Commercial real estate finance remains a heavily male- dominated industry, but women have been making inroads. Some of this progress is the product of the work of mPower, a networking group started by the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) to promote women within the industry. Marcia Davies, MBA’s chief operating officer and the founder of mPower, spoke with Scotsman Guide about where the industry stands in terms of recruiting, hiring and promoting women.
Are mortgage companies making a point of recruiting women?
Diversity overall in the candidate pool has been a priority for many industries, including our own, for several years now, and gender diversity specifically is part of that mix. But it’s not only hiring, it’s promotions also. As we look at the ranks within our organizations, we need to make sure that the opportunities for promotions are granted to a diverse candidate pool. We noticed early on that there weren’t as many women in leadership and manager roles.
What are some common biases that women face?
One of the biases, whether it’s unconscious or conscious, is that if a woman is also a mother, has children at home, that she won’t be able to travel as much or work long hours. Managers shouldn’t assume that you’re burdening a female employee by asking her to travel for three days. So, that stigma, No. 1, should be dispelled. As women in the workplace, we manage our families, we manage our professional lives, we are successful. So, give the woman the opportunity to decide for herself.
One of the personal biases we may put on ourselves is that sometimes we don’t raise our hand for an opportunity because we believe we need more experience, or we need to meet more of the criteria. Often, men will raise their hand and say, ‘I’m going to go for that opportunity.’
Diversity isn’t a nice thing; it is a business imperative.
Are fewer women in leadership positions because fewer are employed in the industry, or is it bias?
If you look at some of the data, women make it to a certain point within an organization, and then getting into next levels of leadership, the numbers seem to drop off. Some of it is, are women putting themselves up for those opportunities? Women have to do a good job advocating for themselves and going after those roles. And we need to have people within organizations who are willing to advocate for us. As you go further up in management, you also need to be sure the leadership believes in diversity, equity and inclusion.
Diversity has to have a spot at the table — diversity of opinion, of experience, of background. And that means that you need to be sure that you’re working within organizations that are championing women and people of color advancing within the organizations, and providing those opportunities.
What does a company gain by promoting more women?
One study conducted by Catalyst a few years ago suggested that Fortune 500 companies with three or more women on their board, or companies with women in senior leadership positions, had a significantly higher return on equity. So, that data suggests that diversity isn’t a nice thing; it is a business imperative.
It’s because women come at decisions, problems, you name it, differently than our male counterparts. When you put the two thought processes together, you’re going to have a better outcome than someone only thinking about a project from their experience. That’s what women bring to the table. That’s what people of color bring to the table. So, I like to look at diversity as diversity of thought and perspective, and you come to better solutions.
What is your advice to women who face sexism and harassment?
We don’t want our male colleagues to be afraid to say, ‘Let’s go to lunch and work through this problem,’ but we also don’t want our male colleagues saying something that is inappropriate. There are times when men aren’t aware that they’re being offensive, and then there are times when the behavior seems to snowball and people become uncomfortable.
I’m hoping it’s not as pervasive as it was, but I do think that women need to be their own advocates and they need to find their allies within the office who can help them if an issue arises. And obviously if it’s egregious, you need to notify [human resources]. It is important for the women of commercial real estate to know there is a community out there, the mPower community. Sometimes it’s just [about] picking up the phone and talking to one another. There is a network out here to talk through the things you just asked me. ●