Home >> Market Trends >> Affordability >> Better Together: The Importance of a Diverse and Inclusive Workforce
Print This Post Print This Post

Better Together: The Importance of a Diverse and Inclusive Workforce

This piece originally appeared in the June 2023 edition of MortgagePoint magazine, online now.

The mortgage industry sits at the intersection of two important aspects of diversity & inclusion (D&I) or diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). On the one hand, the industry is working to broaden and diversify its workforce, with the benefits of D&I being spotlighted by organizations such as Five Star’s American Mortgage Diversity Council. Second, and perhaps even more important, the mortgage industry, at its core, is designed to work towards the expansion and sustainability of the American Dream of homeownership, with many mortgage professionals working to help extend that Dream to segments of the American population who have been historically underrepresented in both homeownership and the system of generational wealth it supports.

For this month’s edition of MortgagePoint, we chatted with several industry experts to discuss the importance of DEI/D&I within the mortgage industry, the headwinds this sector is currently facing amid a challenging economy, and how some of our interviewed experts are working with Five Star’s American Mortgage Diversity Council to champion these important topics and build a brighter, more diverse future for the American system of homeownership.

For this month’s cover feature, we are excited to share insights from representatives of Bank of America, Fannie Mae, Brace, and Arrive Home. Together, they discuss how DEI/D&I can translate to business success and how the future of mortgage will continue—and must continue—to evolve to incorporate more diversity both within and without.

Q: Within the D&I space, what initiatives have you been focused on in 2023?
Sharifa A. Anderson, SVP and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Fannie Mae: At Fannie Mae, diversity and inclusion (D&I) are deeply embedded into everything we do, and we remain committed to creating measurable, positive D&I outcomes for our workforce, business, industry, and nation. Through our Office of Minority and Women Inclusion (OWMI), we’re not only focused on promoting access internally through workforce opportunities, but we’re also focused on serving populations historically underserved by the housing finance system and removing barriers to homeownership and rental housing. We recognize that our efforts to progress economic inclusion are even more important in the current economic environment.

AJ Barkley, Head of Neighborhood and Community Lending, Bank of America: We continue to drive and expand our Community Homeownership Commitment, through which we offer up to $17,500 in down payment and closing cost grants across the Bank of America footprint. We’re also working with strategic multicultural trade and nonprofit partners to drive awareness of Bank of America offerings to create awareness for potential homebuyers who never envisioned homeownership as a possibility.

Tai Christensen, Director, Chief Diversity and Public Relations Officer, Arrive Home; Chair, American Mortgage Diversity Council: At Arrive Home, we are continuing to focus on expanding homeownership to minority, underserved communities. The racial homeownership gap will not completely close in 2023, but we are committed to doing everything we can to help begin to bridge this gap by creating more sustainable minority homeowners through our down payment assistance and special purpose credit programs.

Jose Morin, VP of Servicing, Brace; Council Member, American Mortgage Diversity Council: Brace is ensuring that our products and services are designed to be inclusive and accessible to all borrowers, regardless of their background or identity.

Q: What headwinds have you seen surrounding D&I/DEI’s commitment and implementation within the mortgage industry?
Anderson: We’ve made a concerted effort to not only advance D&I within our company but to promote diversity in the housing industry. As economic and housing conditions continue to evolve, I believe we as an industry will be better poised to withstand the headwinds if the housing industry’s workforce better reflects the diversity of the nation and the homebuyers and renters we serve.

Barkley: Critical to our work is to build awareness of programs we offer to support diverse community homeownership as well as to the hiring and recruiting of diverse talent to ensure strong representation in our workforce. We are working shoulder-to-shoulder with local partners and community members to ensure we are building trust and delivering on commitments.

Christensen: Diversity and inclusion has been a longstanding issue within the mortgage industry. Since 2020, much has been done to highlight DEI efforts and shed light on initiatives, such as the Black Homeownership Collaborative, that aim to increase the number of black and brown homeowners. Having said that, the mortgage industry still faces headwinds that hinder progress. There is a lack of diverse individuals represented in top leadership positions across our industry. Many studies have shown that having diverse leaders and team members not only increases bottom-line revenue but also increases employee retention and recruitment of new employees.

Increasing diversity in our industry will require a commitment to implementing meaningful and sustained changes in hiring practices, company culture, and leadership that are committed to creating balanced change.

Morin: One of the main challenges for borrowers from underrepresented groups in the mortgage industry is a lack of access to financial resources, which can impact their ability to purchase or restructure their current loans. This can be due to systemic barriers such as discriminatory lending practices, as well as a lack of awareness or support for alternative financing options.

As it relates to people in the industry, when underrepresented individuals can secure a job within the mortgage industry, they may face barriers to advancement due to unequal promotion opportunities or lack of representation in leadership roles. In my opinion, this is due to a lack of mentorship or professional development opportunities.

Some individuals from underrepresented groups may not be aware of the career opportunities available in the mortgage industry, or they may not have access to the resources needed to pursue these opportunities. This industry awareness leads to a lack of diversity, as well as a missed opportunity to bring in new talent. Finally, some individuals and organizations may be resistant to change, which can make it difficult to implement DEI initiatives. This can be due to a lack of understanding of the benefits of diversity, fear of change, or a belief that the status quo is sufficient.

Q: What does your internal D&I/DEI strategy look like, and how are you working to implement it? What have you learned from past initiatives in this area, and how did that change your strategy?
Anderson: D&I is embedded in the way we think about internal and external initiatives, strategies, and business decisions and is constantly evolving and improving. Our D&I Strategic Plan requires significant collaboration and leadership support to accomplish our goals—including our Management Committee and Board of Directors. Leadership is critical to setting the tone for DE priorities, with a firm focus on measurement, transparency, and accountability.

Fannie Mae employees deeply care about D&I and want to be part of and understand our strategies, processes, and solutions, which is why we prioritize buy-in and engagement at all levels of the company. These efforts are supported by our officer-level Diversity Advisory Council, which includes representatives across the company who provide ongoing feedback and support for the alignment and execution of our D&I Strategic Plan.

In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic brought to the forefront how important it is for companies to create an inclusive culture and a feeling of belonging to fully support their workforce. As a result, we’ve focused on empathy and psychological safety, which are critical to employee retention, engagement, inclusion, and high-performing teams. From a workforce perspective, we are incorporating a D&I lens into all stages of our talent lifecycle, including talent attraction, performance management, and succession planning. We are proud of the diversity across our Management Committee, the highest-level management committee at Fannie Mae.

Barkley: Advancing racial equality and economic opportunity is fundamental to how we run our company, support our teammates, and deliver for our clients. It spans the company, including our $15 billion commitment to helping 60,000 individuals and families purchase an affordable home and providing 100,000 women entrepreneurs with the opportunity to gain business acumen through the Bank of America Institute for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Cornell. Core to our client-driven approach is delivering products and services that meet the diverse needs of our clients and supporting our communities and the issues affecting them.

Christensen: Arrive Home was just founded in late 2022, so I am actively working on building our company’s DEI and ERG programs. We are focusing on working with diverse talent that can bring a new depth of knowledge and life experience to our teams. We are also committed to increasing homeownership within black and brown communities and have partnered with the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP) to work together to educate these communities about down payment assistance and special purpose credit programs.

Morin: Brace starts with promoting and supporting diversity and inclusion within its workforce and has taken the following steps to develop its strategy. Ongoing assessment of the current state of diversity within the organization. This includes collecting data on the demographic makeup of the workforce, identifying areas where diversity is lacking, and understanding the challenges that underrepresented groups face within the organization and recruitment. As it relates to awareness, Brace includes specific strategies for recruiting and retaining diverse talent, promoting inclusivity and belonging, and providing support for underrepresented groups. These include providing team-building events to build cultural and minority awareness.

The executive team supports the engagement team’s initiatives, which involve a range of activities, such as hosting D&I training sessions for employees, implementing more inclusive hiring practices, providing mentorship and sponsorship opportunities for underrepresented groups, and creating employee resource groups. Finally, Brace communicates its commitment to diversity and inclusion, both internally and externally, by celebrating the contributions of employees from diverse backgrounds and participating in important industry groups (i.e., the American Mortgage Diversity Council).

Q: How has your DEI/D&I approach positively influenced your business strategy?
Anderson: Fannie Mae employees are dedicated to advancing D&I, both within our company and throughout the housing industry. They are motivated by our mission to advance equitable and sustainable access to homeownership and quality, affordable rental housing for millions of people across America.

Our employees are working on complex policies, programs, and solutions to advance systemic racial equity within the housing and mortgage markets.

Through our growing Lender Diversity Council (LDC), comprised of minority-owned lenders, we are focused on providing tools, training, and other resources that enable growth and resiliency. We are also focused on leveraging and supporting Special Purpose Credit Programs (SPCPs) as a tool to expand homeownership and the availability of down payment assistance. In 2022, Fannie Mae launched SPCPs in majority-Black census tracts in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, and Philadelphia. We are excited to leverage our position in the marketplace to partner with others and drive meaningful change.

Barkley: We’re focused on connecting people to good jobs, ensuring access to adequate healthcare and capital to grow their small businesses, and providing a solid base of affordable housing. These are the goals of our long-standing commitment designed to build on and accelerate the work we’ve been doing for many years.

Christensen: Working with minority real estate groups like NAHREP has allowed us to have trusted resources to work with in outreach to minority communities. Black and brown Americans have experienced much financial trauma, and turning this tide must begin with education. By partnering with trusted trade associations to provide education in our communities of color, we are beginning to see a slow increase in the amount of sustainable new Black and brown homeowners. And while this is very exciting, the time is now to ramp up our educational efforts in these communities and continue the work of decreasing the racial homeownership gap.

Morin: Brace’s DEI strategy and commitment to diversity have furthered our efforts to build a team that can deliver a product that provides equitable access and support for all borrowers.

Q: With the industry facing lower origination volumes, recessionary factors, and concerns about economic impacts on already vulnerable communities, how are you working to maintain a commitment to D&I?
Anderson: D&I is foundational to our work to ensure vulnerable communities have access to sustainable homeownership opportunities and quality rental housing, especially for those disproportionately impacted by the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, environmental factors, rising interest rates and rents, and housing affordability concerns, including the lack of affordable housing supply. Our commitment has remained steady as we create opportunities for more people to buy, refinance, or rent a home.

We are focused on increasing access to financial and housing education and counseling to empower more people to both achieve and maintain housing stability. We’re also working to reduce bias, improve accuracy, and reduce costs through valuation modernization.

From renting to buying a first home, to moving in and maintaining the property, our efforts are designed to support consumers no matter where they are in their housing journey and to continue supporting the housing and mortgage markets as the economic landscape continues to evolve. We will accomplish these goals by continuing to partner with diverse lenders, suppliers, and business partners who share in Fannie Mae’s D&I commitment.

We’ve never been more focused and committed to advancing diversity and inclusion in all our business and activities. Our D&I Strategic Plan and Equitable Housing Finance Plan are three-year plans that are updated annually, but our commitment to advancing equity and creating lasting change is longstanding.

Barkley: We plan to continue our commitment to providing mortgage solutions to the communities we serve. We strive to hire teams to represent the communities we serve and currently employ diverse teams throughout the country.

Morin: Despite the industry facing lower origination volumes and recessionary factors, it is still important for mortgage industry organizations to maintain a commitment to DEI. Brace continues to prioritize DEI efforts by making education and training available, being transparent in hiring and promotion practices, providing support to underrepresented groups, and collaborating with industry partners/associations.

Q: How is the retreat in originations and refi volume impacting the DEI space?
Morin: The decline in originations and refi volume will have an impact on the DEI space in a few ways. We’re already seeing a reduction in technology investment and budget allocation across the board. This means organizations will likely reduce budgets for DEI initiatives.

This can impact the ability of organizations to invest in DEI education, training, and support programs for underrepresented groups.

Organizations will also prioritize other areas of their business to remain profitable. This can result in a slowdown in the recruitment and promotion of diverse talent and a potential loss of momentum in DEI efforts. As it relates to talent, there currently is increased competition for the available opportunities. This will make it more challenging for underrepresented groups to secure jobs and advance within the mortgage industry.

Meet the Panel
Jose Morin, VP, Servicing, Brace
Jose Morin is a seasoned mortgage servicing professional currently serving as VP of Servicing at Brace. In this capacity, he plays a pivotal role in supporting the Product Discovery team by improving their understanding of the mortgage servicing ecosystem, ideating innovative solutions to address its pain points, and ensuring the delivery of high-quality features that conform to all necessary regulations.

Committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, Morin has a proven track record of promoting a workplace culture that values and respects individual differences. Before joining Brace, he demonstrated his expertise in leading multiple mortgage default teams during the Great Recession, growth in businesses, and the COVID-19 pandemic while working at two of the industry’s largest banks/subservicers. His professional background includes a diverse range of experience, including loss mitigation, default contact center operations, default reporting, foreclosure, and bankruptcy.

Throughout his career, Morin has been passionate about building human-driven processes and leveraging cutting-edge technology solutions to optimize performance and exceed industry expectations. He understands the importance of creating an inclusive workplace that values diversity and empowers all employees to contribute to the organization’s success.

Why he is committed to DEI and AMDC
As a second-generation Latino, I understand the importance of promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the mortgage servicing industry. A diverse workforce that is inclusive of all races, genders, and backgrounds can drive innovation, promote better decision-making, and ultimately lead to improved business outcomes.

Additionally, promoting equity and inclusion can help address historical disparities in the industry and ensure that all borrowers are treated fairly and given equal access to mortgage products and services.

Joining the AMDC is an excellent way for me to demonstrate this commitment and actively work towards creating a more diverse and inclusive industry. AMDC provides a platform for mortgage industry professionals to share best practices, network, and collaborate on

initiatives aimed at promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion. By joining AMDC, I and other mortgage servicing professionals can help lead the way toward a more equitable and inclusive industry for all.

Toniqua Green, VP, Corporate Social Responsibility, Mr. Cooper
Toniqua Green serves as VP of Corporate Social Responsibility for Mr. Cooper Group, overseeing Diversity Equity & Inclusion, Community Outreach & Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) matters.

As the leader of Corporate Social Responsibility, she has oversight of community partnerships, outreach efforts, and government sponsored initiatives. She has been with Mr. Cooper for 16 years and began her career in the call center. She has worked in collections, loss mitigation, foreclosure, and compliance before pivoting to Corporate Social Responsibility, where she uncovered her passion.

In her current role, she assists borrowers experiencing financial hardship “to keep the dream of homeownership alive” by partnering with government and community partners on Mortgage Assistance Programs. She holds an M.Ed. from the University of Phoenix in curriculum design and instruction.

Why she is committed to DEI and AMDC
I love that AMDC is helping our industry enhance, embrace, and educate people on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. I am so passionate about DEI because I know we are truly better together. I am honored to be a part of both Mr. Cooper and AMDC-DEI journeys.

Victoria Garcia DeLuca, VP, Marketplace Diversity Strategy, Guild Mortgage
Victoria Garcia DeLuca is Guild’s first VP of Marketplace Diversity Strategy, leading the company’s long-term initiatives promoting minority homeownership and sustaining diversity, equity, and inclusion in lending. Her responsibilities include recruiting and retaining minority loan officers, developing new products for minority markets, and serving as a liaison with Government-Sponsored Enterprises such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. She leads Guild’s participation in the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP) and the National Association of Minority Mortgage Bankers of America. She also serves on NAHREP’s Corporate Board of Governors and represents Guild with the Mortgage Bankers Association’s “Home for All Pledge,” the industry’s long-term commitment to addressing racial inequities in housing.

A Chicago native of Mexican and Honduran descent, DeLuca is bilingual, speaking both English and Spanish. She has almost 20 years of experience in the mortgage industry, creating programs for underserved markets in the Midwest and South. She previously served as SVP of Federal Savings Bank, where she led a team supporting homeownership within Hispanic and Black communities.

She was also a Sales Manager with Wintrust Mortgage and a Sales Manager and Diverse Segment Specialist with Wells Fargo.

Why she is committed to DEI and AMDC
As someone who is committed to creating a more equitable and inclusive society, I strongly believe that Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is not just nice to have but is a critical component of any successful organization. In the context of the American mortgage industry, DEI is especially important because it impacts the ability of individuals and families to access safe and affordable housing.

I am committed to the American Mortgage Diversity Council because I believe that this organization has the potential to drive meaningful change in the industry. By bringing together leaders from across the industry to share best practices, advocate for policy changes, and promote diversity and inclusion, the council has the potential to make a real impact on the lives of people across the country.

Ultimately, my commitment to DEI and AMDC is rooted in my belief that we can and must do better. By working together and prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion, we can create a more just and equitable society where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.

The ROI of DEI: What’s New With the American Mortgage Diversity Council
Originally, the American Mortgage Diversity Council (AMDC) was designed to be an organization that affected change from the top down, gathering the most influential companies together and using their combined forces to implement diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) across the mortgage industry.

Over the years, we’ve gotten feedback from individuals who want to be a part of that change but don’t work for those major companies.

We’ve also heard from many individuals within the DEI movement that the No. 1 metric that their companies request is the ROI of D&I. To address these needs, we’ve expanded AMDC beyond being just the American Mortgage Diversity Council. We’ve added the American Mortgage Diversity Community, which is an individual-level membership. Last year, we launched the American Mortgage Diversity Certification. Together these form AMDC—cubed. The individual member receives access to the certification and most benefits, including the ability to serve on the Advisory Council and on AMDC committees.

The certification focuses on three areas of DEI: the internal initiatives; external initiatives such as capturing more market share by reaching diverse groups and speaking to them in a more intentional way; and the “why” of DEI—the authentic reasons behind the movement and how to live them out within your work and personal life. The first certification class was hosted at the 2022 Five Star Conference in Dallas, Texas.

This year, we are focusing on incorporating AMDC into the other realms of the Five Star Institute—our Legal League and FORCE membership groups, our webinars, panels, and more. Instead of being a separate entity, AMDC’s work is now woven into every aspect of the Five Star Institute. While cutbacks are requiring many companies to reduce resources for DEI, we want to use our influence to fill that gap and provide the information and community that will foster DEI throughout the mortgage industry.

Some new initiatives include AMD Community Conversations and AMD Certification OnDemand. Starting in June, we will be inviting members of AMDC to a virtual conversation, occurring monthly, that will provide an opportunity for discussion, sharing of best practices, and a community of support. In July, we will be launching the AMD Certification OnDemand, allowing members to take the certification even if they do not have time to join the in-person course at this year’s Five Star Conference.

About Author: Demetria Lester

Demetria C. Lester is a reporter for DS News and MReport magazines with more than eight years of writing experience. She has served as content coordinator and copy editor for the Los Angeles Daily News and the Orange County Register, in addition to 11 other Southern California publications. A former editor-in-chief at Northlake College and staff writer at her alma mater, the University of Texas at Arlington, she has covered events such as the Byron Nelson and Pac-12 Conferences, progressing into her freelance work with the Dallas Wings and D Magazine. Currently located in Dallas, Texas, Lester is an avid jazz lover and likes to read. She can be reached at [email protected].

Check Also

Survey: Homeownership Remains Elusive for Baby Boomer Renters

A recent look into housing affordability by NeighborWorks America has found that three in five long-term baby boomer renters feel homeownership remains unattainable.