Women In Mortgage: You’ve Come A Long Way

BLOG VIEW: In an article that appeared in the January 2013 issue of Secondary Marketing Executive magazine, I boldly proclaimed that 2013 would be the “Year of the Woman” in the mortgage industry, and there was plenty of reason to believe this would be true. A year later, when compliance and operations (two typically female-dominated areas) began to take center stage, the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) elected a female as its chair – something that has only occurred twice in the MBA’s 100-plus-year history. (They were Regina Lowrie in 2006 and Debra Still in 2013.)

Nearly three years after my proclamation (and given my own personal interest in the topic), I wondered, “What is the current state of women in the mortgage industry?”

Back then, we took to LinkedIn to assess the gender dynamics and career paths of mortgage banking professionals. Using a non-Boolean search for senior-level people in the financial services industry, we conducted two queries – one using the keywords “mortgage,” “compliance” and “operations” and a second using the keywords “mortgage” and “sales.”

We then sampled the first 100 profiles retrieved by each search, sorted by keyword relevance, and tried to determine, if it wasn’t obvious, if the profile belonged to a man or a woman. Our compliance/operations search turned up 56 female profiles versus 42 male profiles. Two could not be classified, meaning the profiles were anonymous and lacked any gender-specific details (e.g., fraternity or sorority, use of gender-specific pronouns in recommendations, etc.). The sales search returned 22 female profiles versus 74 male profiles, with four that could not be classified.

Admittedly, this search was completely unscientific and only captured data from a specific moment in time without any historical or overall industry context. However, the results did verify what we intuited to be true – females are the majority among mortgage compliance/operations professionals, while males dominate the sales side of the industry.

Using the same methodology with one small change (adding the “real estate” category to our industry search), we conducted another LinkedIn profile assessment to see if the needle has moved in either direction. Interestingly, the numbers didn’t change much.

Among the profiles returned in the operations/compliance search, 57 belonged to women and 43 to men – almost identical to the previous results. In the sales search, 69 profiles were male and 31 were female, indicating a slight narrowing of the gap in that area.

What’s interesting to note is the number of total profiles each search returned. Previously, the compliance/operations search returned a total of 9,953 profiles, whereas the most recent search returned 19,845 – nearly a 100% increase. Of course, this could be explained by a surge in LinkedIn’s popularity among mortgage industry professionals, but with the current regulatory climate and increased focus on loan quality, my gut tells me this is no coincidence.

Conversely, the number of sales profiles seems to have declined slightly since 2013. Back then, our search returned 44,605 profiles, and the most recent search only returned 39,005 – representing a 12.5% decline.

So, what does this tell us? My interpretation is that the mortgage industry has been undergoing a personnel correction over the past two years. In a market dominated by sales and production, the number of executives coming out of this area was higher than others because there was a bigger pool to choose from in this area, and organizations placed greater emphasis on the achievements of sales and production because those accomplishments matched up directly with the organization’s overall priorities.

Production seems to be regaining some of the ground it lost. However, the industry seems to have learned some lessons from the crisis, and production is, therefore, being tempered so as not to become the be-all, end-all focus. This, more than anything, most likely accounts for the reduction in overall sales personnel.

Now that priorities have shifted to operations and compliance, we’re seeing a dramatic increase in the overall number of professionals tasked with these responsibilities. Thus, as a more female-centric sector, it increases the potential for women to attain executive-level positions. As battle-hardened warriors that weathered one of the worst periods in our industry’s history, today’s female mortgage professionals are able to shine brighter than ever because they can bring their operational/compliance expertise to the fore when the industry needs it the most.

What’s also noteworthy is the number of quality control and compliance vendors that have either been founded by women or have a strong female spokesperson. Here are just a couple of examples:

  • Anna DeSimone, principal and founder of Bankers Advisory;
  • Annemaria Allen, CEO/president of The Compliance Group;
  • Christine Clifford, CMB, formerly of Access Mortgage Research & Consulting; and
  • Ann Fulmer, former vice president of industry relations at Interthinx-First American.

These strong, smart women have become some of the most well-respected voices in the mortgage industry today. When they talk, people listen. That level of respect, particularly in this industry, has to be earned the hard way, and these ladies have proven they know what they’re talking about when it comes to quality control and compliance.

What’s harder to quantify, though equally as noteworthy, is the overall increase in the number of female attendees at industry events and conferences, which is also reflective of the importance of operations and compliance in the industry. There’s always been a perception, at least internally, that the mortgage industry can be a “boys club.” However, this industry is also based on sheer capitalism, and meritocracy has a lot of value. If you can deliver on what you promise, you can do very well.

Of course, merit can only take you so far. I’ve had many young female professionals ask me how I’ve gotten to where I am in my career today. What follows are the main pieces of advice I offer.

Have An Intellectual Curiosity About Your Craft

Creativity and critical-thinking skills are in high demand in any industry, but I think they hold particular value for mortgage professionals, as we grapple with the changing regulatory landscape. This industry is a fascinating web of interconnected processes, and taking the time to discover its inner workings beyond your assigned department, job title, etc., can lead you to some interesting insights that will serve you years down the line.

Don’t Shy Away From Professional Confrontation

This is one area that many female professionals struggle with because females are generally conditioned to be peacemakers, rather than peace-breakers. It’s okay to make some waves when they are warranted. This isn’t a license to get into screaming matches with your colleagues, but the ability to politely, yet firmly, push back is a skill that takes some time to master. However, once you do, it will only serve to increase your level of respect from your colleagues.

Never Apologize For Wanting To Be Heard And Respected

This is a realization I’ve come to later on in my life. There are things that I was willing to tolerate in my younger years that I no longer will accept. Quite simply, I refuse to have my thoughts or opinions dismissed without cause. Disagreement based on the perceived merits of my opinion is one thing, but to have someone disregard my contributions based on preconceived biases is not okay. I have earned my place at the table, and I deserve respect.

Ultimately, in 2013, women in mortgage were still pushing to get more seats at the table. Now that we have those seats, the focus becomes acknowledging that success and leveraging the power we possess to make a meaningful change for our industry. We are entering into the next phase of the mortgage industry’s existence, and we need a diversity of voices (e.g., gender, race, age, etc.) to ensure we remain inclusive of all – both internally regarding personnel and externally for borrowers and their ability to access credit. The increasing visibility of women in the executive levels of mortgage leadership is an encouraging first step to achieving that reality.

Ruth Lee is executive vice president of sales for Denver-based Titan Lenders Corp. She can be reached at ruth.lee@titanlenderscorp.com.


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