Black Homeownership

MBA’s Charmaine Brown on diversity at the executive level

Today’s HousingWire Daily features the seventh episode of Honest Conversations, a miniseries on minority homeownership hosted by HousingWire Digital Media Manager Alcynna Lloyd. In this episode, Lloyd interviews Charmaine Brown, the director of diversity, equity and Inclusion at the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), on diversity at the executive level and new opportunities the organization is planning.

Here is a small preview of the interview, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity:

Alcynna Lloyd: I want to focus on some of the initiatives the MBA has specifically launched to address minority homeownership.What has the organization done to tackle the issue in the past and what’s to come?

Charmaine Brown: I will tell you that Steve O’Connor and his team are doing incredible work. They’ve launched the Affordable Housing Initiative, which is a six-part webinar series that’s focused on the physics of affordable housing, and I love that term. To date, we’ve had more than 207 practitioners attend the webinar, which is focused on expanding homeownership and closing the racial wealth gap. Tamara King and her team also launched the Minority Homeownership Joint Task Force, which looks at ways to increase and support generational wealth building, as well as addressing systemic barriers to homeownership. So, we are focused on looking at housing and finance as an ecosystem, where things connect and relate.

Below is the transcription of the interview. These transcriptions, powered by Speechpad, have been lightly edited and may contain small errors from reproduction:

Alcynna Lloyd: I want to focus on some of the initiatives the MBA has specifically launched to address minority homeownership.What has the organization done to tackle the issue in the past and what’s to come?

Charmaine Brown: I will tell you that Steve O’Connor and his team are doing incredible work. They’ve launched the Affordable Housing Initiative, which is a six-part webinar series that’s focused on the physics of affordable housing, and I love that term. To date, we’ve had more than 207 practitioners attend the webinar, which is focused on expanding homeownership and closing the racial wealth gap. Tamra King and her team also launched the Minority Homeownership Joint Task Force, which looks at ways to increase and support generational wealth building, as well as addressing systemic barriers to homeownership. So, we are focused on looking at housing and finance as an ecosystem, where things connect and relate.

HousingWire Daily examines the most compelling articles reported from the HousingWire newsroom. Each afternoon, we provide our listeners with a deeper look into the stories coming across our newsroom that are helping Move Markets Forward. Hosted by the HW team and produced by Alcynna Lloyd and Victoria Wickham.The content below will be visible only to users who are members of HW+.

These transcriptions, powered by Speechpad, have been lightly edited and may contain small errors from reproduction:

Alcynna Lloyd: HousingWire Daily examines the most compelling mortgage, real estate, and fintech articles  reported from the HousingWire newsroom. Each afternoon, the HW digital team provides our listeners with a deeper look into the stories that are helping Move Markets Forward. Hosted and produced by Alcynna Lloyd and Victoria Wickham. And now, here’s our host. 

Victoria Wickham: Pulled from the hottest topics coming across our news desk. I’m Victoria Wickham, and this is  HousingWire Daily. Today’s episode features the seventh installment of honest conversations. In this episode, the Mortgage Bankers Association director of diversity, equity, and inclusion, Charmaine Brown joins HousingWire Digital Media Manager, Alcynna Lloyd, to have an honest conversation on diversity at the executive level, and what new opportunities the MBA has coming down the pike. But before we listen, here’s a brief word from our sponsor. 

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Alcynna Lloyd: I’m your host, Alcynna Lloyd, and this is “Honest Conversations.” Today, my guest, Charmaine Brown, the director of diversity, equity, and inclusion at the Mortgage Bankers Association will have an honest conversation today on diversity at the executive level and what new opportunities the MBA has coming down the pike. Charmaine, thank you for joining us on our show. 

Charmaine Brown: Thank you. Thank you for having me. It’s great to be with you. 

Alcynna Lloyd: Of course. And so, before we get started on today’s conversation, can you let us know more about your background? How’d you get started in the housing industry? 

Charmaine Brown: Oh, what a great question. So I actually have been incredibly blessed over the course of my career. And started in housing at Fannie Mae nearly 30 years ago, where I was actually recruited into the company and worked in a department that was responsible for developing sort of cutting-edge products that address the needs of low-income families. And if they were successful, these pilot products, then we would migrate them to the single-family business organization within the company. So I have just been blessed to be in housing and focus on multicultural, low and moderate-income families for my entire career. Because, of course, in my role in diversity, equity, and inclusion, I am still largely focused on multicultural community. So it’s just been a wonderful and rewarding career. 

Alcynna Lloyd: Now, I’d like to focus on your unique experience as a woman of color in corporate America. What are some of the challenges you’ve had to navigate either in the housing district or personally? 

Charmaine Brown: I love that question. I love that question. And I think it’s really important because I am in a role to lead and influence what’s happening in diversity, equity, and inclusion. And it’s important that I apply my lived experiences to the work that I do in an honest way, which ties obviously to the theme of this broadcast. And so I want to share a story I think that sums it up, and it’s around the cookie, the Queen, and the question. And so let me unpack it just a little. So the cookie refers to a time in my career where I had been in conversation with someone largely by phone. And when we actually met in person, I wasn’t what was expected. And so later, I heard that I was referred to in a way that was quite derogatory, as an Oreo. Which basically, if you’ve not heard that term, it says, “Well, this person is black on the outside and white on the inside.” 

And then there’s the Queen, which comes out of a training session that I was in where the conversation turned to stereotype. And I was the only black woman in the class. And the instructor says, “If I were to think about a stereotype that would apply to Charmaine, kind of what would it be?” And the class was silent and then he offered up a welfare queen. Which you can imagine how I felt in that moment. And then finally, the question stems from a time where, after a really good meeting that we had had with senior leaders, one of my colleagues came to me and then complimenting me on the meeting, he actually said, “You know, that was kind of a great meeting. Did you kind of come up with those questions and was it something that you did?” 

And so, when you talk about challenges that I’ve experienced and that are typically experienced and generally experienced by, you know, black women, BIPOC people, black indigenous people of color, it really goes to these institutional mindsets that are really stemmed from implicit bias. There’s a perception around what different means. And sometimes there’s this expectation that you can’t deliver. So you have the burden of low expectations. Added to that, generally, your work comes under more scrutiny, right? So if you think about the fact that 58% of male CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are over 6 feet tall but represent 14% of the population, that says we have a perception of what leadership looks like, right, and they’re largely male. 

And then when you think about the fact that most mentors choose mentees, most sponsors choose protegees that are more like them and you think about what leadership looks like in real estate finance, who’s getting mentors, right? Who’s typically being sponsored? And so I share that with you because I bring that lived experience to my work. And I’m so passionate and committed to helping leaders understand how these blind spots can impact optimal business results. 

Alcynna Lloyd: Well, before we move on to the next question, I would just like to say that I’ve also had the cookie conversation many times. And I’m glad you brought that up. It also connects to the next question, as you mentioned, how those experiences have influenced your professional career. Which makes me want to discuss your current role at the MBA more in detail. What does being the director of diversity, equity, and inclusion often entail? 

Charmaine Brown: Well, it entails understanding that diversity, equity, and inclusion is a journey. It is a journey that involves work, that involves being uncomfortable, that involves being courageous. And that involves a lot of very complicated and difficult sometimes conversations to have. I want to point out though, because since joining the MBA, the MBA is incredibly agile. And we have a leader who stands apart, I think, from other leaders when it comes to commitment to this work. I joined the MBA a couple of months ago, our diversity platform was diversity and inclusion. Two months later, we have expanded to diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

And so my work right now is looking at what we’re doing in terms of recruitment, looking at what the industry is doing in terms of recruitment. We have our own goals around increasing representation. But I like to also remind leaders that retention is important. It’s one thing to recruit, it’s another thing to retain. And when we fail to retain minorities, it’s usually because they don’t experience a real authentic culture of belonging. So I’m really working to stand up a comprehensive diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy that looks at inside of our house, but also looks at how we empower our members. How we put the solutions in their hands, recognizing where they are on their DEI journey, and customize to the extent that we can. And when I say put solutions in their hands, I mean it literally and figuratively. 

I think the other thing that I want to share that I’m focused on…actually two things, supply chain diversity, increasing our minority and women-owned vendors and vendors with disabilities, and also the LGBTQ population. That is another area that impacts positively the wealth gap. And then there’s the business of housing. We talk a lot about millennial homebuyers, but there are so many demographic shifts that are taking place that will impact how we serve. You’ve got the browning of America, you’ve got the graying of America. You’ve got more and more people marrying outside of their identity groups. So that two or more category is increasing rapidly. You’ve got 10,000 people every single day turning 65 until, I think, 2029. What does this mean for housing? What does it mean for our workforce? 

And then the sad tragedy that COVID revealed, where you have the deaths, D-E-A-T-H-S, of despair, where suicide rates are up for young people between the ages of 25 and 44. More and more grandparents raising grandchildren. So when we hear things like the emotional tax and, you know, BIPOC people coming into the workforce and others with this burden, it’s real. And so how we respond is very important. And the lines have been blurred. So, you know, do you just simply say to an employee it’s EAP? Or do you try to find out how you can support leaders who then need to support their workforce in very authentic ways? And the last thing I’ll say about that is empathy is now a word I hear quite a lot. But it wasn’t something I remember hearing prior to COVID. And now that we know we need leaders who are more empathetic, how do we help them to express that? Express their vulnerability, you know, in appropriate ways. 

Alcynna Lloyd: As you talk about what your role entails, this brings me to my next question, and I want to focus on some of the initiatives the MBA has specifically launched to address minority homeownership. What has the organization done to tackle this issue in the past and what’s to come? 

Charmaine Brown: So thank you again for another good question. I will tell you that Steve O’Connor and his team, they’re doing incredible work. So they’ve launched the Affordable Housing Initiative, which is a six-part webinar series that’s focused on the physics of affordable housing. I love that term. And we’ve had over 274 practitioners who’ve attended the webinar. And it’s focused on expanding homeownership and closing the racial wealth gap. And then you’ve got Tamara King and her team, they’ve launched the Minority Homeownership Joint Task Force. And they are looking at, you know, ways to increase and support generational wealth building, as well as addressing systemic barriers to homeownership. 

And so we are focused on, you know, looking at housing as an ecosystem, looking at the mortgage process and real estate finance as an ecosystem, where things connect and relate. And looking and understanding that again, just as when you talk about the workforce, you can’t focus exclusively on recruitment. Because if you don’t retain, then it’s just going to be a revolving door. You’ll never build that pipeline. And then homeownership and housing, if we don’t focus on sustainability, it’s a very, very painful thing to have a family lose their home and their generational wealth with it. And I worked very closely with Fannie Mae’s leaders on foreclosure prevention strategies and outreach. So seeing the pain, up close and personal, it’s something I will not soon forget if I am able to ever forget it at all. 

Alcynna Lloyd: Right. And as we wrap today, I’d like to end on my favorite part of the interview. I get super excited about this part because everybody always has such a unique answer. But I’d like to ask each “Honest Conversation” guest the same two questions. What is your biggest area of concern for minority homeownership? And what can the industry do today to address the gap? 

Charmaine Brown: Gosh. Oh, that is such a rich question. And so I think of Langston Hughes and his poem “A Dream Deferred.” My biggest concern is that for people who want to own, because not everyone wants to own, that it will forever be a dream deferred. And some people will see themselves as undeserving. What I like to see the industry do is to come together to let’s really think outside the box. Let’s think about that, you know, differently. And let’s listen to the people who are closer to the problem so that we understand, you know, their points of view when we’re thinking about new products and new ways to address, you know, these systemic issues and systemic barriers. 

But make no mistake about it. I mean, we’ve had down payment assistance programs for a long time. We’ve had homebuyer education programs for a long time. We’ve done a lot of great work, and we have made significant progress. But you know the homeownership rate today, right, for African American. You know where it is. So that says to me, we’ve got to go even deeper and further than we’ve gone. 

Alcynna Lloyd: All right. Well, I like to say thank you so much, Charmaine, for joining us today on “Honest Conversations.” 

Charmaine Brown: Thank you for having me. I’ve enjoyed talking to you. Of course. Thank you, listeners. We’ll see you next Wednesday. 

Now more than ever, the housing industry is looking to its leaders for answers. That’s why each week, the Housing News podcast invites a new mortgage, Fintech, or real estate executive to the show to provide its listeners with more perspective on the announcements and news stories crossing HousingWire’s news desk. Hosted by Sarah Wheeler and produced by Alcynna Lloyd. The Housing News podcast is now available on iTunes, Spotify, Apple, Google Podcast, and more. 

Victoria Wickham: That’s a wrap for today’s episode of HousingWire daily. Remember to subscribe, rate, and review on Apple Podcast and join us again tomorrow. Add blockEnd of member-only content block.

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HousingWire Daily examines the most compelling articles reported from the HousingWire newsroom. Each afternoon, we provide our listeners with a deeper look into the stories coming across our newsroom that are helping Move Markets Forward. Hosted by the HW team and produced by Alcynna Lloyd and Victoria Wickham.

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Hosted by the journalists behind the headlines, HousingWire Daily examines the most compelling mortgage, real estate, and fintech articles reported from the HousingWire newsroom.

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