For Women in Mortgage Industry, 'Now Is the Time'

Sorohan, Mike

May 19, 2016

NEW YORK--Fortune 500 companies with three or more women on their board of directors have a 50 percent greater occurrence of women placed in senior staff positions.

This simple fact, from Fast Forward: How Women Can Achieve Power and Purpose co-authored by Kim Azzarelli, chair and co-founder of the Cornell Law School's Avon Global Center for Women and Justice and partner with Seneca Point Global, illustrates the power and purpose of women in senior positions in the workplace and women's economic participation.

Speaking here at the MBA National Secondary Market Conference & Expo's Women in Real Estate Finance Networking Luncheon, Azzarelli said in many industries, women are still not viewed as powerful agents a change. "Many companies do not recognize the value of partnering with women," she said. "They are missing an opportunity.

Data support this recognition of opportunity:
--A 2012 report from a major consulting firm said more than one billion women are poised to enter the world economy over the next decade, their impact could be the equivalent of China or India.
--Between 1997 and 2014, women-owned businesses in the U.S. grew by one and a half times faster than the national average, employing nearly eight million people and generating $1.4 trillion in revenues.
--Women control $20 trillion in consumer spending globally.

Here at the MBA National Secondary Market Conference & Expo, 25 percent of the 1,800 attendees are women--a percentage that roughly mirrors that of the real estate finance industry. But at the top levels, women still occupy a disproportionate level of senior-level positions in the industry.

"MBA has made a concerted effort over the past year to provide networking forums and educational opportunities for women in the industry," said MBA Chief Operating Officer Marcia Davies. "We recognize the importance of this segment of the real estate finance industry and look forward to doing even more to advance women as leaders within the industry."

When Regina Lowrie, CMB, president of RML Investments Inc., Blue Bell, Pa., became MBA Chair in 2005, it was the first time a women held the association's top elected position in its nearly 100-year history. Since then, only one other woman, Debra Still, CMB, president of Pulte Mortgage, Englewood, Colo., has served in that capacity.

"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 a recent 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."

Azzarelli said now is the time for women to take a more assertive and visible role in the workplace. "We are at a unique moment in history," she said. "We no longer live in a ‘top-down' world in which decisions and trends come from the top We have never had so many women in positions of leadership, although it is only 16-17 percent of all senior management. Some call it the ‘glass ceiling;' others call it a 'thick layer of men.'"

What's different now, Azzarelli said, "is that we are storming the beaches of every business. We are graduating at higher rates than ever; we are in the ranks of middle management, making decisions and driving business...we are not there yet, but we are so close...what's different is that more and more companies now know that to grow, they need to invest in women. We are closer today than we've ever been; women drive results."

Technology is one of the key drivers of change, Azzarelli said. "In today's workplace, you would never design a workday as 9-6 or a school day as 8-3," she said. "Technology is redesigning things; we live in an era of Airbnb and Uber; but to make these changes we have to have a place at the table. We have to change the legacy institutions and change the way people think about things."

"We can change the future," Azzarelli said. "But we have to own it. We can't only wait for Oprah or Melinda Gate to move us forward; we each have to contribute, we have to do it ourselves."

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