mPower: Finding Solutions to Sexual Harassment in the Real Estate Finance Industry

mPower, a national platform for women in the real estate finance industry created by the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), released the findings of their informal survey of women’s experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace. “As the leading voice for the real estate finance industry, MBA creates opportunities to leverage the power and influence of women,” states mPower’s mission. “We provide the platform for women to strengthen their networks, achieve professional growth and development, and to exchange ideas and information about our industry and the broader economy.”

Recent reports of sexual harassment, and the coinciding #MeToo movement, have brought the issue of gender inequality in the workplace to the forefront. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, mentions a possible backlash that might hinder, rather than promote, women. She writes, “I have already heard the rumblings of a backlash: ‘This is why you shouldn’t hire women.’ Actually, this is why you should.”

Avoidance is not a solution to improving gender equality in the workplace or helping women succeed. “Doing right by women in the workplace does not just mean treating them with respect,” states Sandberg. “It also means not isolating or ignoring them – and making access equal.”

“Women need a place to start the conversation about improving gender equality, without repercussions,” states Desirée Patno, CEO and President of NAWRB. “mPower’s report is the start to a productive conversation about sexual harassment and actionable solutions for preventing its continuation.”

mPower conducted its voluntary survey in December 2017. The survey went to 2,000 women in the mPower network who were contacted to participate,13.5 percent responded. Therefore, it is important to remember MBA made it clear that these findings represent only a fraction of women in the mortgage industry.

“We recently conducted a voluntary survey of mPower members to initiate a conversation about sexual harassment in the workplace and gain a snapshot of the experiences that members of our community have had with sexual harassment while working in the industry, attitudes towards the issue, and the impact we feel this has had on our professional development and career,” states Marcia Davies, COO of MBA. “To be clear, this was not intended nor is it a scientific survey and we cannot attribute the results to the broader population of women working in real estate finance. The response rate reflects the experience of some – not all women in the mPower network.”

These responses are useful in helping us understand the experiences of some women and see the trends among them. This allows us to begin an open conversation about the issue and begin creating solutions to address obstacles that women might face. Here are some of the key findings reported in the survey:

  • Three out of 4 respondents, or 75 percent, said they experienced at least one incident of workplace sexual harassment.
  • Of those who reported at least one incidence of sexual harassment, 87 percent said an incident occurred in their 20s, and 56 percent reported an incident in their 30s.
  • The most frequent location of an incident was at the office and the most frequent offending behavior was inappropriate comments.
  • More than 50 percent of those reporting at least one incident reported inappropriate touching, and just under 50 percent reported unwanted sexual advances.
  • Of those experiencing at least one incident, only 8 percent had reported an incident to human resources, and only 20 percent told someone in the chain of command about an incident.

These responses highlight a few common issues that the industry can begin to address today. First, these findings show that women report a high percentage of sexual harassment in their 20s and 30s, which hints at a relationship between age, job title and one’s likelihood of experiencing sexual harassment. Age also has a relationship to position and rank within one’s company.

Second, women who have dealt with sexual harassment do not, or did not, feel as if they can seek recourse through Human Resources, or upper management. As a sign of positive trends going forward, respondents said that recent public reports of this topic make them more likely to call out perpetrators with 47 percent of respondents stating they were more likely to report an incident to a person in their chain of command and nearly 60 percent indicating they were more likely to report incidents to human resources.

As the report states, these trends show that sexual harassment is tied to “the power dynamic that makes workplace sexual harassment such an insidious and pernicious issue.” Mitigating such power dynamics will be important in creating a work culture that ensures equality among its employees and creates a secure channel for women to report instances of sexual harassment.

These are just some of the many conversations to be had about ensuring gender equality in the workplace. Organizations such as mPower, and many others across different industries, are giving women the opportunity to share their stories of strength and empowering them to successfully navigate the workforce as they advance their careers and reach their full potential.

To read the official report of mPower’s survey, click here.

Disclaimer: mPower’s survey is not a scientific study; this is a starting point of discussion. This article is written and published by NAWRB, a women-owned business and leading voice for women in the housing and real estate ecosystem.