This article was originally published in the March 2019 issue of National Mortgage Professional Magazine, by Brooke Mulder
I would like to start this article by saying that I love the mortgage industry. I’ve been working for financial institutions since business school, which eventually led me into the mortgage space specifically. I’ve worked as a Loan Officer, a Sales Manager for a team of 15 LOs, a Business Analyst, a Call Center Director and an Executive. It’s an exciting, fast-paced, ever-changing industry. I love the camaraderie many of us feel when we see the same faces again and again at conferences. I love that for an industry that employs some 350,000 people, it can seem like such a small world. Everybody seems to be connected by one or two degrees of separation. I also love that it’s an industry where people can earn a good living and advance quickly, even without years of schooling.
However, just because you love something doesn’t mean you don’t think it can do better. And when it comes to diversity and inclusion, we as an industry can do better. I’ve worked for a mortgage company with a particularly bad reputation for the number of female employees and especially the number of women in leadership roles. I’ve also worked for a company that tried many initiatives to increase diversity and inclusion. I can say with certainty that the company with the diversity initiatives enjoyed lower Loan Officer turnover, as well as a shorter and more efficient recruiting process. The company that implemented diversity initiatives was Freedom Mortgage, and if a company with more than 5,000 employees is able to ensure that diversity is a priority, all companies should be able to.
I’d like to discuss a few different things lenders can do to demonstrate a commitment to diversity and inclusion. One initiative that was very successful at Freedom Mortgage was in relation to the MBA’s Path to Diversity Scholarship Program. This program “recognizes existing industry professionals who are seeking to advance their careers through continuing education. Recipients receive a voucher to cover course registration fees, up to a maximum of $2,000, for popular MBA Education courses and designation programs.” The way that Freedom Mortgage chose to encourage employees to apply for this program was by covering the airfare and hotel for any employees that were awarded the scholarship, so they could more easily attend one of the educational courses. This is a win/win scenario for any mortgage lender who chooses to adopt this strategy: Not only will the lender be publicly showing its commitment to diversity, but the employee will actually be strengthening their mortgage knowledge at the same time. As a past recipient of the Path to Diversity Scholarship, I highly recommend lenders encourage their employees to take advantage of it.
Another thing lenders can do to recruit and retain a more diverse workforce is to support, and encourage employees to participate with, industry-leading diversity groups. A few examples are the National Association of Minority Mortgage Bankers of America (NAMMBA), mPower (MBA Promoting Opportunities for Women to Extend their Reach) and NEXT. These organizations offer regional or local chapter meetings, national conferences, and continuing education options. There are many creative ways lenders can support participation with these groups. A lender can organize its own internal contest to choose an employee to send to one of the national conferences. If that’s not in the budget or having as many employees participate as possible is the goal, there are other options. Many of these groups have chapter meetings. Maybe employees can attend on company time. There are also Webinars and remote events. Why not encourage employees to take an hour monthly to continue their education or network with others in the industry? Get creative—find a way to encourage participation in the way that makes the most sense for your organization!
Another idea for lenders to consider implementing to increase diversity, reduce turnover and improve recruiting efforts is to allow employees to form their own support groups. Have your HR department draft some guidelines for employee resource groups that comply with local and federal laws. This is also something that Freedom Mortgage supported. While working as a Sales Manager for Freedom Mortgage’s Tempe Call Center, I created a group for the women in the office, with Freedom’s support. Our group was named WILMA (the Women’s Initiative for Leadership, Mentorship & Advancement) and our aim was simple: Have a space for women to come together in a supportive environment. We helped employees find mentors (from within the office or the company as a whole), we discussed career-planning goals, we made sure all members were up to date on upcoming networking events in the community, and we were a circle of support in an industry that tends to be very male dominated. Our meetings were during the work day, and our employer paid us for the hour we spent together.
My final suggestion for lenders is to make sure any diversity and inclusion initiatives are promoted from the top and socialized. Whether you implement one of the ideas above, or create new ones, the company leadership needs to be publicly bought-in. The executive leadership team should be involved in promoting any ideas or programs. Additionally, lenders will need to make sure that the initiatives are properly socialized and communicated so that employees are aware of them and how to participate. The best program can’t help anybody if nobody knows it exists!
When it comes to running a mortgage company, there are constantly many different balls in the air. Some things the industry is dealing with right now are: discussions on LO compensation, the resurgence of non-QM lending, a housing shortage affecting the purchase money market, the need for automation and constant mergers and acquisitions of lenders. There are so many other things that can take the focus away from making diversity a priority. Some lenders might be thinking they will worry about diversity initiatives down the road, as some of these other issues are a higher priority. I would argue that in 2019, it needs to be one of the top priorities. Lenders will have an easier time with recruiting when new employee prospects see a diverse workplace. Employees that feel supported will be less likely to chase the greener grass of another lender. Finally, a more diverse workforce will help lenders to reach into more diverse markets.
I highly encourage any lenders wanting to focus on diversity this year to do one more thing – listen. Set up a meeting with your employees and ask for their ideas. The point of fostering a more diverse workforce is to allow for an exchange of unique ideas and viewpoints. So before starting any initiatives, listen to your employees. Diversity and inclusion can become cornerstones of a company’s culture with a little listening and thoughtful planning!
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