A new report shows that women continue to be under-represented in financial broking, but industry awareness of the gender disparity is growing
In an industry that’s about crunching the numbers, the numbers have been stacked against women brokers for some time. The level of female broker participation has been steadily slipping over the past few years, and 2020 marked a new low, with rates dropping below 27% for the first time.
In the five years since the MFAA began collecting data for its Industry Intelligence Service report, the male–female recruitment split has slid from 65% male/35% female to 70%/30%.
“This is a concern for the industry because retention is our biggest challenge for females,” says Jane Counsel, MFAA executive coach and diversity and inclusion consultant at Executive Central.
The recently published edition of the report showed a welcome blip, with female recruitment hitting a three-year high during the pandemic in the period April to September 2020; however, concerns remain regarding the overall downward trend.
Counsel was engaged to work with the MFAA to deliver its first member survey on diversity and inclusion. She was already an adviser on the MFAA’s Community Panel, which promotes sustainability initiatives to members.
The diversity survey identified a number of opportunities for MFAA members to create a more inclusive industry for women and to boost diversity. Its findings were published in the first Opportunities for Women (OFW) report in 2018.
Since its inception, says Counsel, the OFW initiative had made a measurable impact by “shining light on the realities of the different industry experiences of men and women”.
While the OFW’s recently released third report reveals that the representation of women continues to fall, the good news is that recognition of the problem is growing.
“Back in 2018, 72% of male respondents did not think women were under-represented in the industry; that has now fallen to just 50%, which is a great example of the increased awareness this initiative is creating in the industry around the issue,” says Counsel.
While the OFW report shows the number of women recruited as brokers has dropped by about 20%, brokerage Mortgage Choice doesn’t see this reflected in employee statistics across its franchise network. However, that’s because there’s such a high percentage (80%) of women in administrative and marketing roles. It’s in broking that there’s a gap.
“Just one in three (31%) of our loan writers are women, and one in four (26%) franchise owners,” says CEO Susan Mitchell.
“To address these gaps, we are making significant endeavours to grow the number of women in broking and in business owner-ship. This is being driven especially through our Aspire initiative, which launched in 2020. I’d also add we are one of the few ASX-listed companies with a female CEO and chair.”
The stress factor
So, why are women so woefully lacking in the sector – and why, when they are hired, are they not staying on as brokers?
Counsel points to the fact that women still carry the burden of childcare – only made worse during the pandemic. “There has been a lot of research done that demonstrates women’s workloads at home increased during COVID, and they are continuing to carry the burden at home,” she says.
On top of this societal factor, the need for additional compliance following the banking royal commission has only increased the complexity and workload of brokers, says Counsel.
Mitchell says it’s important to note that the total broker population has decreased year-on-year, so it’s not only women who are leaving, although recently the proportion of women leaving the industry has been higher than the number of men.
She believes several factors are causing the decline: women’s increased responsibility as primary child carers; their desire to step back from full-time jobs and/or business ownership; retirement; and the stress of the job – some-thing both men and women have highlighted. Increased regulation and compliance and decreasing earnings have also played a role.
This is backed up by the OFW survey, which found that the combination of a growing workload due to increased compliance post the royal commission and the challenge of being primary carers was fuelling the female exodus. There was also a perceived ‘boys’ club’ element in broking.
Counsel sees support mechanisms as crucial to making broking a viable and attractive career choice.
“It is something the MFAA is supporting through initiatives such as our peer-to-peer support program, the work-life balance e-book we are developing, and investigations into developing a pathways program into the industry which will help attract more female brokers,” she says.
“As an industry we need to move beyond just talking about the challenges women face and start to collaborate on more innovative solutions around retention.”
One such solution would be to hear from experienced and successful women about how they navigated the challenges, Counsel says.
Industry leaders can also make an important contribution to closing the gender gap, she points out, by showing zero tolerance of non-inclusive behaviours and calling them out. Other steps would be greater innovation in female recruitment, more guidance and support to help women navigate common challenges around balancing family and career, and working to “make this industry inclusive to everyone, particularly in how we hold industry events and in the diversity of the role models we promote as successful”.
Mitchell says industry leaders can help by underlining the business potential of broking over the next decade.
“Booming property markets, more diverse customer bases, stronger process automation and more efficient compliance are just some starting points to the conversation,” she says.
It is also vital to send the message that mortgage broking is an industry that progressively tackles its issues.
“The industry must communicate both internally and externally that it is not a boys’ club, and there is equal opportunity for women to reach the highest levels.”
From broker to business owner
Mitchell believes the industry needs to provide women with the right guidance to transition into broking careers and make the leap into business ownership. She says Mortgage Choice is having some success in this area: 33% of its new franchisees in 2021 are women – four percentage points above the current industry average for female recruitment.
And as an employment choice, becoming a broker has a lot to commend it. While COVID-19 has massively impacted sectors that have traditionally attracted women, like service industries and tourism, the mortgage and finance sector is flourishing, which must surely prompt thoughts of a career change.
OFW research has also shown that the lack of a gender pay gap in broking, along with the flexible hours it offers and the ability to run your own business, are very appealing to women, says Counsel.
Mitchell points out that while running a small business is hard work, there are considerable payoffs.
“The best mortgage brokers are those that also see their role as financial educators,” she says. “They will help people make one of the largest, if not the largest, financial decisions of their lifetime – to buy their first home. Or it may be to help someone start on the property investment ladder, among many other scenarios. It can be an incredibly fulfilling career.”
The benefits of parity
By boosting female participation, everybody wins, because the industry needs women if it is to truly reflect its client base.
“Women make up half of Australia’s population. It is important the mortgage broking industry takes steps to move closer to this ratio to better reflect the community it operates in,” Mitchell says.
Market research consistently shows that women are either making or influencing the majority of financial decisions in households, Counsel adds.
“They are a major customer segment. If we don’t have representation of women as brokers, how can we truly say we understand their needs and can build trusted and sustainable relationships with them as clients? For too long women have felt they are misunderstood and that they have been marketed at, not marketed to. This industry is missing a major growth opportunity if we continue to lose female brokers.”