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NEXT conference panel discusses creating a path for others to speak up

Three of HousingWire's Women of Influence on what worked for them

HousingWire began recognizing women in the mortgage industry in 2010, eventually creating the Women of Influence program in 2013. We have now recognized hundreds of innovative, successful women across the mortgage ecosystem, and three of those women took the stage on Friday at the NEXT mortgage technology conference to discuss the lessons they learned on their path to success.

Kelsey Ramírez, associate editor at HousingWire, moderated the session featuring Vickie Butler, senior vice president operations manager, warehouse lending for Texas Capital Bank, Claudia Mobilia, senior vice president of Embrace Home Loans, and Kristen Sieffert, president of Finance of America Reverse.

Despite their diverse backgrounds, one thing every panelist cited as important in their journey was their ability to speak up and be heard — and make a way for others to have the same opportunity.

Sieffert recognized a need for training in this area when she joined Finance of America Reverse in 2012 as COO. “There were so many amazing, talented women balancing a lot of things and it was important to create paths for them that they didn’t have in the past. We’re truly committed to helping them to have success in life," Sieffert said.

Mobilia from Embrace said focusing on the employees on a more personal level has been a key to her success. “Early on in my career in this industry, it was a lot about measurement — sometimes it made people feel like they were a widget in the process. My approach was that we need to get work done, yes, but we also need to make sure we’re taking care of people. You end up getting better results from the people you’re managing,” she said.

Butler detailed the importance of getting diverse perspectives, and how she accomplishes that at Texas Capital Bank. “From the time I was a little girl I was taught to speak up. So even when I started, I spoke up, and then followed up with a note, an email, to make sure it was clear what I was asking for. And I empower folks I work with to do the same.”

Butler makes sure that front-line employees get a seat at the table where decisions are being made that will affect them. “The culture we have tried to emphasize and empower is that everyone is important — we need what everyone has to share. That message is trickling out to others because now you hear people throughout the organization asking if they ‘have the right parties’ sitting there.”

Butler approached employee training in a similar manner — refusing to leave anyone behind. Texas Capital had realized they couldn’t assume that managers coming in the door all knew the same things, or understood processes in the same way. Butler organized training sessions for managers, but didn’t want to stop there, and started a one-year program that covered training guidelines for every area.

Butler also enrolled several employees in the Mortgage Bankers Association School of Banking, but then also gathered materials for a library where employees can take courses internally. Still not satisfied, she organized a small group of seven to eight employees from different lines of business who meet every week for two or three months. “I get the best feedback from that group. They learn about all kinds of leadership styles and it really helps in developing confident management. It really has engaged all of us and helps to break down silos,” Butler said.

Mentoring was an especially important topic for the women on the panel, who each said that there were specific men and women who they had learned from over the years, although their experiences were very different.

“When I first got into the mortgage industry, I didn’t want a mentor,” Seiffert said. “But one of my first leaders turned into my ‘accidental mentor.’ They were the perfect person to nurture me at the right point in my life. If you haven’t found a mentor, I absolutely recommend looking for one, or being one!”

Butler recounted how a relationship with a difficult boss helped her develop a “tough-skin” — an experience she says shaped her into the leader she is today, although it was trying at the time.

In an interview after the session, Mobilia offered advice to women wanting to move up within the same company.

“Don’t be afraid to either challenge yourself to go after a job or to ask your manager or director about how you can grow within the organization. Then you have to be OK to be outside your comfort zone,” Mobilia said.

In the early 2000s, Mobilia took over as a manager of a sales team, despite having no experience in selling. “I’m operationally minded, so managing a sales team was uncomfortable for me, but it taught me so much. I had to figure out how to get people to trust me, when I hadn’t sold before, which required me to really be a humble servant.

“But the relationships I formed there ended up as some of the most lasting work friendships I’ve had, because I had to be even more vulnerable to what I didn’t know. It was scary but I think I served them better because I sat in their shoes for a while,” Mobilia said.

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