The business case for gender diversity got a huge shot in the arm this year with data from Morgan Stanley showing a positive relationship between equity returns and the gender composition of employees. The study, “A Framework for Gender Diversity in the Workplace,” found that companies with higher gender diversity delivered better on returns, with lower volatility, than companies with low gender diversity.

While the study looked at global companies across a variety of business sectors, it found that gender diversity was especially important for sectors where employee engagement and satisfaction “reflects directly on the quality of the product or service,” and named financial services specifically.

The study is the latest attempt to get hard numbers around a slippery topic. Gender data isn’t always reported; even when it is, there is usually a long lag time, making the information less helpful. As Morgan Stanley noted in publishing its study, “While human resources departments should have ready access to gender-related data, companies either don’t consider this metric meaningful to investors or don’t want to expose themselves, particularly when no requirement exists.”

The impetus to create a gender-balanced workforce springs from many motivations, from moral and ethical considerations to more practical concerns like a company’s bottom-line performance.F1 graph1

“Women account for half of the global labor supply and about 70% of global consumption demand. Women’s rights are human rights but they are also a key determinant of economic prosperity,” Laura D’Andrea Tyson, former chair of the U.S. president’s Council of Economic Advisors, wrote on a McKinsey & Company blog.

For our industry, recruiting and promoting women is crucial to expanding homeownership and giving more people access to the American Dream.

So what is the state of gender equality in housing finance? What progress has our industry made and what still needs to be addressed?F1 graph2

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers, since the level of diversity varies based on what part of the industry you look at and what data you compare.

For example, unlike some of the traditionally male-dominated fields in our industry, women make up a majority of Realtors — 58% — according to the National Association of Realtors. However, on average, female Realtors earned only about 66% of what male Realtors earned in 2013, according to The Real Deal. But given that selling real estate involves the many intangible factors of sales jobs everywhere, it’s hard to draw any meaningful conclusions from those stats.

And our industry includes economists, accountants, mortgage brokers, appraisers, loan officers, attorneys and many more occupations. Each of those subgroups vary in the number of women who are employed or are in leadership, as well as what they get paid compared to men in those same occupations.

A tidy summation, therefore, is not possible.

However, even with the difficulty of comparing apples to apples, there is compelling data to suggest that this industry, like many others, has a long way to go to reach gender equality in employment, leadership and pay standards.

Consider the following stats:

  • The biggest wage gap in the U.S. is in the “financial activities” industry. Women account for more than half of all employees, but earn only 69 cents for every $1 men make. (
  • Barclays employs more women than men (51% to 49%) but almost 80% of the top jobs and board positions are held by men. (CNN
  • Of the 10 major occupation groups where women’s earnings lagged behind men’s earnings the most, five were in finance. (The Wall Street Journal)
  • Female-run startups produce 31% higher return on investment than startups by men, but only 20% of female entrepreneurs receive any venture capital. (The Kauffman Foundation)

Clearly there is still much work to be done, and regulators and industry leaders are taking on the challenge.