Towards a more gender-inclusive mortgage industry

Lenders need to make changes, now

Towards a more gender-inclusive mortgage industry

The following is an opinion piece written by Courtney Mattison, director of operations for Taxpayers Protection Alliance. The views expressed within the article do not necessarily reflect those of Mortgage Professional America or Key Media.

Recently we’ve been inundated with reminders that talented, powerful men often get away with unacceptable behavior toward women. From news of Bill Cosby’s release, to headlines detailing Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer’s disturbing actions, to the recent allegations against the cofounder of Teneo, we have to recognize that as long as we fail to hold men accountable for their actions, those actions will continue. Even when facing consequences, organizations often prioritize a man’s profit potential over justice for their victims. There is no doubt the Dodgers would have preferred Trevor Bauer play despite horrific headlines, and networks would like to continue broadcasting Cosby’s shows, but it’s past time to hold men accountable - an essential step in moving toward a gender-inclusive society.

This is also true in the mortgage industry. A year ago last month, news broke that Association of Independent Mortgage Experts (AIME) CEO Anthony Casa shared a series of defamatory, threatening, and misogynistic videos and messages regarding the wife of a competitor. Media and onlookers were quick to express their shock at his vulgarity, a number of lenders cut ties with the trade association, and the National Association of Mortgage Brokers condemned his actions. While Casa initially took a leave of absence from the group after a defamation lawsuit was filed against him and officially stepped down in October, he continues to work in the mortgage industry and even started his own brokerage in Philadelphia, UMortgage.

However, the rise of the #MeToo movement and calls for stronger accountability have made it clear that a slap on the wrist is no longer appropriate for this kind of inexcusable behavior. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened here.

For many female professionals, Casa’s behavior was only a particularly egregious example of what many women face on a regular basis. A myriad of anecdotes of denied promotions, lower pay, crude remarks and inappropriate advances reflect a pervasive ‘boys club’ culture that dominates and undermines the business world. Twelve months later, reflecting on progress that has been made, and issues that remain, is crucial to the health of our industry and the success and safety of the women that work within it.

Sexism in the workplace is perpetuated for multiple reasons, of which deficient leadership, an absence of acknowledgement, and a lack of accountability are the most widespread. While few male executives stoop to Casa’s level, most fail to lead necessary changes among their employees. Ignorance of these issues, as well as widespread willingness to dismiss them as part and parcel of working in male-dominated offices, contributes to a profound lack of accountability such that only extreme transgressions result in reprimand.

These are not problems without solutions and some companies have already taken meaningful steps to enact change. As a start, the mortgage industry must be more supportive of women and their representation. Whether that entails sponsoring the first all-female IndyCar team like Rocket Pro TPO did this spring or recruiting more women directly out of college, incremental steps towards gender inclusivity compound to change workplace dynamics.

The industry can also do better to hold itself accountable. Alarmingly, many AIME affiliates voiced support for Casa after the revelation, or offered only mild condemnation.

Rather, companies must fire or force out shameless misogynists. The mortgage industry must weed out the bad apples from their ranks, not merely allow them to shift around as we saw with Casa leaving AIME only to open up his own shop. After all, homebuyers and those looking to refinance have a right to know who they are working with at UMortgage.

Finally, female employees must have more accessible opportunities to advance their careers. HousingWire recently showcased the “growing surge of support for women in the industry,” highlighting the accomplishments of women who have risen to leadership and are blazing a new trail. Their success should be recognized and celebrated so that a larger share of the next cohort of female mortgage professionals can aspire to do the same. 

There exists a common inclination to downplay the severity of sexism in the business world and to disparage those who reject the status-quo as politically correct authoritarians. However, there is a profound difference between normal gender dynamics and open hostility towards women. Addressing misogyny not only benefits women but also makes companies more productive and successful in their entirety. Even if it didn’t, ‘workplace culture’ would never be a legitimate excuse for behavior that materially disadvantages and intimidates female employees.

To promote greater inclusivity from the mailroom to the boardroom, lenders must be overt in their support for women, create opportunities for their career advancement, and promptly identify and discard their own Anthony Casas. Further, lenders and brokerages should be transparent about who consumers are entrusting their most significant life purchase with. The mortgage industry as a whole will be better for it.

Courtney Mattison is director of operations for Taxpayers Protection Alliance, a non-partisan organization dedicated to educating the public through the research, analysis and dissemination of information on the government’s effects on the economy.