MortgageReal Estate

Pole Position: Why are women falling out of the leadership pipeline?

And what mortgage companies are doing to promote more to women to the C-suite

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When my mother got engaged in 1948, she knew it was just a matter of time before she would have to quit working at the bank in her small Vermont hometown. She liked her job, but once she got married the expectation of her employer — as well as her parents and husband-to-be — was that she would stop working and focus on homemaking.

Decades later, she went to college as a 40-something mother of six and got her nursing degree. By that time, a social revolution had given women a wider world to operate in, and women were taking advantage of it.

Looking back that far, the trajectory of women in business is astounding. Women’s participation in the labor force was 32.7% in 1948; in 2016 it was 56.8%.

In 1970, only 11% of women in the work force had college degrees. In 2016 that number was 40%, and women outearn men in bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees and doctoral degrees.

These are serious gains in the number of women attending and graduating college and then entering the work force. But that pipeline of educated, experienced women starts to erode when you look at the number of women assuming leadership roles in business. Or at least, big business. Consider:

• In 2017, the number of women running Fortune 500 companies is higher than ever before. Great news, except this record number of women CEOs is a whopping 32. That’s a 2% increase in one year, but still only gets the overall percentage to 6.2%. And of those 32 companies, only four are in financial services.

• The 2017 S&P 500 list mirrors the Fortune 500 numbers, with women holding 28 CEO positions, or 5.6%.

In financial services, a survey by the Financial Times of the 50 biggest banks, insurers, asset managers and professional services firms worldwide revealed that women made up just 25.5% of senior roles in 2016.

That’s an increase from 23.7% in 2014, but it still means that only one in four executive positions are filled by women. The number of women in mid-level jobs stayed flat at 39% for the same period.

Women in leadership are better represented in smaller companies. According to Fortune, women now own 30% of all businesses in the U.S., accounting for some 9.4 million firms.

But smaller business size can mean a smaller paycheck, which may be one factor in the gender disparity in pay between men and women, which the Harvard Business Review pegs at 20%.

As HBR states: “The magnitude and growth of the gender earnings gap look quite distinct from one sector to the next. By the apex of a person’s career, the largest gender gaps for the college educated can be found in the health, legal, and financial sectors (including insurance and real estate).”

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research reported that in 2016, “Women’s median earnings are lower than men’s in nearly all occupations, whether they work in occupations predominantly done by women, occupations predominantly done by men, or occupations with a more even mix of men and women.”

The occupation with the largest gender wage gap? Personal financial advisor, where men out-earned women by 44.4%.

And the numbers are worse for women of color — much worse. CNN Money noted in 2017 that “Hispanic women made 54 cents for every dollar a white, non-Hispanic man earned, which means they will lose more than a million dollars over a 40-year career based on today’s wage gap, according to the NWLC.

“Black women earn 63 cents for every dollar a white, non-Hispanic man earns, meaning they will typically lose more than $840,000 over a 40-year career.” The only minority segment narrowing the gap in a significant way is Asian female workers, who make 85 cents for every dollar a white, non-Hispanic man makes.

The pay gap, while narrowing for younger women aged 25-34, is still persistent across most job titles.

The reason for the pay gap, as HBR noted, is difficult to determine, and it’s even harder to find a remedy.  “There is far less agreement on why this happens and how the gap can be closed. Is the gender pay gap due to more valuable (but hard to measure) labor market skills that men have or is it due to different ‘choices’ regarding career-versus-family tradeoffs? And what about labor market discrimination against women?”

Unfortunately, the term financial services itself is such a broad descriptor that it’s hard to get a meaningful metric on the progress women have made in taking on more leadership roles.

What counts as a financial services company? If you include insurance companies, the number of women in leadership goes way up. If you focus more on Wall Street, specifically investing, or venture capital firms, the numbers are much worse.

Drilling further into what we would define as the mortgage finance industry — an entire ecosystem of lenders, servicers, investors, real estate agents and the myriad third-party service providers that attend to them — the picture gets even more complicated.

Just taking the real estate portion, for example, about 62% of real estate agents are female, according to the National Association of Realtors, but women make up only 25% of appraisers. And when determining what defines leadership, should you look at who owns real estate brokerages or who’s earning the most commission?

In truth, determining the progress of women in mortgage finance is tricky. Averages are less than helpful in such a diversified industry and comparing apples to apples is almost impossible. Still, it’s safe to say that women are underrepresented in the C-suite of most companies in the financial space.

Marcia Davies, chief operating officer for the Mortgage Bankers Association, spoke at the MBA’s Women in Real Estate Finance Lunch and Networking Event in 2016. “I have spent the majority of my career in mortgage finance, and to this day it is not rare to be the only woman in the room,” she said.

And at this moment in history, that puts companies at a serious disadvantage.

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In 2015, Credit Suisse released a bombshell study that analyzed 3,000 companies and found that female leadership in boardrooms and senior management improved the financial performance of those companies by a measurable amount. The Credit Suisse Gender 3000 report in 2016 reaffirmed those findings.

“Our proprietary analysis continues to demonstrate that the higher the percentage of women in top management, the greater the excess returns for shareholders,” Credit Suisse stated in a press release.

“Hard metrics of financial performance have also justified this superior stock market performance according to the data.

“From YE13 to mid-2016, the outperformance of companies with 25% senior women is a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 2.8%, 4.7% for 33% and 10.3% for those over 50% compared with a 1% annual decline for the MSCI ACWI over the same period.”

The study also found that these companies saw increased sales growth and outperformed in EPS growth, return on assets and return on equity.

The Credit Suisse study makes it clear that finding ways to improve the numbers of women in leadership can give companies a clear competitive advantage. And it’s not hard to see why, as women control more wealth than ever, according to MarketWatch.

“In 2015, women passed the halfway mark for controlled personal wealth in the U.S., according to the Bank of Montreal’s Wealth Institute, and by 2020, they’re expected to hold $22 trillion,” Alessandra Malito reported in May 2017. That means that in the next three years women could control up to two-thirds of personal wealth.

Increasingly, women are flexing that financial muscle by buying homes, where single women make up 17% of homebuyers, compared to 7% of single men, according to NAR.

Engaging with potential female homebuyers, specifically Millennial female homebuyers, is one reason mortgage bankers are actively seeking to hire and promote women throughout their organizations.

As PricewaterhouseCoopers states in a comprehensive report on inclusive recruitment, “gender parity in the workplace has clearly become both a social cause and a business imperative.”

But that imperative comes with a downside, since PwC noted that 78% of large organizations are actively seeking to hire more women, which increases the competition for the most talented female candidates. How can companies attract the best and brightest? PwC identified three company traits that employees are looking for:

1. Opportunities for career progression

2. Competitive wages

3. A culture of flexibility and work-life balance

PwC stresses that these are the traits both male and female employees are looking for, and companies should be careful not to assume that what women want is fundamentally different from what men want.

“Employers simply must recognize that traditional gender stereotypes that over-associate career ambition with men and flexibility and work-life balance with women life stage are well and truly out of date.”

That insight has informed PwC’s own diversity strategy, which had assumed that women fell out of its pipeline when they wanted to start families. However, when the company looked at actual data, women were only leaving at junior levels — at all other levels more men left than women.

So how do you make sure your company is providing a clear career path? One very effective method is mentoring. Mentoring is a broad category that is defined in different ways by different companies.

In addition to meeting regularly to share skills, knowledge and expertise, Franchise Growth Partners advises that the best mentoring includes constructive feedback and a personal interest in the mentee.

Indeed, the support element of mentoring is perhaps the most important, as it means that someone in a senior position knows the mentee and is actively working to help them get better at their job. 

“In male dominated professions, where women often face even greater challenges building networks and embracing feminine leadership strengths, mentoring has proven even more paramount,” author Margie Warrell explained in a Forbes column.

Perhaps that’s why so many of the women recognized by HousingWire in our Women of Influence feature (see page 40) make mentoring a priority. Providing mentorship demonstrates a company’s willingness to invest in an employee, and pays it forward in a way that benefits the company too.

“Passing along a useful resource, referring a potential client, putting someone’s name forward for a role that will elevate their visibility or even connecting them to someone else who could be a great mentor – women who go out of their way to support other women set off a ripple effect that leaves everyone better off,” Warrell explained.

Women in business have come a long way since 1948, and the smartest companies are creating more paths to the C-suite as the next logical step in business evolution.

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