Business News

Women Are a Growing Force in the Mortgage Industry

By Cathie Ericson | July 7, 2016

Women Are a Growing Force in the Mortgage IndustryThis spring in New York, more than 125 women took a break from their packed schedules to attend the Women in Real Estate Finance Lunch and Networking Event, held by the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA).

It was a triumph for Marcia Davies, the MBA’s chief operating officer. “Now is the time to make a difference to work to propel women into leadership roles,” she says.

The idea for the event came up at the MBA’s annual convention in October, where she pulled together some women leaders she knew for a networking lunch.  The get-together went so well that she decided to hold open events for attendees of MBA's Commercial Real Estate Finance/Multifamily Housing Convention & Expo 2016 and the association’s National Mortgage Servicing Conference & Expo 2016.

“I have spent the majority of my career in mortgage finance, and to this day it is not rare to be the only woman in the room,” she says, adding that she constantly hears this sentiment at networking events.

Women in Leadership: The Business Case

Having women in leadership roles is a business issue, asserted luncheon speaker Kim Azzarelli. She is chair and co-founder of Cornell Law School's Avon Global Center for Women and Justice, a partner at Seneca Point Global, and co-author of Fast Forward: How Women Can Achieve Power and Purpose.

Among the telling statistics she shared:

  • A 2011 analysis by Catalyst – a nonprofit devoted to expanding opportunities for women in business – found that Fortune 500 companies that consistently had three or more female board directors over a five-year period received nearly a 50 percent higher return on equity than companies with no women on their boards.
  • According to a 2014 Credit Suisse Research Institute study from “The CS Gender 3000: Women in Senior Management” database, companies with more than 15 percent of women in top management have a higher return on equity than companies with less than 10 percent.

And the goal is not just to have one token woman in leadership or on the board so you can check off a diversity box. “This is a historical moment where women’s leadership has never been so great. We are storming the ranks and are right below the C-suite,” Azzarelli says. “Companies that don’t see the importance of this will be at a competitive disadvantage.”

That’s because women today drive decisions on everything from purchasing a home to choosing a mortgage. In fact, the industry as a whole has embraced diversity because of the changing demographics for homeownership.

“Forward-thinking companies know they are missing out if they don’t have people in the board room representing that key constituency," says Regina Lowrie, president and chief executive officer of RML Advisors and former chairman of the MBA.

What Women Can Do

Women often hold themselves back because they hesitate to raise their hand unless they are 100 percent sure they are suited for a role, Lowrie says. “First and foremost, women have to believe in themselves and set stretch goals as a roadmap. Ask yourself what you would aspire to be, even if it seems far-fetched.”

A second key factor is networking – whether within your own company or at events like the luncheon – says Jennifer Whip. She is the former vice president of business development at Fannie Mae and now managing director at Garrett, McAuley & Co., where she helps smaller lenders grow their businesses.

Several years ago, a career coach asked her to assemble a list of people within Fannie Mae who she thought could most influence her career and meet with each of them. “I was unsure if they would take the time to meet with me, but to my surprise, every one opened the door to me and helped guide my career. All for the asking.”

What Companies Can Do

Then, of course, women need a receptive audience for their efforts.

Although the onus is ultimately on women themselves, sometimes companies have to make the first move. Most companies have executive management programs that provide mentoring and coaching for middle managers. They need to encourage women to join them. “Companies must focus on developing the women executives as much as the men to give them the opportunity to set professional goals for themselves,” Lowrie says.

Davies recommends that companies also tap women to take roles that might even be outside of their comfort zone, but within their skill set. “Maybe their management acumen is exactly what you need in another division, and you can move them there even if they don’t have all the technical expertise.”

And finally, companies that aren’t sure where to start should seek advice, beginning with some of the successful women-owned businesses in the mortgage industry, Whip says.

A Conversation That Will Be Continued

The positive reception to the women’s networking event ensures that it will grow. “MBA will continue to make this a priority, and our industry will be stronger as more women are elevated,” says Davies, who is already looking forward to the next event.

“We want to be at the table, not the person setting the table,” she adds.

Cathie Ericson is a freelance writer for online and print publications such as The Oregonian, Learnvest.com, and Forbes.com and has been writing for Housing Industry Forum since its launch.