Aneeza Haleem
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“The day will come when man will recognize woman as his peer, not only at the fireside, but in councils of the nation. Then, and not until then, will there be the perfect comradeship, the ideal union between the sexes that shall result in the highest development of the race”. – Susan B Anthony

Today’s science and technology based innovations have enabled inclusivity far beyond what could have been imagined a few decades ago. Efficient exchange of experiential knowledge powered by social media is bringing corporate social responsibility to the forefront far more this century, than ever before. One of the longest standing programs in this space is gender equality. 

McKinsey & Company’s Women in the Workplace 2017 report compiles data from 222 companies across industries that employ more than 12 million people to show the status of female representation across the corporate pipeline and surveyed over 70,000 employees about their experiences regarding gender-related issues in the workplace. The report reveals unsurprisingly that women, remain underrepresented in the corporate pipeline compared to men. The representation of women gets progressively smaller from entry level employment (forty-seven percent, in spite of being fifty-seven percent of college grads) to C-suite leadership (twenty percent). Even the 2020 Women on Boards’ annual Gender Diversity Index reported that from the Fortune 1000 list that they have been tracking since 2010, women now hold 20.8% of board seats (increase of eight percent) and the percentage of companies with no women on their boards decreased from twenty-nine percent to seven percent.

The inclusion of women at the upper echelons of corporate America should not be considered as token hiring. The influence of women both within corporations, as well as acting as consumers, is significant. A 2011 analysis by Catalyst found that Fortune 500 companies that consistently had three or more female board directors over a five-year period received nearly a fifty percent higher return on equity than companies with no women on their boards. According to a 2014 Credit Suisse Research Institute study, companies with more than fifteen percent of women in top management have a higher return on equity than companies with less than ten percent.

Specifically, within mortgages & lending, the demographics for homeownership have changed drastically over the last decade. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women have outpaced single men in homeownership for the last thirty years. Currently in the US, single women account for seventeen percent of homebuyers, compared to seven percent of single men. Single women and mothers are attracted to homeownership as a source of stability, a means of wealth-building. The 2012 Survey of Business Owners revealed that the percentage of women-owned businesses has increased about seven percent for all firms, two percent for real estate and leasing firms, and three percent for finance and investment firms. 

The increase of women entrepreneurs in the industry will affect housing development as more women increase their buying power and become homeowners. Women-owned businesses in the U.S. grew by one and a half times faster than the national average over the last 15 years, employing nearly eight million people and generating $1.4 trillion in revenues. In addition to that, women control $20 trillion in consumer spending globally.

So as a forward thinking mortgage lending executive – you recognize needing that voice heard for continued success. 

Women senior leaders are noticeably more common within mortgage lending as compared to say insurance or technology companies. 

“Traditionally, mortgage lending has been a sales-driven business model with primarily men at the helm with women gravitating to the more supportive, problem-solving, detail-oriented roles such as operations, customer service, quality control and compliance," wrote Kathy Gyselinck, Executive Vice President of Southeast Mortgage of Georgia, in an article in Mortgage Women magazine. 

"Amidst the hierarchy of gender specific roles within organizations was also a focus aimed at production quantity, which many believe contributed to the financial collapse in 2007," Gyselinck said. "However, in these post-financial crises days, there has been a monumental shift in the mortgage industry from production quantity to production quality. Today, more firms are aiming to service consumers with customized, superior customer service that meets their specific needs and objectives with a higher level of professionalism, integrity, open communication, and a goal to take a personal, vested interest in each client's unique circumstances – interestingly, all inherent character traits often associated with women."

Add to this paradigm-shift, technology that has revolutionized how and where we work. Gone are the days of 9 – 5 in an enclosed space – the flexibility of online collaboration tools has given us all the flexibility to schedule work around “life”. Women, in particular, have flourished in this environment – striving to balance their multiple roles. 

Placing experienced women on boards and appointing them to senior executive positions is important as we need more diverse voices at the table where major decisions are made. However, for women professionals to be perceived as more than just token hires, there needs to be a culture shift in companies that embraces diversity and inclusion. More women need to be hired at entry and management levels, and given opportunities to rise through the ranks. Increasing women’s representation in the workforce at the professional level and above requires more integrated practices and policies and focus on all levels on employment.

Tolerance, diversity and inclusion should not remain political opinions or corporate checkboxes - they are non-negotiable human rights. Collective action and shared responsibility for driving gender parity are key towards creating a diverse and inclusive environment. Gloria Steinem once explained "the story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights." It isn’t just about women, it’s about uplifting humanity, seeing beyond stereotypes, enabling success as a group. 

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