In reports across the media, we are often told that we have arrived in the age of gender equality. And compared to previous generations, women certainly have more opportunities now than ever before in their various fields; they’ve made massive strides in sports, the arts and in the business world.
However, women are not quite ‘there’ yet; there’s still much work to be done to move the needle on true diversity in the workplace. According to the results of research conducted by the MFAA, opportunities for women to make a mark are still lacking in the mortgage and finance industry.
“Reading about all of the perception gaps in the MFAA’s report opened my eyes to how much work our industry has to do,” says Bianca Patterson, director of Perth finance and mortgage broking firm Calculated Lending.
“The ability to run your own business and the flexible working hours have allowed us to advertise our industry to attract a more diverse talent pool. Yet 59% of male responders still said they were unsure if women were under-represented in our industry, while 57% of women answered that they were in fact under-represented.”
A wide range of perspectives is crucial to drive innovation, especially in an industry that plays to the strengths of women.
“The under-representation of women is significant when we consider the role female customers play in our industry. Research indicates that, in the average household, women either directly make or influence 80% of all purchasing decisions, and yet women only represent 27.1% of the broking community,” Patterson points out.
“Diversity ultimately drives innovation, and there has never been a more crucial time for our industry to grow and evolve. It increases creativity and improves morale while leading to faster problem-solving and better decision-making.”
This is the rationale behind the development of the MFAA’s Opportunities for Women program, which looks at the reasons behind the lack of female representation in the industry. As an active participant in the initiative, Patterson was determined that its aims should not be little more than window dressing.
“When joining the initiative, it was important to me that it not be a push to hire or recruit women just to fill a quota or to see an even percentage in a graph,” she explains.
At its conception, the program sought to “research and identify the perceptions and problems” inherent in the struggle to achieve gender equality in the field.
“Now, we hope to bring together key industry stakeholders to create a strategy for industry-wide inclusion. The next stage of the initiative will focus on taking action, and we will leverage off existing industry relationships and networks to learn from their successful diversity programs. We hope to celebrate the existing diversity in the industry and create more structures and avenues for peer-to-peer support,” she says.
Education is a big aspect of the initiative, and the organisation intends to “work with education providers and aggregator groups to develop more structured pathways into the industry from both finance and non-finance backgrounds”. It aims to educate leaders and influencers in the industry through training in order to facilitate leadership by example.
“I would love to see role models in our industry take a stand on diversity and inclusion, leading by example and taking a moment to remember just how much infl uence their voices and actions have,” Patterson says.
Many in the mortgage and finance field, including lenders, aggregators and industry partners, have embraced the ideals of the Opportunities for Women initiative, which is an encouraging sign of the shift in culture.
“I have been a broker for eight years and it has been in the last 18 months of my career that I have noticed the biggest shift towards diversity and inclusion in our industry,” she says.
“I feel the MFAA’s Opportunities for Women initiative has started a great conversation, one that we need to continue as we work towards getting a better understanding of the challenges and biases hindering the increased representation of women.”
Despite the positive feedback, however, Patterson knows there is still a long way to go to achieve true gender balance.
“If brokers see an avenue for diversity or inclusion in their businesses I challenge them to explore it and the benefits it could bring to their team and customers,” she advises.
“Some of the more negative comments and attitudes about the initiative and about gender equality itself have really shown me that there are still boundaries and stigmas to work through. There is certainly more to be done, and I think it is crucial for us to get more of the industry involved in the discussions so we can better understand their beliefs and concerns.”