There’s nothing remarkable about women in the mortgage industry. Been there, done that.
There are, however, more and more women who coming to the forefront and stepping into the top tier of the field. Rather than settling for the idea that any representation is good enough, more and more women are taking it upon themselves to write their own narrative and take the big risks in order to reap the big rewards.
Norah Lile, who started her own brokerage in spring 2018, said that certain parts of the industry are more welcoming to women in terms of structure and compensation. The operations side of the industry, she said, is dominated by women, while origination has much more men.
“It really is an entrepreneur type of thing and it’s hard to walk away from that salaried position. So if you are a single mother, you can’t take six months to a year and make zero dollars,” she said, adding that industry-specific grants might be a way for women in particular to take more leaps. “Going from operations to sales, going to 100% commission, was like stepping off a cliff. It was so scary. . . . If I was alone or unmarried, I would not do that. And I think that if there was somebody really believing in it to help and put money out there for women, to show that women can succeed and be more profitable so that if there’s a way they can make it happen, then it’ll pay off in the long run.”
What we have to look for, then, are ways to encourage women to take these leaps and be bold when it comes to entering a male-dominated space. There are plenty of women-focused panels and places for women to discuss their specific challenges, but it would be better for the industry as a whole to have female voices and male voices sitting together at the same table, instead of providing spaces at different ones.
“It takes a very particular personality to be willing to step into the lion’s den. And then once you’re in it, you have to prove yourself,” said Eva Melgarejo, director of multicultural affairs at New American Funding. “You’re going to have to prove yourself probably three times more than your male counterpart is going to have to. Which means that you have to be very determined, and very willing, and you have to have that need to work that hard so that you can survive.”
Working hard isn’t always enough to make it to the top, and successful women are increasingly seeking out other women who are doing great work and helping them up. Mentorships are a vital source of support for both men and women, but for women it can be the maker or breaker of their career. Seeing more women as industry role models is something that can’t be underestimated.
Sue Woodard is the chief customer officer at Total Expert and she says that over the past decade, she’s seen more and more women becoming effective at reaching out, lifting up, mentoring other women and supporting each other in terms of highlighting their own accomplishments as well as the accomplishments of other women.
“That, to me, is part of our professional, almost, obligation. Whether it’s a women or anyone who needs a hand up—we all got to where we are because somebody reached out a hand out to us and helped us up, opened a door, created an opportunity. And I just think that’s something that women and men need to be very intentional about, these things don’t just happen by accident,” she said.
It’s said that revolutions happen from the bottom up, but it can be just as powerful when change happens from the top. In commercial banking, for example, women made up almost 57% of those employed, but only 30% were acting in executive, senior-level roles in 2017, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. When women can’t connect with the current executives at the top level, it’s harder for them to exist in that space. Senior executives could really change the game, not by establishing quotas, but by creating more ways for executives to recognize women who are making a difference in their spheres, and making more out of mentorship opportunities.
“The impact that you’re going to have as a leader, and the impact that you’re going to have on the lives of that next generation of leadership, is unbelievable. And it’s vital for the industry,” Melgarejo said.
The amazing thing about the mortgage industry is that it rewards success, regardless of gender. There’s business for everyone, and women aren’t waiting for men to make space for them. They’re finding ways to shoulder in.