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On Equal Footing

Editor’s note: This feature originally appeared in the September issue of MReport.

Women’s labor force participation has increased from 32% in 1950 to 57% in 2018, while men’s participation fell from 82% to 69% during the same period, according to a study by the American Psychological Association (APA). Today, women earn more bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees than men and their numbers are growing even in what was once considered a man’s domain. 

Yet, their lack of representation in executive roles in these industries remains a constant challenge. According to the McKinsey/LeanIn 2018 Women in the Workplace study, women continue to remain underrepresented at leadership levels. 

However, organizations like Bank of America are leading the way in reversing this trend— women make up more than 50% of the bank’s global workforce, more than 45% of its global management team, and more than 40% of managers with direct reports.

Equal Opportunities

“Our Board of Directors is more than 30% of women versus the S&P 500 benchmark of 23%, and we are one of only 10 S&P 100 companies with five or more women on the board,” said 

AJ Barkley, SVP Neighborhood Lending Executive, Consumer Lending at Bank of America. 

Barkley attributes the increased number of women at executive levels to the bank’s commitment to creating a diverse and inclusive workplace, which in turn, plays a vital role in reducing gender bias. “They create accountability for companies and their leaders to activate each initiative and achieve the goals put in place,” she said. “Our Investing in Women strategy engages senior leaders from across the business and all regions, and successfully addresses the challenges and opportunities specific to our businesses, the financial services industry, and the markets we serve.

Similarly, Fannie Mae is committed to diversity at all levels of its organization. According to Nancy Jardini, SVP, Chief Compliance Officer, and Chief Office of Minority and Women Inclusion Officer, at Fannie Mae, 55% of the GSEs' employees are minorities and 45% are women. “We have gender representation at all levels, including our board of directors of which 38% are women.” 

“Contributions of women to the industry and society are enormous and crucial to any successful business. The industry understands that women not only matter and are here to stay but that we are a driving force for change, impact, 

and success,” said Deborah Garcia-Gratacos, President and CEO, Deval LLC. “So a mortgage industry that can not catch up with the evolution of women in the workplace, not just at lower levels but in management will miss out on opportunities to incorporate this extremely valuable knowledge, expertise, and market representation to the workforce.”  

So how can more companies work towards creating a more diverse team? According to the 2018 McKinsey Women in the Workplace study, these actions can begin with treating gender diversity “like the business priority it is, from setting targets to holding leaders accountable for results. It requires closing gender gaps in hiring and promotions, especially early in the pipeline when women are most often overlooked. And it means taking bolder steps to create a respectful and inclusive culture so women—and all employees—feel safe and supported at work.” 

Organizations like Flagstar Bank are already making gender inclusiveness a top management priority according to Kristy Fercho, EVP, President of Mortgage, at Flagstar Bank. The bank’s CEO, Alessandro P. DiNello, has taken action to promote gender equality through its diversity & inclusion (D&I) initiatives. Flagstar has also established five pillars of D&I: Market share and product innovation, diverse talent acquisition, talent engagement and development, community connectivity, and diverse suppliers. “These initiatives have provided great development opportunities for women to lead, have visibility with our executive team, and make an impact across the organization,” she said. 

Companies that are specific to the mortgage and servicing industry have also made efforts to address this issue in recent years. “For decades, people who are not a part of the majority have worked tirelessly to help create and move the housing industry forward,” said Kelly Hebert, Director of Sales Operations, LERETA. “At LERETA, 54% of our managers and division heads are females who not only provide their professional expertise in an area of the industry that is not glamorous but continues to drive excellence as well.” 

In the servicing space, companies like MCS are taking the lead in promoting gender equality. “Women make up almost 40% of our executive team and 40% of our middle management. We have female leaders in every aspect of our business who are mentoring future leaders,” said Caroline Reaves, CEO, MCS. “We embrace the different types of female leaders we have at MCS and allow them to think independently about their daily work, long-term career goals, and personal life choices.” 

“Ultimately, it takes women seeing other women in positions of power to inspire them to break through the glass ceiling. While we still have a historically prevalent disparate weighting of one gender or another in various roles, I’ve noticed a shift toward more parity in the last five years or so,” said Brenda Jarvis, EVP Business Development at TruLoan Mortgage. “We’re seeing more women in other positions of power in all areas of our society as we evolve.” 

Freddie Mac is also driving initiatives towards equality by building an infrastructure that supports a culture where all people can do their best work. “One way we do this is by diversifying our talent pipeline—widening our talent pools and investing time and money with targeted partners to increase the representation of underrepresented groups,” said Jacqueline Welch, Chief HR Officer and Chief Diversity Officer, Freddie Mac. An example of this effort is the GSE’s partnership with iRelaunch, an organization that was founded to help women and men who have off-ramped their career integrate back into the workplace. 

Welch explained that Freddie Mac continuously works to address potentially biased systems such as pay structure. “At Freddie Mac, we’ve done away with the practice of asking for salary history at all the locations where we do business,” Welch said. “The salary history question is no longer part of our online employment application, and we have upskilled our talent acquisition advisors and hiring managers accordingly. Further, we deemphasize the current compensation for internal candidates.”

Looking back to the time when she began her career in the 1980s, Tammy Richards, COO, loanDepot said that career advancement at that time was determined more by who-you-know rather than what-you-know, and leadership positions were predominately held 

by men. “A lot of progress has been made to change that as our industry embraces gender equality—including fair pay based on role, equal opportunity and access to career advancement, mentoring, career pathing, training, and education—but it starts with us as women to help drive the effort.” 

“In general, there is an uptick of training offered by the industry that focuses on gender equality as well as broader inclusion efforts,” said Lisa J. Haynes, SVP, CFO, and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, MBA. “But more can be done to push gender equality to the forefront.” 

According to Fercho, mortgage banking is a male-dominated industry. “While women are making great strides, all too often I am still the only woman in the room,” she said. “It can be a lonely place, so it makes a world of difference when someone reaches out to be inclusive.” 

One way that many organizations are leaning towards inclusiveness is by starting affinity groups or encouraging their women professionals to join industry-specific, women-centric networking groups. 

Empowering Through Networking

According to Suzy Lindblom, COO, Planet Home Lending, the industry has stepped up, created, and embraced initiatives that focus on the professional efforts of women in the financial industry. “Out of these efforts have come the recognition and awards for the hard work that women have long demonstrated in molding our industry,” she pointed out. 

“There is a community of 4,000 women who have created a sisterhood in the mortgage banking industry to leverage the power and influence of women,” Fercho said, explaining the basis of mPower (MBA Promoting Opportunities for Women to Extend their Reach). “We support and validate each other, grow and develop each other, and share ideas to educate the industry on the importance of empowering women and helping them lead in our industry.” 

“Many organizations promote affinity groups for women, providing a forum for open dialogue and sharing challenges in the workplace, which they can discuss in a safe environment freely and receive advice without any fear of repercussion,” explained Colleen Winslow, Chief HR Officer, RoundPoint Mortgage Servicing Corporation. “Some go as far as creating formal mentorship programs for women and other diverse groups.”  

RoundPoint, Winslow said, has a culture of diversity and has continued to develop a diverse approach on many fronts. “From a talent acquisition perspective, we have scripted interviews to drive out unconscious bias,” Winslow said. “We encourage diverse thinking through learning opportunities, such as a specific course on unconscious bias, by supporting our employees to freely associate through ‘Special Interest Groups,’ and by having a broad employee engagement program that encourages diversity in the workplace and in our community involvement activities. We host a routine ‘Women in Power Hour’ to share stories and promote open discussion about development approaches.” 

According to Winslow, these and other programs have “developed and promoted women internally, formally and informally.” 

Fannie Mae’s Women’s Employee Resource Group (WERG) hosts events regularly on empowering topics such as career navigation, networking, and advocating for yourself at work. Additionally, WERG creates a natural opportunity for women across the enterprise to seek and gain mentors and sponsors. 

The Women’s Interactive Network (WIN) employee resource group at Freddie Mac is helping the GSE to strengthen its gender diversity and inclusion initiatives. Freddie Mac is also extending its reach beyond employees through initiatives like its Vendor Academy and #LeadingTheWay launched by Freddie Mac’s Single-Family division to focus on advancing women to leadership positions in the industry. 

Flagstar’s affinity group for women has shown remarkable results since it was introduced in the company. “Our Women’s Employee Resource Group provides a support community for women to talk about their challenges and get valuable insight for growth and development,” Fercho said while explaining how the organization’s D&I committee evaluates the leadership’s progress on metrics such as workforce demographics, hires, promotion rates, turnover, and other relevant metrics. 

Encouraging women to get involved in their company’s D&I groups is key to enhancing their professional journey, according to Barkley. “By participating in an employee resource group, women entering the workforce will learn about opportunities and resources available to them, connect with mentors and colleagues who can become advocates, as well as feel a sense of community with other members,” she said. 

Coaching for Success 

A McKinsey report, titled, “The Future of Women at Work: Transitions in the Age of Automation,” indicated that women were not acquiring skills needed for high-growth fields such as professional, scientific, and technical services. It suggested that the private sector “can invest more in training and reskilling their employees within their organizations or in partnership with academic and other institutions,” and that “increasingly, mid-career workers will need to refresh or develop new skills.” 

According to Welch, it’s not so much an issue of easing the way than it is not cluttering the way with obstacles. She advised that all professionals must consider three aspects to strengthen their careers. “First and foremost, hone your craft. Second, embrace and live a continuous learning mindset. Third, cultivate three pivotal relationships: coach, mentor, and sponsor,” she said. 

Haynes suggested that women aspiring to be a leader should find a mentor that “understands your goals and can help provide support and guidance.” 

“By having a mentor, young women professionals can learn from their mentors’ experiences and apply them to their career journey,” she said. 

Gratacos also stressed on the need for mentorship, especially for women at the mid-level who aspired to grow their careers, and women in leadership roles are important to fostering these relationships. “C-level professionals must invest by opening avenues through building and mentoring mid-level women to C-level and lower-level to mid-level,” she said. “Women at the upper levels must purposely encourage growth by making decisions to advocate, seek, and hire qualified diverse professionals including women.” 

Powerful female role models are critical for both genders, according to Jardini. These role models are not only the women who are in senior roles. “In fact, at times these women were hard to come by,” she said. “Mentors and role models do not have to be senior, or higher on the organizational ladder than you are. They can be peers, colleagues, and subordinates, who have a lot to share when mentoring others.” 

As female leaders, Richards also emphasized the need for women to step up to the plate and “pay it forward, by coaching or mentoring younger women professionals.” “As executives, it is our duty to mentor and train the next generation of women leaders. We owe it to ourselves and them to continue to knock down walls and break through ceilings to build a better future for our industry.” 

According to Winslow, it also helps when female colleagues succeed, because “people are motivated by seeing someone they can identify with, succeed.” It demonstrates a path to growth and achievement.” 

“Give women stretch assignments, take a chance on them, and encourage them to take chances on themselves, just as you would their male counterpart. Provide feedback and development opportunities internally and externally. Spotlight female achievements to create interest for other females,” she said. “I would add; these are not specific to gender; these thoughts apply across diverse groups.” 

Fercho shared that coaching and mentorship were also all about helping women be their best selves and build confidence in their skills and capabilities. “Confidence breeds certainty, certainty instills belief, and acting on that belief leads to success,” she observed. “Sometimes women have the perception that only one of us can succeed. I try to expose women to other successful women in the industry, so they can gain confidence that there are plenty of opportunities for all of us to be successful, and through networking and support, we can continue to thrive in our careers and the industry.” 

Looking Ahead 

If the industry needs more women in the workforce, especially from the new generation, it will become imperative to focus on inclusion at every level, according to Reaves. “We tend to focus on leadership roles, but I’m personally really excited about the new generation of young women that are entering the workforce. Let’s find ways to make our industry attractive to these women. Employers who focus on people development, involvement in our communities, and a work environment where everyone can be successful will win the recruiting game with young women.” 

According to Lindblom, there are still some companies that have not stepped up to the plate or have hired/promoted women internally because they “have” to. “To be successful, both types of companies need to embrace the experience, the thought process, and the ideas from all genders,” she advised. 

“Industry leadership remains primarily dominated by nondiverse males across the entire value chain of the mortgage and housing industry,” Winslow said. “It’s important for both women and men who are in positions of leadership to mentor and champion other women in the industry and to create opportunities for association and support.” 

Haynes said that to foster a stronger female workforce the industry must intentionally seek out and advance women professionals, as well as promote the broader industry opportunities to women to boost interest in working in the housing finance industry. “I also believe that “men as allies” is critical for the continued growth of women in the industry. With men still dominating the industry, their deliberate and intentional participation in advancing equality in the industry is vital,” she said. 

Finally, continuing to shine a spotlight on the importance of this topic will keep it at the top of the agenda when organizations evaluate and strategize on how to keep and maintain their best talent, according to Hebert who hopes that “someday my daughter works in a time where we don’t have to even talk about gender equality because it won’t be a thing; it will just be!” 

About Author: Radhika Ojha

Radhika Ojha, Online Editor at the Five Star Institute, is a graduate of the University of Pune, India, where she received her B.A. in Commerce with a concentration in Accounting and Marketing and an M.A. in Mass Communication. Upon completion of her master’s degree, Ojha worked at a national English daily publication in India (The Indian Express) where she was a staff writer in the cultural and arts features section. Ojha also worked as Principal Correspondent at HT Media Ltd and at Honeywell as an executive in corporate communications. She and her husband currently reside in Dallas, Texas. You can contact her at Radhika.Ojha@theMReport.com.

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