The 3rd Annual NAWRB Women’s Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Conference


As the CEO & President of Women in the Housing & Real Estate Ecosystem (NAWRB) and Desirée Patno Enterprises, Inc. (DPE) Real Estate Brokerage, Advisor & Investor for AmicusBrain—AI for Aging Population, CSO for ZuluTime, Publisher, Connector and a National Speaker, Desirée Patno’s network and wealth of knowledge crosses a vast economic footprint. With three decades specializing in the Housing & Real Estate Ecosystem and owning her own successful brokerage, she leads her executive team’s expertise of Social Impact, Gender Equality and Access to Capital, and provides personalized consulting services to the Real Estate and Family Office community.

The 3rd Annual NAWRB Women’s Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Conference took place at the Hilton of Orange in Costa Mesa, California, on August 30th-31st, 2016. The women’s synergy of connecting both professionally and personally in the housing ecosystem was infectious. “The conference provided excellent opportunities for networking with other women in the industry,” stated Sharon Bartlett, Principal Consultant and Owner of Sharon Bartlett Consulting. “All sessions were very informative. More importantly, I can apply what I learned immediately to my business.”

NAWRB had the incredible honor of showcasing a Real Estate Custom Office 365 Training Workshop to help attendees in their daily lives by Melanie Gass, Sr. Partner Channel Marketing Manager SMB&D, US SMB Business Development, Microsoft Corp. Women-owned businesses face a difficult path, with 91 percent of them employing only the owner, and their success through these barriers and limitations means that much more. Gass guided attendees through streamlining their operations and maximizing their performance for success. Women entrepreneurs are here to create change. Who better to deliver the power of women?

conference5In other very focused sessions, attendees learned about obtaining contracts for their businesses and the usefulness of women-owned business certification. The latter was addressed in Breakout Business Certifications, Access to Capital, in which experts Karla V. Gonzalez, MBA Business (Bilingual) Consultant, Procurement/
Contracting Specialist, Inland Empire Small Business Development Center (SBDC), Sylvia Gutierrez, Economic Development Specialist, Small Business Administration (SBA) and Irma Delgado-Trikas, President and CEO of Arista National Title provided direct resources to capitalize on their business platforms.

Aside from promoting the success of women and minority-owned businesses, other discussions focused on how we can promote women’s homeownership and encourage the growth of women entrepreneurs. During Women’s Homeownership Initiative, Charlette Williams, Vendor Relationships and Performance Management Unit Manager of Freddie Mac; Jennifer Fisher, Managing Director and Region Sales Manager with Union Bank in South Orange County; Sandra M. Speed, Regional Diverse Segments Manager, Region 11-Southern California, Wells Fargo Home Mortgage; and Helen O’Sullivan, Sr. Vice President, Programs and Administration at NeighborWorks Orange County shared personal stories emphasizing the importance of making decisions that create options for oneself, as well as helping others do the same.

Michelle Ruiz, President and CEO of Ruiz Strategies and Desirée Patno, led Women’s Future Development, a discussion addressing the efforts that could be made, at the local and global level, to increase support for women’s growth in executive positions.
Toni Moss, CEO of AmeriCatalyst LLC, provided a commanding opening keynote speech detailing her journey as a globalization expert. “As a kid, whenever I was standing around my mother would say, ‘Why don’t you make yourself useful as well as ornamental?’” Moss began. “So I hope that you will all find the next hour useful as I stand here ornamental.” I think we speak for everyone in attendance when we say we did.

Relating housing finance to a volcano, Moss explained that just like when looking for the volcanic source of an explosion, in housing finance you need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture in order to understand how we got there and where we are headed.

She discussed her beginning in globalization as she worried about European banks’ decision to change their funds in order to get easier access to money. “I became very concerned about the over-leverage that was occurring in housing and mortgage markets in particular, and their trajectory. And I began to wonder what the negative outcome of this might be.”

Moss detailed the introduction of the Euro and the effects of globalization in recent years, from the collapse of the Greek economy to the first-ever negative interest rates in 13 Western countries. One of the most interesting topics she addressed was the effect of climate change on real estate.

Investors are buying luxury real estate sight unseen in areas that may be entirely uninhabitable in the near future. About expensive condominiums currently being built on Florida’s coast which have already been sold, Moss articulated, “In 2025, said scientists, this exact area will be one inch underwater. Nine years away. This is a result of the continental ice shelf breaking off last year, which nobody expected to happen until 2050. Everything is accelerated. Not to mention it could be nine degrees hotter and hurricanes one heck of a lot more powerful.”

It’s important to consider all aspects of a property before purchasing,

and climate change, it seems, will only play an increasing role in the future of real estate. Moss explained the importance of buying cautiously while demonstrating the irresponsibility with which some developers and buyers proceed in our turbulent industry. She did assure attendees, “My point about doing this session is not only to talk about the negative, but also point out there will be cities that benefit from climate change migration. Absolutely there will be.”


In our powerful Office of Minority & Women Inclusion (OMWI) Updates, Sharron P.A. Levine, Director of OMWI, Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) and Melodee Brooks, Sr. Deputy Director of OMWI, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) shared the latest diversity and inclusion (D&I) developments at their agencies and how the future of equality in the housing ecosystem looks.

Accountability was appropriately an important topic of discussion. Melodee Brooks expressed the FDIC’s accountability and emphasized that the agency is committed to diversity and helping women-owned businesses. She underlined that they are truly measured by their success.

“Just recently we published in the Federal Register, in fact, on August 24th, a proposed template for our financial institutions to use in conducting their assessments,” stated Brooks. “They can start presenting their assessments to us and we can begin publicizing the leading practices, scope of their spend and employment of their entity. That’s a huge thing for us.”

Similarly, the FHFA works diligently to help regulated entities understand the importance of diversity and inclusion. “I view my job as working to change the hearts and minds of people,” Levine stated. “Diversity and inclusion can be a very emotional thing for people, depending with whom you speak it can even mean affirmative action. It is diversity and inclusion. What I have spent a good portion of the last two years doing is speaking to our regulated entities, to the president and CEOs, boards of directors. In essence, to let them know what diversity and inclusion really means. To emphasize to them the importance of having D&I be integrated into their business. It’s not just a one-off activity, it is something equally as important as a business strategy.”

To our attendees, above all, Melodee Brooks and Sharron P.A. Levine stressed communication. “Help us get to know you,” said Brooks. If these agencies aren’t familiar with your company or services, they cannot work with you or invite you to bid on contracts. The outreach and procurement arena is a two-way street. In conclusion our
expert speakers encouraged business owners to market their business to government agencies, verify the applicable NAICS codes being offered to them and register their business on

Jay Inouye, Director, Vendor & Diversity Management, Strategic Sourcing & Procurement, Office of Chief Administrator, Freddie Mac and Roxanne Wilson, Supplier Diversity Manager, Fannie Mae concentrated on supplier diversity, detailing vendor relation and procurement contract opportunities that are emerging for women in our GSEs & Servicing Supplier Diversity Update.

conference4Both Inouye and Wilson expressed their appreciation for FHFA regulations and highlighted the help it is providing through its emphasis on D&I, from the procurement space to their investment in capital markets. Inouye added that the presence of D&I on scorecards is filling a crucial role in helping drive accountability and the importance of registering your business with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac was accentuated throughout the session. Wilson explained that despite there being no (inventory) available in some areas, registering your business is necessary and will ensure you’re at the top of the list when opportunities do emerge.

Our flagship NAWRB Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Council (NDILC) Luncheon featured council members sharing their professional and personal stories with attendees. There was no shortage of honesty and value. The respect in the room was present as Min Alexander, Senior Vice President of Real Estate Services, Altisource, expressed that she hasn’t felt she’s arrived yet, that she’s still growing. Alexander assured attendees that every professional has their own career path, and you need to carve out your own. The room erupted into understanding laughter when Alexander stated, “My passion is to make wealth for myself and then to help others.”

Cheryl Travis-Johnson, EVP and COO, VRM Mortgage Services, chronicled her start in real estate and desire to be an attorney. She took a different career path when she witnessed the potential of becoming a C-suite executive and decided to earn her MBA. A strong piece of advice during the conversation, Johnson stated, “You have to always attach yourself to your ideas. Once I started to do that my career started to grow.”

Melanie Gass, spoke about her career beginnings and the tremendous work she is doing. “I can’t even tell you the amount of convincing I had to do internally with my vision and how we wanted to participate from Microsoft’s perspective,” Gass said about Microsoft’s involvement in the SBA’s Small Business Week. “There were a remarkable amount of hurdles I had to cross with our organization to get them to think this big and this broadly.” The most professionals Microsoft had ever reached during Small Business Week was 60 million. Under Gass’s leadership, it rose to 167 million in the 2016 installment of the event. For her groundbreaking work, she was awarded the second-highest Microsoft honor, the Microsoft Circle of Excellence: Gold Club Award.

Vanessa Montanez, VP, Mortgage Business Development Manager, East West Bank, experienced her first gender-based barrier when she was working in mortgage lending and saw the opportunity to go into management. “The person who interviewed me was a white male, over 55. I was very young at the time; this was my first management interview. He said that the person who was qualified would get the position and that it would be a white male. I was floored and so upset.” What did she do? Montanez applied at a competitor and earned a management position. She emphasized the need to believe in yourself even when others don’t and move forward.

Amy Brandt-Schumacher, President Originations & Corporate Technology, New Penn Financial, told a story about an encounter that took place a few years ago when she was at a different company. Her superior asked her to cut additional funds out of the budget; when she inquired about the strategy he asked, “why do you need to know that?” As she explained that the strategy had a significant effect on her approach to cutting the funds he told her not to get emotional.

“You would think maybe that happens when you’re 25 or unproven,” Schumacher explained. “At this point in my career, to have someone say that to me is outlandish. It reminds you that you forget this is out there. It’s still out there at every level. It exists. There’s not a whole heck of a lot you can do except when you see it smack right back. We have to be confident and push back when we see those things. We can’t be cowed by the ridiculous views of other people.”

As the NDILC Luncheon was coming to an end, talk shifted from professional experience to a more personal subject matter that is equally pertinent to the success of career-driven women and minorities: self-confidence.

conference2Each woman on stage held the microphone in her hand and spoke of the “aha!” moment in which confidence was not something she sought but something she owned. Melanie Gass, said that her moment was when a peer told her, “You need to tiara up!” Wearing a tiara, which Gass admitted she literally wore for a time, has metaphorical significance: your tiara is what makes you unique, an imprint that allows others to recognize you instantly. For Gass, her tiara slowly morphed from something she wore physically to something she wore internally. Her tiara became her personality, drive, experience and success. She was the tiara that no one missed. Like Gass’s story, each one was unique and ingrained itself in the minds and hearts of every person in the room.

However, we must remember that confidence is not a finish line one reaches; self-confidence is a lifelong journey. Toni Moss, was incredibly honest about her confidence being an on-going process. Moss shared how her personal journey has created in her a perfectionism that motivates
her to always work hard to prove herself, to herself more than anyone else. An attendee had a heartwarming message for Moss: from hearing Moss’s inspirational
keynote speech earlier in the conference, she viewed Moss as
undeniably intelligent and beaming with confidence. Moments like this remind us that others see things in us that we may fail to recognize ourselves. Moss, just like every other woman professional on that stage, showed humbling authenticity, a key ingredient Vanessa Montanez, linked to confidence. Montanez emphasized that to be confident you must “be true to yourself.”

Energized by the synergy and power of our NDILC council members, attendees were prepared for the day’s penultimate session, Contracting & Teaming Agreements.

April Cooper, Founder & CEO, Alpine Companies, described her process writing proposals to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as part of the SBA’s 8(a) Program. After being declined several times and having to appeal decisions, a process that took months of work and even time away from her family, Alpine Companies won a HUD contract worth 300 properties a month. Cooper exemplified that not only are there opportunities available for women-owned small businesses, but it’s possible to capitalize on even the big ones through hard work and dedication.

“We are really trying to get small businesses involved in state government, primarily because all of you who have businesses in this state are the backbone of the state economy,” stated Michael Aguillio, SB/DVBE Liaison,
Procurement Division, Certification and Outreach, State of California, Department of General Services. “With you thriving and doing well, the economy of the state of California does well. We fight very hard to make sure that you’re involved.” Aguillio also advised attendees to obtain all of the certifications for which they qualify, in order to increase the number of opportunities available to their businesses. He went on to cover business avenues from the state of California, including the exciting High-Speed Rail currently under construction.

Small Business Sustainability finished our incredible sessions with Esther Morales, Executive Director, National Women’s Business Council (NWBC); Judy Y. Chiang, Senior Litigation Attorney, Kimball, Tirey & ST. John LLP; Debbie De Grote, Founder & President, Excelleum Coaching & Consulting; and moderator Desirée Patno.

From Morales’s advice on working with federal officials to help drive policy change to Chiang’s emphasis on the importance of preventative care like insurance and sound legal advice for your business, the panel delivered the power of small businesses and their potential.

De Grote underscored the importance of collaboration, both within your company and with other businesses, for growth and success. She reminded attendees to invest in building their business, learn about their field and build their network. Fitting advice for a ballroom full of professionals who spent the day learning the keys to success from the housing ecosystem’s leading experts.

In its own right, this session provided unique diverse collaboration. The path to change starts with a trade association having a vision, passing the baton to a real estate attorney for the oversight, running the feedback through a real estate coaching portal and presenting the results to the advisors for the President, Congress and SBA. Now that’s powerful!

We brought the house down with our Roaring Twenty Awards Gala featuring birth decade-themed attire as we honored our amazing winners for their hard work, passion and dedication to the housing ecosystem.

The camaraderie and laughter from seeing everyone dressed in their beautiful outfits coupled with our Women’s Snapshot modeling to make this a night we didn’t want to end. As we danced to great music from the Sam Sorensen Band we were reminded of the power of women’s collaboration, and we remembered the reason we all came together in the first place, to support each other and leverage our unique and meaningful spirits in the housing ecosystem.

Here’s to our supporters, sponsors and attendees of the 3rd Annual NAWRB Women’s Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Conference! We’ll see you next year!


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