Building a personal brand is more important than ever, but maintaining a consistent, authentic presence across so many platforms can be challenging. And for executive women in male-dominated fields, there’s an additional layer of complexity in cultivating their brand.
These were the issues tackled by female mortgage executives at a recent roundtable in Dallas for a select group of mortgage leaders on how women can develop — and promote — their personal brand at work. HousingWire and TrackVia, a cloud application development platform for mortgage and real estate, hosted the discussion featuring Cheryl Travis-Johnson, executive vice president and chief operating officer of VRM, and Sarah Batangan, chief operating officer of First Guarantee Mortgage Corporation. The event was moderated by HousingWire’s Managing Editor of Content Solutions Sarah Wheeler.
About 35 women executives attended the invite-only event, which also included a Q&A session and a networking cocktail hour.
“I remind myself that wherever I am, I’m always interviewing for a job,” Travis-Johnson said in her opening remarks. “Even if I’m not interviewing for a job, people are looking at me in that way in business settings. So, if your name comes up and the job is out there, you want people to say, ‘That person’s great, they’re dependable, they’re trustworthy.’ Those are the things that make up your brand.”
Travis-Johnson acknowledged the gender divide that still exists, particularly in the mortgage space. “I think women have to approach things differently because we are judged differently. We are judged by a different standard and people expect certain traditional behaviors to come from us, whether we like it or not.”
Both Travis-Johnson and Batangan stressed the importance of being authentic — whether in messaging on social media or in the board room making decisions. But for Batangan, finding her own voice required her to challenge some of the messaging she received as the daughter of military parents.
“I was raised as a soldier in a manner that was very disciplined and structured, and you didn’t really have an identity. It took me a little bit longer in my career to figure out that I was different — I didn’t need to be like everybody else,” Batangan said. “It wasn’t until I was able to really kind of dig deep inside and say, ‘You know what? I want more out of this life.’ And the only way that I’m going to be able to do that is to be authentic to myself, which is not to be quiet.”
The panel covered a multitude of topics, including how to brand yourself via social media outlets, taking credit for your insightful ideas, what it means to be a mother in today’s work environment, mentorship and more.
“Women, we talk a lot. We will put our idea in a room, and someone takes it and runs with it,” Travis-Johnson said. “Don’t give away the secret sauce. Put the idea out there and say, ‘when you’re ready, let me know and I’ll help make this happen.’ We have to be comfortable doing that. When we have great ideas and don’t tie ourselves to the outcome, we don’t get any of the benefits that come with the great idea. So, be more mindful about that.”
Batangan and Travis-Johnson said they were careful to guard their brand on social media, and relied on their marketing teams to help in that regard.
“Your first opportunity to show that you’re trustworthy, believable, and dependable is how you represent yourself on these different social media and your website,” Batangan said. “It really should reflect the same no matter where you show up. You can’t be a rock-and-roll guitarist on one and then a conservative on another. They need to be either somewhere meet in the middle or somewhat be consistent across all your platforms. People want to see the authentic you.”
Both cited LinkedIn as the channel they found most impactful, and challenged the audience to be strategic when it came to social.
“If you think about true ROI and what it is, what are you trying to get out of a personal brand? If it’s just fun for you to post pictures and write content, that’s not real ROI,” Batangan said. “True ROI begs the following questions: How many relationships can I build out of this? How many business deals can I get done? Does this get me to my max level for my career strategy?”
Travis-Johnson, who emphasized the role women have in helping other women achieve leadership roles, outlined how she carves out time to mentor women in her company and how VRM as a company mentors other entrepreneurial start-ups through the Council for Inclusion on Financial Services. Travis-Johnson founded the Council due to the lack of women, Millennials and minorities at the decision tables.
At the end of the roundtable, attendees asked Travis-Johnson and Batangan questions that resulted in conversation around dress code for women, authenticity and how that collides with biases against women in the workplace and women of color in the business world. Each was asked what they know now that they wish they had known earlier.
“I really encourage people to champion and mentor, which are obviously two different things, but it’s a way to pay it forward and also pull somebody forward in a direction that they’re trying to go,” Travis-Johnson said. “When it comes to mentorship, I don’t care if it’s one or two people, the more you do it, the more you’ll see women in political roles because they had somebody behind them helping guide them out. My learning today is that I realized I have to take other women along with me.”
Travis-Johnson also talked about the help she received from both male and female mentors, and recommended a forward-looking stance. “When you are in a particular role and want another role, act as if you’re already there so when the opportunity comes open, they will already see you. Always act one level above your current role so your peers feel that way when you come into the room. Command leadership, make people want to work with you and for you. If you’re the VP, act as if you’re the SVP.”
Batangan encouraged the audience to remember the many people who helped them get to leadership positions.
“A lot of times we don’t realize those folks are behind us all the time, so I think taking pause and being able to recognize who those folks are and showing appreciation for that is so important,” Batangan said.