heart for the field will find success in the mortgage industry. This industry puts you in a position to care for other people and make a real difference in their lives. To make the most of the position, you must prioritize caring for people, as well as working hard to make sure that we help people become homeowners.
Ramos: To succeed, be your true yourself. Do not be something or someone you are not. Eventually, that always comes to light, and you will be unhappy. Also, do not be afraid to be the first and remember when you arrive in a place in your career where you can help someone, do it.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the panelists and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views, policy, or position of Planet Home Lending, LLC.