Mr. Cooper’s Kelly Ann Doherty on hiring diverse talent

Continuing the Women of Influence podcast miniseries, this episode features Kelly Ann Doherty, chief people and communications officer at Mr. Cooper Group and winner of the 2020 HW Women of Influence award. Within just three years at Mr. Cooper, Doherty was promoted from senior vice president of corporate communications to the chief communications officer and a member of the executive team.

During the episode, she dives into her career growth and her thoughts on how to get more women and diversity in the industry, especially in positions of leadership. 

She also talks about the latest projects and initiatives that she is working on and passionate about, along with why she thinks it is important for people to find things outside of the office to support. 

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

Brena Nath: What key things do you think helped you in your career path and what advice would you give to other people looking to grow in their own companies?

Kelly Ann Doherty: I think the first thing I have to say is just how incredibly fortunate I’ve been to be in an environment that really supports the growth of people, especially women. It really starts with my boss, Jay Bray, who has been a fierce advocate of mine and has given me a lot of opportunities to be successful and learn along the way. In any environment, it’s really those people that can be advocates for you who make all the difference. 

HousingWire’s Women of Influence podcast miniseries spotlights the significant contributions of women who are driving the U.S. housing economy forward, interviewing our honorees over the years on the impact they’re making today.  Hosted by Brena Nath and produced by Alcynna Lloyd.

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

Brena Nath: Hi, everyone. I’m Brena Nath, HW+ managing editor here at HousingWire. I’m excited to continue our “Women of Influence” podcast miniseries where we spotlight our honorees and award winners over the years.

Right now, I have with me the chief people and communications officer at Mr. Cooper Group. I have Kelly Ann Doherty. First off, thanks for joining me.

Kelly Ann Doherty: Thank you so much for having me.

Brena Nath: So for most of these podcast interviews, I like to, for our listeners, kind of read a little bit of their profile from when they won. So Kelly Ann won last year, in 2020, and here’s a small snippet of her award profile, and we’ll dive into a lot more during this interview.

So within just three years at Mr. Cooper, Kelly Ann Doherty was promoted from senior vice president of corporate communications to the chief communications officer, a member of the executive team, and now serves as their chief people and communications officer. Within her role, she is responsible for the company’s culture initiatives to create a more encouraging and empowering work environment. Last fall, though I will remember that this was written last year, so last fall from last year, Doherty led the launch of Mr. Cooper Group Benefits Marketplace for Annual Enrollment and is a strong advocate for employee motivation through regular surveys and feedback channels.

So that’s just a few sentences into your world, but wanted to dive a little bit more on our first question to that first statement about how you’ve kind of grown in the progression through your roles from just being SVP of communications to joining the executive team, becoming chief people officer, that’s an amazing career path and growth. So what key things do you think helped you in that journey? And then also, what advice would you give other people who are looking to grow their own companies?

Kelly Ann Doherty: Well, when you read that profile from a year ago, it’s amazing to think about how much has changed. We are definitely living and working in a different world, and I’ll talk more about that in a minute. But, you know, for me, I think the first thing I have to say is just how incredibly fortunate I’ve been to be in an environment that really supports the growth of people and especially women. And it really starts with my boss, Jay Bray, who has been a fierce advocate of mine and has given me a lot of opportunities to be successful and learn along the way. And I think that, in any environment, it’s really those people that can be advocates for you that make all the difference.

But what have I done to help propel that? I think it’s always saying yes. I tell people, especially people that are earlier on in their career, to swim outside their lane. And what I mean by that is to really take advantage of all sorts of opportunities, regardless of whether or not it’s an area that you’re a subject matter expert in, because you learn so much in those opportunities. And for women in particular, I think we can be a little bit gun shy. We can be afraid to take that leap into unknown water and try something that’s outside of things that we know we’re good at. And what I would say to people is don’t do that. Take the leap. Jump in. Because, I found, when you’re given the opportunity, it’s usually from somebody who wants to see you be successful and they’re going to help you along the way.

So for me, it’s all about taking those chances, betting on yourself, and leaning into opportunities, even if you don’t know what you’re doing. And that’s been something that I’ve had a great opportunity to do at Mr. Cooper Group, but at other also places in my career, that have helped me to build the type of resume that shows that I can lean into just about anything if I put my mind to it.

Brena Nath: I love that idea of just saying yes, rather than always… Sometimes, things come across your desk and it’s easy to put your hands up and not want to enter that water, to your point, but instead, going outside that normal boundary box and exploring more, and other people are watching often, and see you take advantage of that opportunity and don’t shy away.

Kelly Ann Doherty: That’s right. That’s exactly right. And, you know, for me like I said, I’ve learned so much along the way. And the more times I jump in, the more confident I get in the next opportunity. And it’s a building type of scenario where you try one thing, you prove that you’re successful, and then suddenly people want to give you more. And so oftentimes, that first leap is the hardest one, but once you’ve taken that step and once you’ve proven to yourself that you really can do it, you’ll find that there’s a lot of other opportunities out there to continue to learn and grow.

And I think I have a kind of a learning mindset that I always like to do new things. I love a challenge. And so finding yourself in an opportunity, which people will really feed and nourish that, is a really critical part of anybody’s success. And so it’s not all me, it’s being in places and in cultures that really help enable that for people that they believe in and people that they want to see grow.

Brena Nath: From your perspective, what do you think it’ll take to get more women or more diversity into the industry, or even into leadership positions? So you have this into the industry, step one, but also into those higher-level leadership, eventually kind of C-suite positions.

Kelly Ann Doherty: Yeah. Well, it starts on day one, right? It starts by getting a lot of women, especially, I think, in areas that haven’t traditionally been women fields like technology, into the door in the first place. When you think about the way that the mortgage industry is evolving today and what types of rules we’re going to want and need in the future, there’s a tremendous amount of opportunity to really focus, not just on women, but in all different populations, and getting them ingrained in what mortgage looks like and how it can be such a great career path for them.

I’m somebody who was not in mortgage to start my career. Mr. Cooper is the first place that I’ve worked in mortgage. But what I love about it is how important the mission of mortgage work really is. It’s about homeownership. It’s the largest market in the world, and it’s something that’s so incredibly personal and meaningful to each and every customer. And so there’s a lot of excitement that can be a part of this business if you can tap into that and find people to start early on in their career.

And so, at Mr. Cooper, we focus a lot on what that early part of that talent life cycle looks like, how we can bring people in the door. And we focus a lot on what that looks like from a representation perspective, regardless of age or sex and gender, we want it to be really representative of the communities that we serve. And so we start there. And then we focus on development programs from there that again are targeted women and minority populations so that we can start to see that type of growth, that type of leadership growth that will really ultimately result in more women and people of color in the C-suite.

But, you know, the other thing I always like to remind people of is 1% at a time. And I stand on the shoulder of giants. There’s been a lot of women in my career who’ve helped me along the way, who’ve pulled me up, and so I take that as a personal call to action. It’s my job to help pull women up too. And so the more women like me who are in these spots, the more we’re going to see others follow suit because I really do believe that understanding what it takes to get into these types of positions and helping to clear the path for others is something that I have a personal obligation for. And I know a lot of other women feel that way too.

Brena Nath: As I’ve been conducting these, like, woman of influence interviews, and as we’ve been gearing up for the launch of next year’s winners, which is on August 1st, a theme that I thought has been really cool throughout a lot of these interviews is really what you just listed out. It’s this idea of, like, leaving a legacy, but also tapping into the legacy that those before you have set in and outside of the industry, and to your points, of, like, you know, sitting on the shoulders of giants and the people who have helped carve that path. And I look at it from, you know, someone who is still early on in the industry, in her career, like, “Oh, you’re also…” and then I have the new, you know, entry-level staff coming in, and so you really do get to watch that legacy trickle on down in the waterfall for the next generation, which has been nice to see.

Kelly Ann Doherty: That’s right. And, you know, I think that… And I’ve taken that so seriously since, oh gosh, going all the way back to college. It was actually a professor of mine who set me up with an internship in my senior year. And his name was Professor Roberts. His wife was Cokie Roberts. So for people in the media, they used to, at least, remember her name fondly. And he got me an internship at the CBS Washington, D.C., bureau, and it was an amazing job. And he told me that he was going to do this for me, as long as I promised to pay it forward and do this for other people. And I have taken that so seriously every day since. And I think that that’s…it’s really important to think about that. We are given opportunities to be successful. And if we’re going to see meaningful change, we have to take the same opportunities to help others along the way.

But there’s another point in all of that. And, for me, that’s that I stand on the shoulder of giants, many of them women, but also a lot of men have helped me in my career growth. And I think sometimes women, when they’re thinking about their career progression, want to gravitate towards other women that have been successful. And I think there’s a lot of benefit in that, but I’ve also found a lot of advocacy and allyship in some of the men that I’ve worked with. And so don’t ever steer clear of that, if women are listening. Make sure that you find those great allies and advocates in the men that you work with too, because they also can give you a different perspective and help to show you a different way to be successful that I think has been really beneficial to me in my career.

Brena Nath: I know we’ll dive in a little bit more into that idea of how you’re also giving back and pouring and giving some knowledge and wisdom into the other people. But before that, I did want to ask, you know, since we first profiled you, you’re a woman of influence in 2020, can you touch on maybe one or two projects or initiative that you’re really passionate about right now?

Kelly Ann Doherty: Okay, so how much time do we have? Because my passion project is our future of work initiative at the company. We’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how the pandemic was really a launching pad for changing the way that we think about work. And for our team members, that means allowing for a lot more flexibility and not necessarily bringing everybody back into the office and the way that things used to be. And we’ve worked with the Boston Consulting Group to help us think through not just what that could look like in terms of allowing for more flexibility, but what we would need to do as an organization to create an amazing environment for our team members, regardless of where they sit. And that means better onboarding, better upskilling training, better frontline manager enablement, and other elements that really impact the culture.

And so we’ve been focused on the here and now, and improving that experience. Now, we’re getting ready, pretty soon, to talking about what the future is going to look like for us. And it’s changing the game. And I think for companies like ours, especially in the non-bank world that have some regulatory and licensing requirements that go along with it, finding ways to allow that flexibility, finding ways to give that real…more work-life balance to our people, I think it’d be a huge competitive advantage, not just within the mortgage space, but within a lot of other spaces that have a lot of great talent that we could tap into.

And we talk about women, you know, we know that women, more than men, have left the workforce in the past year, and it’s because of all the obligations that they had to manage through at home. So if we can find ways to give them more flexibility and find ways to make sure that we’re keeping the women at Mr. Cooper, that’s going to be the key to seeing more women grow in leadership positions, ultimately too.

So like I said, I could talk for three hours about the future of work. So I won’t go any further than that, but, to me, I think it’s an amazing opportunity for companies and one that we’ve been really thoughtful about. And I’m really proud of how far we’ve come on our own journey to decide where we’re going. And I’m looking forward to sharing that with team members soon.

Brena Nath: I really like the intentionality behind that, just to comment on the things that you just listed, especially over the last year, just being cognizant of, like, everyone’s needs being different and also how the last year has impacted everyone. That intentionality is important. And so I get why it’s a passion project and you can see it, for those… Obviously, people can’t see Kelly on the podcast, they’re listening to it through audio, but the passion, when you mentioned it’s a passion project, you can see…and also something very important, which I’m sure listeners can benefit from hearing as well.

Kelly Ann Doherty: Yeah, I think that… You know, what’s interesting about what’s happening now is the pandemic was certainly a launching pad for this change, but change what’s coming. We have a whole new generation of workers entering the workforce and they have different expectations from the companies that they work for and what their work-life balance is going to look like in the future. And so I think we had to find a way to solve for this need for more flexibility and the pandemic just accelerated that times a hundred. And in some ways, it’s almost to the next industrial revolution. We’ve not been in a place in time where we’ve had to think differently so drastically, so suddenly, about the way that we work. And I think that, for those companies who are really being deliberate about it, it’s going to be a differentiator for years to come.

Brena Nath: Speaking of work-life balance, you also dedicate some of your time outside of the office. And I saw, in your write-up, that you’re a member of the Unstoppable Cultures Fellowship. Can you maybe just touch on that a little bit and why you think it’s important for people to find things outside of the office or other ways for people to serve or support or, like, volunteer really?

Kelly Ann Doherty: So there’s a couple of things that have happened this year that I’m really proud of, but I’ll start with the Unstoppable Cultures Fellowship. So, you know, gosh, culture has never been more of a buzzword than it is now, because, in this new world in which people have been remote, this idea of maintaining company culture became a really popular thing to talk about and the big focus from the C-suite in a lot of companies across a lot of industries. And I’d like to flip that on its head a little bit and start talking about how we evolve our culture to be one that meets the moment in time and meets our people where they’re at. And that’s been our focus.

And the Unstoppable Cultures Fellowship is really just that. It’s a group of people from all different industries, different spaces that come together to share ideas, and are all really in the spirit of trying to build culture. And it’s been fun for me to tell people where we’re at in our journey, because we’ve come so far over the past five years, and see how that positive change can really come to life and serve a real business need in a crisis like the pandemic.

I’ve also been a part of the Future of Work forum, which is something that the Boston Consulting Group leads, which has also been a really interesting working group of thought leaders around how work can change in the future. And again, different industries, different needs, some international, some domestic, but all trying to find ways to solve these big problems that we’re facing that are ultimately going to be big opportunities.

But I would say the thing I’m most proud of is actually really relevant to housing. And that’s the work I’ve been doing with the Dallas Habitat for Humanity Women’s Build. So I’ve been the chair this year. And what we’ve been doing is raising money to, A, build one house for a very deserving single mom who is also a nurse, so a frontline worker, and raise funds to help women in our community better get on a path to homeownership themselves, whether that’s through credit repair or financial literacy. And I’m super passionate about that because, at Mr. Cooper, we’re in the business of keeping the dream of homeownership alive, but also because it’s been such an important topic of conversation in light of the social justice movement or social justice awakening that I think 2020 brought to light for us and the pandemic. Having a safe place to be has never been more important. And at the same time, we realize the opportunities to grow generational wealth have just not been afforded to women, and especially women of color, and that just so happens to be the community that Dallas Habitat serves.

So to be able to raise money and empower women, single heads of households and women of color, in particular, to start their own journey in building that generational wealth speaks to my passion around homeownership, but also my passion and seeing women advance in a way that they wouldn’t have been able to advance otherwise. So I’ve been super honored to be a big part of that initiative this year because it’s bringing everything that I love and coming together full circle.

Brena Nath: And what would you say to those who are, like, maybe hesitant to give in their time in that way, or people who are looking in that why, because I think what’s great about everything you just listed, I mean, I think those are very filling things and are things that you’re passionate about, and I’m sure there’s people out there who are trying to figure out, should I do this as well? Where do I even want to give up my time to? What would you say to those listeners?

Kelly Ann Doherty: You know, I would say start small. Kind of something, I said a little bit earlier, it starts with one person. You know, if you can change one person’s life and then that person changes one person’s life, suddenly, you’ve got this overwhelming cascade of goodness that’s out there in the universe. And that’s really how I’ve thought about it is start with one. And so, for me, it’s really built on things that I’ve done in the past. And I’ve got a passion around helping women and homeownership. And my journey with Habitat actually starts a long time ago, when I was in elementary school, again, for a different podcast, but, for me, it’s finding the natural places where you do have that passion, where you do light up.

And I think it’s okay to try different things too. One thing I’ve learned about volunteering and giving my time is that organizations are really open to you finding your passions, whether it’s with them or with another organization. And if you’re passionate about it, giving your time is going to feel like it’s nothing. Really, it’s what fills my cup.

So I’d say, start small, focus on what you can do for one person. And then find the things that you’re passionate about through trial and error. And once you’ve got that passion, it’ll be easy to find the time because it will be what you want to do.

Brena Nath: It’s such great advice. To wrap, I wanted to… It’s a big question, but I’d love to hear your answer to it, it [inaudible 00:18:10.140] viewer sitting in a room, with the top decision-makers in the industry, or even in and outside of the industry, what would you want to talk to them about?

Kelly Ann Doherty: Okay. So I would say two things, one of which I’ve already talked a good bit about, so I’ll keep that short, and that’s really how we can think differently about work for our employees. I mentioned early on that there’s licensing requirements within the mortgage industry that will affect our ability to have everybody be 100% remote, even if they wanted to. And I think that there’s opportunity to change that along the way and catch up to modern times.

But the second thing that I would say is it’s finding a path to homeownership for people who’ve not had an opportunity to build generational wealth and in particular, women and women of color. We know that there’s a big homeownership gap in minority communities, and we’ve got to find a way to address that in a way that’s responsible for the homeowner, but is also enabling for the homeowner. And I don’t have the answer to that because I know it’s a much bigger issue, but if we could find a way to address some of those gaps and do so in a responsible way, I think we’d really start to change, not just the homeownership narrative in our country, but the social justice narrative in our country too.

Brena Nath: I like how that fits the question, because, I mean, it’s two-fold, people in the industry and outside of the industry. And I think stakeholders in both those areas is important to hear just how valuable and important, I mean, homeownership is. I think people know about it, but there’s always more, as we know, a lot more education to go around, so kind of appreciate that thought. And also, to your first point about, like, the future of the workforce, that really just ties into all your other answers, and really the work that you’ve been doing at Mr. Cooper.

So first, I just wanted to say thank you for diving into all of this. There’s so much wisdom that you bring to the table, but also, you’ve been doing a lot, it seems, since we first did that write-up in 2020. So huge congrats to that, and still saying congrats on being a woman of influence and really just appreciate your time diving into all of this and unpacking it.

Kelly Ann Doherty: Well, thank you so much. Thank you for the honor. Thank you for calling me a woman of influence. I think that there’s still so much more to do, and I love being able to see the positive change that we’ve been able to make at Mr. Cooper and our community, for our customers too.

Brena Nath: Can’t wait to chat again. Thank you so much for your time, Kelly Ann.

Kelly Ann Doherty: Great. Thank you.

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