By now, you’ve surely heard the acronym DEI, which stands for diversity, equity and inclusion. Organizations in every industry are beginning to make it a priority, but if your company is throwing the phrase around, are you also making an honest effort to create a more diverse workforce?
The demographics of mortgage industry professionals in particular have diversified over the past couple of decades. As always, there’s more work to do.
More than 70% of professionals in the mortgage industry are white and almost 60% are male. Changing these numbers isn’t just about what’s popular; it’s important because it’s what the business is all about. In this industry, the clients include all demographics. Mortgage professionals are here to serve people of all races, religions, sexual orientations, gender identities and beyond, and it does no one any good to place more emphasis on one group over another.
Over the past several years, the mortgage industry has seen changes begin to take shape. Company marketing materials and photos feature a much more diverse group of models, and clients are finally seeing some representation. Large companies are beginning to support Pride events, roll out diversity and inclusion initiatives, and more. Every bit of effort here helps mortgage professionals of all types to better connect to their communities, and to make it clear that the industry is supportive of each and every community member — not just a select few.
So, where do you begin? If you’re a mortgage industry executive or human resources (HR) leader, or anyone else responsible for hiring, focusing on your own team is an important place to start when staring into the face of a fairly monumental issue. Start by asking yourself a few questions and practicing some honest reflection. Does your team all look the same? Do most or all of your employees have similar backgrounds? And if so, have you made an attempt to become more diverse or have you been neutral in your search for talent?
Next, are the benefits offered by your company inclusive? (For example, do they apply to same-sex partners and not just heterosexual married couples?) Most importantly, are you truly creating a supportive and safe environment for your team to thrive? Once you’ve taken the time to gauge where you stand, these steps will assist you in making critical changes at your organization.
There’s no way to get a clear picture of how your company is doing without gathering truthful feedback from your team. Maybe your HR team can send out an anonymous survey, or maybe you can form a DEI council to help encourage open discussion and open it up for any interested team members to join.
Speaking with all employees individually also can be a smart move. You want to make sure you’ve given every single person a chance to discuss their needs and raise a hand if they don’t feel comfortable at work. For example, do you know how all your employees want to be referred to and what pronouns they’re comfortable with? Are you aware if someone is experiencing unfair or uncomfortable treatment? It’s time to ask the tough questions.
Don’t create a council or gather honest opinions if you’re not prepared to jump right in and start making some changes. For example, if certain minority employees feel like they’re being passed over for opportunities more often than white employees, what can you do to ensure you’re leveling the playing field and making an effort to let their voices be heard? All of this might mean changes to long-time company policies, regular check-ins for feedback and, hopefully, some goal setting.
Work together with your executive team and HR personnel to make a one-year plan (and beyond) with monthly or quarterly milestones, and have a plan in place to follow through and assess the changes you’re making. For some mortgage companies, it could even make sense to hire an executive to lead this work, as more companies are starting to do.
When you feel comfortable with the plan you’ve put in place, don’t hold back in sharing your goals with your audience. Your company’s values are increasingly important to current and future clients.
The best way to make progress is collaboratively. There are plenty of other groups in every industry and every community that are prioritizing issues like diversity and inclusion, so get connected.
You might consider learning more about Black Lives Matter efforts in your area, or join a local chapter of a group like PFLAG that supports the LGBTQ+ community. The Action Network website also can help you find groups near you that may offer meetings, trainings or other kinds of support for you and your team.
If you’d like to focus on industry-specific connections, you might look into what is offered by the local chapter of the Mortgage Bankers Association, and propose a joint initiative on education and/or hiring. Many industry groups already have an abundance of useful resources to reference, such as ones from the American Bankers Association or Freddie Mac. Think of it like networking but for a different kind of good.
As is often the case, the biggest hurdle that gets in the way of embracing workplace diversity is education. It’s necessary to get yourself and your team more comfortable with asking questions and developing an understanding of how to approach the issue holistically.
Start by speaking with your executive team about their own knowledge and comfort levels, ensuring that change comes from the deepest levels of the organization. Dip your toes in the water by perusing the limitless supply of free and easily accessible reading from reputable online sources. For example, PBS NewsHour shared five ways to approach racial equity at work, Forbes published an article that discusses racial discrimination in the workplace, and business magazine Fast Company offered tips on how to have conversations about diversity and inclusion without causing an argument.
From there, consider bringing in a third party to lead diversity and inclusion training, being sure to include yourself as a student, too. These training programs aren’t too hard to come by and many can be found online.
Using welcoming and inclusive hiring practices is crucial to bringing in more diverse talent. For example, take a look at your applications and make sure you’re not forcing anyone to check a “male” or “female” box without providing additional options or a “rather not say” option. You’ll want to be on the lookout for any language that will make an applicant feel that they couldn’t possibly fit the role you’re searching for.
On your hiring page, don’t be afraid to be vocal about your support of minority communities, and your hope that applicants of any and all backgrounds and identities will apply. In the same way companies often encourage veterans to apply, make it clear that you encourage absolutely every type of person to apply. Maybe even throw in a Pride flag.
Now that you’re ready to start revitalizing your workplace, don’t forget to advocate for the industry as a whole to do better. For example, the mortgage industry made progress recently when the 1003 loan application form was updated to offer a “do not wish to disclose” option under the gender and race fields.
But did you know that, if someone applies for a home loan in person, the loan officer must still make their best guess about the race of the applicant and report this information? This gives unconscious (or conscious) bias an opportunity to impact the loan approval rather than creditworthiness and ability to repay, and it works against the idea of a fair approval process. If the mortgage industry wants to make it clear that it’s a welcoming community for all, these most basic processes need to reflect that.
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At the end of the day, the mortgage industry is about creating community. And healthy communities are built on the golden rule that each and every one of us learned at a young age — treat others the way you’d like to be treated. It is truly that simple. If everybody can take this idea to heart and grow as our society grows, the mortgage industry can do a better job of mirroring and respecting the people it serves. ●