'One woman and ally at a time': Group tackles mortgage capital markets gender imbalance

Organization aims to increase representation and parity in "old boys' network"

'One woman and ally at a time': Group tackles mortgage capital markets gender imbalance

To women working in mortgage capital markets, it was a reality that remained glaringly obvious: the fact that representation in the space had changed little over the decades, staying significantly skewed in favour of men.

Industry events and conferences continued to reinforce that truth, with the feeling of being the only woman, or one of the only women, in the room being all too familiar for many. Finally, in 2022, three women – well-known and hugely successful mortgage professionals in their own right – decided the time to make a change was now.

That spurred the launch by Leslie Winick, Amy Creason, and Pat Peters of CapitalW Collective, a not-for-profit organization aimed at advocating greater parity and representation of women in mortgage capital markets, with another renowned executive, Deb Jones, later completing the four-person board of directors.

Winick (pictured top) told Mortgage Professional America that three pillars sat at the organization’s core: educating, elevating, and empowering women in a sector of the mortgage space that for too long has been viewed as something of an old boys’ network that’s more about who you know than what you know.

Serving as board president at CapitalW, Winick is also chief strategy officer at MCT Trading which, although a wholly separate entity, has played an impactful role in sponsoring and supporting the endeavor. She said a shift by MCT to improve its own track record when it came to diversity – in the upper echelons as well as entry-level positions – proved a good case study for CapitalW.

“Education was a key to elevating team members. They came into our company on the lock desk, they learned a bit about mortgage, they said, ‘Hey, I like this. This is cool to me. I have an aptitude for this.’ We were able to recognize talent, and rising stars – and education was the link.

“The other thing that was very important in our learning at MCT: meritocracy. You’re not promoted because of the diversity you bring. You get the job, you’re elevated because you have hustle, you’re smart, you’ve proven you’re collaborative, we like working with you, all of that. So that was an underpinning as well.”

The value of representation

Ian Miller (pictured below), a corporate development partner and ally to CapitalW, told MPA he had been impressed by the reaction to a breakout session at MCT’s Exchange event in March featuring Winick and a number of other women sharing their experiences, growth path, and career journey through a male-dominated sector.

“The part that really struck me was the connections that were being made in the room for the more junior team members, [people] of all different types saying, ‘Wow – look at these women – they’re technically competent [and] have gone through similar challenges to the challenges I’m facing.’

“So simply by having representation at these conferences, in these leadership positions and these speaking opportunities, CapitalW is illuminating the fact that there’s a career path available, and that [while] the challenges they face may seem insurmountable or make you feel isolated, you’re not isolated.”

What’s next for CapitalW?

Areas of focus for CapitalW in 2024 include online learning, with LinkedIn videos and “Take5” interviews with prominent industry figures allowing mortgage capital markets professionals to see how various individuals have progressed and furthered their own careers.

Content-driven webinars with breakout sessions are on the way – and as the organization gains transaction and targets corporate sponsorship, it’s also hoping to launch a hallmark annual deep learning and networking event.

A Speakers Bureau is also in the works, putting together a comprehensive reference point for conference and event organizers to source and contact experienced and knowledgeable women to speak at and take part in their events.

“Acknowledgement that these experts exist is important. And then younger people will see the experts, meet them, talk to them and have mentorship,” Winick said. “It’s just a wonderful, virtuous circle that way.”

When it comes to improving parity within the space, Winick described “intention” as a key consideration: intentionally casting a wide net to produce talented and diverse representation in the workforce and at events.

“It’s based on merit – not just a person randomly taking that seat. But you have to have the intention to do it,” she said. “So it is a change, and we do want buy-in. Some people are going to push back because change is hard.”

That’s doubly important with the sector having just experienced a significant downturn that resulted in scores of industry professionals losing their jobs. When things kick into gear again, companies are going to need talent – and they’ll need to ensure that they’re hiring the best people possible, Winick said.

Among the organization’s allies is MCT president and chief executive officer Curtis Richins, who acknowledged the need to diversify the workforce and strive for greater gender parity looking ahead.

That frankness and willingness to embrace change is an approach that’s welcome in the industry – with more of it needed, according to Miller. “That’s part of the challenge that you’re going to face throughout the industry, this self-reflection,” he said. “You really have to see honestly but realize that you have a choice to make improvements through that honest assessment.”

“More seats at the table”

Miller soon plans to begin a study delving into women’s representation at capital markets industry events with the aim of providing a barometer for where things stand and what more needs to be done.

“It’s quite challenging to make sure that you’re reaching for that equal representation and diversity at large in speakership,” he said. “So it’s not to say that this is easy or that this is something we can all just flip a switch and be done overnight – but certainly tracking where we are today and knowing where we’d like to go, and hopefully making some progress along the way, is something that this study could help us to achieve.”

As a nonprofit organization, CapitalW is actively seeking corporate and individual sponsors – and for Winick, it’s just getting started on what it plans to achieve.

“We’re doing this because we want more seats at the table. We want smarter people in seats and we want to lift the whole industry up together,” she said. “We’ve got to get this next generation into mortgage – and get them excited about it.”

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