mPower: Addressing Workplace Disruptors

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Desirée Patno is the CEO and President of Women in the Housing and Real Estate Ecosystem (NAWRB) and Desirée Patno Enterprises, Inc. (DPE). With almost three decades specializing in the Housing and Real Estate Ecosystem, she leads her executive team’s expertise of championing women’s economic growth and independence.

For the first time at a NAWRB Conference, mPower (Mortgage Banker’s Association Promoting Opportunities for Women to Extend their Reach) presented a panel, kicking off our Year of Women with style and substance.

NAWRB President and CEO, Desirée Patno introduced MBA COO and Founder of mPower Marcia Davies noting “This is the first time we have had a collective group of women and men from all different industries and this panel is the first time we have had MBA be a part of us.”

Introducing mPower

Ms. Davies showed a video of MBA’s first Summit for Women in Real Estate Finance which boiled down an entire day of dynamic speakers and inspiration to two and a half minutes. The inspiration behind mPower she said, stemmed from the fact that at a typical MBA conference you mainly see men. Previewing mPower’s next Summit for Women in Real Estate set for October 13th in Washington, D.C., Marcia revealed the event will feature Oscar-winning actress Geena Davis and Founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media as one of the speakers. After the presentation, she gave powerful first-person examples of the power of mentorship in her life.

“Mortgage Finance Was Not on My Radar”

A career in mortgage finance was not on Marcia’s radar growing up on a farm in New Jersey. Eventually, her path led her to Washington D.C. where she met a manager who took her under her wing.

“I was not your ideal employee,” she said. “She championed and supported me and gave me big assignments and projects. After about six months I realized my life was better because she was my manager. She wanted me to be successful and saw how hard I worked.”

From this early mentor, Marcia learned the first important lesson of her early career: the power of championing other women. “I want to be like her when I get to lead an organization,” she vowed.

The second big lesson of her early career came from her time working at Freddie Mac when her boss and a VP of the business line she had spent seven years within took her aside telling her “You need to step out of your comfort zone if you want to go further in your career.”

He further boosted her confidence by giving her that first opportunity to leap out of her role with the words: “You have all the skills to lead this department. What you have are the qualities of a leader. You instinctively know if something is off. That’s what I need in the job.”

These two early mentors taught Marcia one key aspect of leadership: seeing things in people that they don’t see in themselves and using skills that translate across different industries to transition out of a comfort zone.

“Women want to be safe, seen and heard,” -Jane Fonda

“Equality for women is a complex topic,” said Marcia when introducing several facts pointing to women’s influence in the society, “But so simple at the same time.”

Women makeup 51 % of the workforce and make 81% of household purchases, however, they appear in half as much in ads, get a quarter screen time and get only one in seven speaking roles on t.v. and they wear revealing clothes six times more than men do in those television roles.

Marcia asserted that this bias isn’t only in media but in the real estate and banking industry as well, showing a slide of real estate ads asking the question: “How come the man always has the keys in real estate and/and photos?”

“I do believe progress is possible,” she said while noting the recent change in political and social climate with the #MeToo movement, saying “Women are being listened to more now.”

With this in mind, mPower recently conducted a voluntary survey of their members on sexual harassment using the EEOC definition for consistency.

They found:

75% of women experienced at least one work-related sexual harassment incident.

50% experienced inappropriate touching and unwanted sexual advances.

8% reported to HR

20% Reported harassment to a manager

60% Feared professional repercussions in reporting harassment

And 52% took uncomfortable after-hours meetings, for fear of negative career impact

The response rate was 14% and specific to women in the mortgage industry.

mPower then conducted live polling at the end of each of three large conferences across different sectors in housing finding roughly the same results with the added question: “How did it make you feel?”

The near-unanimous answer: Powerlessness

Marcia hopes that recent events in the wake of #MeToo encourage women to call out predators and that women and men need to be apart of the solution together. Mentorships and partnerships are important, as well as ensuring more women are included in big meetings and women are elected to company boards.

mPower: Addressing Workplace Disruptors Panel

David Hrobon, CEO and President of Chicago-based Wintrust Mortgage is the first man invited to an mPower panel. From their first meeting, David struck Marcia as an advocate for women when he introduced himself by saying he’d like to get involved with mPower. David, spent much of his early life surrounded by strong women making women’s advancement personal for him.

Rounding out the panel were Tamara King, VP of Residential Policy and Member Engagement with MBA who began her career working at Fannie Mae during the turbulent times of the housing crisis, Stacie Rankey, VP of Client Relations for law firm Gerner & Kearns who found the strength to move on after a recent breast cancer diagnosis, and Rebecca Steele, who overcame being erroneously labeled as the “Face of the Housing Crisis” to becoming the newly appointed President and CEO of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC.)

On Gender Bias

Tamara started off the conversation of gender bias with a story about one of her first jobs in New York where everyone sat in cubicles with no titles listed on the outside. She would have men walk into her cubicle and ask her to do administrative work when it was not her realm of work and she was one of the most educated people there with a higher title. This assumption that she was not the person in charge stuck with her.

Rebecca Steele talked about putting on a thick skin when she would get notes dropped off from men in her office about what to wear and appropriate meeting attire. She expressed that women’s power is often cut down in the workplace, including in the mortgage business while David Hrobon recounted working at a company with eighty loan officers, only three of them women. He often puts the lack of women in certain spheres into context when thinking of his (now adult) daughters whose friends were gifted in science and math but didn’t feel supported to pursue careers in those fields.

Turning Talk Into Action

Marcia asked our panel about the kinds of behaviors that make a difference in the workplace. When periodically reevaluating her group’s performance, Rebecca always looks for ways to bring women into the conversation and makes a conscientious effort when roles open up to find not only the best person— but the best person who can help increase diversity on her team.

Tamara added that women need to be willing to raise their hand and speak up; often women wait to be asked instead of asking themselves to be a part of a bigger meeting or project. When women aren’t asked, they feel devalued, can shut down and do literally what’s required. Even if you get a “no” you need to ask why so you can prepare to come back, she said. You have to come back and not let anyone prevent you from trying.

Part of the problem women face, says Stacie, are that they are raised to be “nice” and nice is often seen as a weakness. Even if you are a “nice” or a “girl-girl” you need to own who you are, don’t apologize and try not to conform to the industry standard. “I’m not the person who is going to pound the table at a meeting,” said Tamara, “but I will advocate for myself on a timely basis so my boss remembers it.” David concurred, saying that he often found that women were trying to emulate men in handling certain situations when they could be more effective in learning to manage on their own terms.

Rebecca emphasized the importance of women taking action for themselves even when it’s difficult. She recalled going to ahead of HR in a previous position, telling him that even though it might not be easy to find women loan officers, but they are out there and they are better. He “point blank” looked at her saying “that is going to take too long.,”

Finding a Mentor

As the panel opened up questions to the audience, the difficulty of finding a mentor popped up. Marcia talked about broadening your sightlines. You can even find someone who not in your industry. A mentor is a person who will know the good, bad and the ugly. You want to tell them the not-so-good stuff so you can understand yourself better. “My mentors are nothing like me,” Stacie added. This allows her to get a perspective she wouldn’t otherwise get by sticking within the industry.

It also might be helpful to not have to go in deep with one single mentor, Rebecca said, as having a bunch of mentors might be as effective.

And although she never had mentors in the traditional sense, she made a habit out of studying people, said Tamara; learning from the ways of getting the info you need.

On Women Holding Women Back

Another challenge brought up by a member of our audience is how to deal with other women who for whatever reason try to hold other women back.

Marcia said these “mean girls” have always surprised her. She tries to counteract this behavior by being upfront and honest and tries to reach the offender on a personal level. “You have to stay focused on your own goals,” she said. “You can’t change that person.”

David observed these phenomena with his young daughters and put forth the idea that perhaps some women are not mean-spirited by intention but by habit or experience and that this habit can be changed. “I tell my daughter mean girls grow up to become mean women,” says Stacie going further to state that we have to call out this kind of passive-aggressive behavior when we see it.

On Being Yourself While Fitting Into a Company Culture

One of our audience members talked about the pervasiveness in today’s culture of the idea of “being yourself” and “owning who you are.” However, how do you actually put that in practice when being a part of the team is often integral to finding workplace success?

One solution is to have clear goals as an organization or company, but allow people to approach those goals in their own ways. Leaders need to open up to someone not fitting into their culture with either an accent, tattoos, or piercings and instead focus on how that person can become a contributor, says Marcia, further stating that we need to check our bias at the door, whether conscious or not.

Workplace culture is incredibly important, said David. It’s difficult to get someone who is aligned with your core company principles and people define culture differently. He emphasizes that while a diversity of thought is important, you don’t want people deviating from what your brand is about. Part of the solution comes in an evaluation, Tamara says, adding if the same types of people get promoted leaders must ask themselves why and work to look at ways to open up from the typical hire.

                                                                       Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways

While career advancement is important “We are people first,” Marcia put forth, going on to say that it’s important to find out what is going on with employees personally and that if you believe in their lives, understand them and the challenges they face you can better find ways to lead. While women face many challenges in their lives, they can learn to take back the word to become a “meaningful disruptor.” You can be a disruptor and do it in a positive way says Marcia, admitting that it is easier to raise issues of gender equality when you do reach a position of power and aren’t so worried about jeopardizing your career. To all of our panelists, it was clear that both men and women need to be a part of changing how people think and that organizations need to leverage resources and collaborate in order to make real change happen.

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