mPower’s Mortgage Titans Discuss Leading While Female

SA Ibrahim: I have always been a strong, strong believer in the fact that women ought to and deserve to and are capable of playing a much bigger role in the mortgage industry than they played in the past, because in every mortgage business I’ve been associated with they were my star performers. And we came close in the sense that we had a much more diverse team than almost any of our peers and in many cases most of the industry. But one of the things that’s always baffled me, and I’ll start with that because that was the question I asked Amy Brandt when we interviewed her and she was one of the first if not the first woman CEOs of a mortgage company many years ago Apollo bought warehouses business. But the question was with women representing now the majority in the mortgage business and in many cases companies having anti-discrimination and other procedures so that nobody can blatantly discriminate against them, why is it that so few women have broken the glass ceiling and risen to the very top?

Marcia Davies: Well, that’s the million dollar question, right? So, our industry is not unique, we see this in all industries, but when you look at what’s happening for women who in many cases are the larger percentage of the workforce, the higher up they go in management, the fewer and fewer women you see in those jobs. So, part of what we need to do is raise awareness in how diversity of thought and gender diversity really makes your organization better and more successful. And I do think we’ll make progress, I think the time is now, the spotlight is shining bright on all of the value that women bring to the workplace. So, I do think that the industry is starting to come along and I hope we’ll see a lot of progress, that’s why we’re spending so much time talking about it, so thank you for covering the topic.

Patty Arvielo: I see it as excitement for change. I wasn’t raised to think that I would be anything more than maybe a dental hygienist, so I think a lot of it comes from the way we were raised in this generation. Right now it takes women like us to start speaking up to the next generation, and then problem is there’s so few of us speaking out because it’s an uncomfortable conversation. When I speak publicly about the issue in the mortgage industry I really look to the father’s in the crowd and say, “Go home and tell your daughters they can be me”, because this is how we’re going to create change, by speaking out, by Marcia doing these great mPower events. I mean, I’ve never seen anything like it and I’ve been in this industry 36 years. That’s why I’m excited, I’m part of a movement that I’m going to be able to say, “I was part of that” in 20 years.

Teresa Bazemore: I think also, to Marcia’s point, people tended in a lot of cases to sort of advance people that reminded them of themselves. So, if you’re a guy you don’t think of a woman as yourself, right? And so, we had to get away from that. Also, a lot of people were in I would say support roles or operational roles and not necessarily in sales roles, so I think we’ve improved that tremendously as well. But there has to be a focus of being more intentional about developing talent and developing all talent. And I think when that happens women will rise and have more opportunity.

Kate DeKay: I think to Patty’s point that change is definitely coming. She’s talking about teaching our kids that but I see in even my generation that males were taught differently, that females were taught differently, that they can be in a higher level. And I think just as our generations grow we’re going to continue to see change coming.

Marcia Davies: Can I just add to that, because my daughter is in this industry, she’s been in the industry for seven years, she’s already asking for more than I asked for myself when I was her age because she sees the opportunity and says, “I should be doing that. I can do that”, where years and years ago I think we would wait as women for somebody to say, “I acknowledge you, yes, you should take that role.” I do think we will see a lot of progress in this next generation that’s coming into the industry, which is why it’s so important, we need them involved.

SA Ibrahim: So, I think we all agree on the fact that women who have broken the glass ceiling has nothing to do with contribution or performance or skills or success, it has to be some other factors that are difficult to pin down. What is that you as women leaders in the industry are doing to help women find an opportunity to break through that ceiling? And what is it that men like me who believe women should play a bigger role can do to make that happen too?

Marcia Davies: Well, I think there are several things at play, and I agree with you. Let’s all take one common denominator which is we know women are capable to lead organizations. I think the other thing that’s interesting, if you look at when a company needs to be turned around, a company in crisis, more times than not they ask a woman to step in and help steer that company out of a crisis. So, I think women have so much to bring to the table. I do think it’s a double edged sword. There are times when women will opt out of those top jobs because they may feel that they need to get a few more years under their belt when in fact a male will say, “Oh, I’m just going to go for it now.” We encourage risk taking and for women to realize that your skills are transferable and if the job requires 12 things, you probably have the ability for all of those 12 requirements even if you feel like you didn’t have exact experience in that certain aspect that they’re looking for. So, leadership skills, you can transfer that knowledge, right. But maybe a woman’s going to lead an IT department but hasn’t been a programmer or been technical in that space. In our industry I think there’s a bias that you have to be technical before you can rise to the ranks, and I would say that you really just need to be a great leader, know how to motivate people, know how to drive for results, and really that’s what we should be looking for.

Kate DeKay: I think being a supporter whether you’re a male or a female in a leadership position of females trying to come up in the ranks, and instead of waiting for a female to say she believes she is qualified, identify people that are qualified and be able to bring them up and support them through the process.

Teresa Bazemore: I think with more if us having those opportunities, it also is good that people are able to see that women are able to do these jobs, and then they feel like, “Yeah this is something that I can do as well.” So, we have to continue to focus on encouraging people to do that. I mean also encouraging people to get as much expertise as they can, try new areas, try something, volunteer for a project that is a high profile project in the company so that you get that exposure. So, really trying to help people think about how to navigate their careers in ways that maybe both women and a lot of men have never had happen for them in the past.

Patty Arvielo: It’s pretty simple, if you can see it, you can be it. So, media needs to do a better job about showing women in power positions, can’t just always be the female reporting to the boss. If you can see it, you can be it. It’s going to take all of us to create change, it’s going to take media to create change, it’s going to take perceptions of everyone to create the change that we’re all looking for. And it’s coming. What, 50 years ago they were announcing we could open a ketchup bottle for Heinz. I mean, that was 50 years ago. I really think that it’s a combined effort.

SA Ibrahim: Not being a woman though I can relate to some of these barriers because I came to the U.S. from India and became a naturalized U.S. citizen. And maybe 25 years ago a very sizable bank hired a new executive who was interviewing me for the head of consumer lending job and he told me, “I know people from your country and they’re very good at analytic stuff, but I’ve never seen them be good leader. How can you be a good leader?” And yet, later on the opportunities I got proved otherwise. It’s one of those catch 22’s that’s hard to break. And as a woman if somebody says something like that, you’re in a very tough position because if you challenge it too openly and expose them, you’re just pushy, if you don’t you’re not doing yourself justice. How do you manage those delicate situations?

Marcia Davies: First of all, I love the fact that you have empathy because of a personal experience. In a way what happened when you first came into the country and you were put in a box with an assumption of what you could and couldn’t do, that happens to women all the time. And the box may be, “Well, she’s a mom, and a working mom won’t be able to devote the time.” You name it, there are a lot of labels that go on for us. And so, I really think having the dialogue and really taking, to Kate’s point, taking some risks, stepping out like Teresa said, put yourself in a position where you may be on a project you otherwise wouldn’t have been on so you can let your results speak for themselves. And I always think it’s important for you to have the data, know your position that you hold, know what its value in the marketplace is, be able to articulate your contributions to the organization and also advocate for yourself. Because I’m sure you did all of those things along the way because you weren’t going to be an analyst, you were going to be a leader. And for us, we did a lot of that kind of work to get into the positions we had, we had to separate ourselves and really work hard. And I think Patty said on our panel, she had to work harder than most because she was going to differentiate herself and make a difference, you know, and I think it worked. Yes, in a way I think the path is very similar and I appreciate that you can articulate it because you actually experienced it.

Teresa Bazemore: I also think that we have to recognize that different companies have different cultures in that regard. Now I remember applying for a job during my law school years for my first summer, and it was a firm that was in my hometown area and the guy said, “Well, clearly, you’re smart, but basically, can you hang out with the rest of us and can you drink?” And I’m sitting there going, “Seriously?” And I’m thinking, “I don’t want to work here.” Not that I can’t hang out and drink, I don’t want to work in a culture like this. I think we also have to understand that sometimes we have to seek out the right organizations organization who will be supportive of us. At a certain point I think organizations that don’t have that culture will recognize what we bring to the table, but that may be part of it. And some of those organizations won’t survive because they don’t have that diversity of thought and leadership.

SA Ibrahim: One of the other things I observed was one of the best things we did at Radian was put Teresa in the role of president for a mortgage insurance business because first of all, as we made decisions she brought a very interesting perspective not just because she was a woman but she had a very different background and she was able to leverage that and she had seen more of the industry, but the best thing for me to watch was the way she inspired other women in the organization. All of a sudden they had this sense of pride in being in the company and they felt they belonged, and I’d hear that across the board. So, Teresa, starting with you, why don’t you tell us how you helped other women in the organization at Radian? You were fortunate to have many of them move up the organization ladder and work on that lack of confidence issue, and how do the rest of you … What has been the experience with the rest of you? Because if you’ve got a woman leader, she can inspire the women to say, “We can be in that growth.”
Teresa Bazemore: So, one of the things that I did was if I saw someone who I thought had really good potential, I would look for opportunities for them, roles that I thought they could do. And sometimes it took a bit of convincing. I had some situations where people would say, “Well, I don’t know if I can do that”, and I would say, “No, you definitely can do this.” And in fact, finally I convinced them and they really succeeded well. But that was true with both women and men. I think the different was as a woman leader I was just focused on finding the right talent, and because I was doing that with everyone it benefited women because women got opportunities that they might not otherwise have gotten.
Patty Arvielo: The secret sauce in our organization is that oftentimes when women get to CEO positions and we’re balancing motherhood and wifehood, we oftentimes … A lot of CEOs will stay in the ivory tower. You really need to make your face visible in your organization, meaning walking around … It’s really important, it sounds really simple, but I really do a really good job of being with the people at every level so that they can see me. I’m not shy about telling them that I didn’t graduate college and I’m still here, I’m very, very open so that somebody can see me and go, “I can be her.” And so, I just think that’s important. It might be a simple solution but I do really try to tell my story and share it, and I share it with pride. So, I think that’s been important in our organization.

Kate DeKay: Yeah, I think being relatable is extremely important. And I think what we do as women is immediately to the other women in the organization we’re relatable as long as we’re not in some ivory tower. Especially, as a working mother people realize, “Okay, I don’t have to stay at a lower end job just because I’m a mom also. I can balance all of these things and still go up in the ranks.” And I think it helps them realize they don’t have to stay down there, shoot for the stars and keep rising up because you can do it all.

Teresa Bazemore: It was interesting, because at Radian I had a couple of women approach me about forming a women’s group, sort of a women’s sort of support leadership group. And I think they felt comfortable because I was a woman, approaching me about that. And, of course, I was very interested in doing that and, as you know, got that off the ground. But I also was very focused on not being the person who was leading it, because I wanted to make sure that it was another opportunity for women to lead that effort too and develop their skills. So, to To me that was another way to have more women getting involved and showing their leadership potential.

Marcia Davies: For me it was part of the passion around mPower. We were doing women’s networking events a year before we actually branded mPower and said, “Be part of a community.” Because I wanted to see if women would take one hour during a very busy conference where they’re working really hard, would they take one hour for themselves to meet other women and to network and to build relationships? Which I think sometimes aren’t as easy for women because we have our head down and we are checking things off the list, because we may have a lot of other commitments with our family or other things going on. And I always tell the story, I picked randomly 75 women off a registration list, varying titles, and invited them to have lunch with me during our annual convention. I invited 75 and 150 showed up, and it answered my question, “Will women take time out of a very busy work day to meet other women and network and do something for themselves?”

Marcia Davies: And so, I think the more we can support each other and the more men we have supporting women and the value … You know it, you said you have always worked with powerful women, you worked alongside of Teresa, you know the value of diversity of thought and gender within your management structure. The more we can talk about it and help organizations get more women in the leadership pipeline, the better off this industry’s going to be.

SA Ibrahim: It’s sort of interesting that the only person in this crowd I’ve known longer than I’ve known Teresa is you.

Marcia Davies: I might be the second oldest.

SA Ibrahim: But even at that time when I first met you at Freddie, you had this hidden power in you and it’s great to see you express it and be so articulate. But in the interest of wrapping this up, let me ask you the last question. How do we advance this cause and hopefully a few years from now … You were talking about all the women who have made it to the top, without making the men feel awkward that they are being discriminated against. It’s a very sensitive balancing act. What’s your answer to that?

Marcia Davies: So, I think it’s an interesting question because I don’t think it’s zero sum game, right? I don’t think that if women rise, men fall, right? Inclusion is about taking qualified people and giving them opportunity and having a voice at the table. And even if somebody doesn’t have the right title, bring diversity in the room and give exposure and tell the person they’re there because you want to give them opportunity to contribute to the dialogue. And so, whether it’s men or a woman, it’s just really find opportunities to break kind of our traditional structures. Again, it could be meetings or it could be who you bring on sales calls, it could be who you choose to mentor, but let’s really focus on being purposeful about looking at someone for their contributions and not whether they’re male or female or fit into a certain diversity category, right? Let’s really look at opportunities and results.

SA Ibrahim: A fair shot.

Marcia Davies: A fair shot. I’d start to sing Hamilton, but I’m not going to.

Kate DeKay: It’s interesting, because I agree, even just having these conversations on stage, you don’t want men to feel as though we’re saying, “We’re better than you” or feel them to be discriminated against. And I always say for me, and I’m sure for Patty as well because she has her husband as one of her biggest supporters, I have the best male supporters around in my workplace as well. So, I don’t think … And I know they understand the same thing, it’s not about us needing to be better than them or us saying anything against them, they understand it’s just all about supporting and making sure it’s inclusionary and everybody has a fair shot.

Marcia Davies: Can I just add one thing? The thing we are very purposeful about with empower and these kind of panels, it’s about inclusion, it’s not about women versus men. We do not want negative talk, we want to be solutions-based when we identify issues because we need to work together. And so, I echo that and it’s something that as Patty says, she likes to see the positive. And so, I really want people who as we tackle these complex issues … Because if they weren’t complex and hard it would have been resolved years ago. We look at it in the most positive filter possible because I think that will be success.

Teresa Bazemore: I totally agree with what both of you have said. And to me it’s about giving everybody a great opportunity. And I think if you’re giving everyone a great opportunity women will rise and they get these jobs just like men will continue to get these jobs. And there are also a lot of men who aren’t necessarily the outgoing gregarious type who could be great leaders and they need some of the same tips that we’re talking about that women could benefit from. So to me it’s really about looking at the entire workforce and thinking about how do you help people so their very best and how do you support that, and how do you support reaching the goals they want to have for themselves.

Patty Arvielo: You know, for me, in the last probably decade of my career, I’ve pretty much taken the role of what can I do for others, like the servant leader. And I think that’s what’s made our sales team feel valued. And that might be a woman’s way to lead, it’s definitely my way. But being a servant means tapping people on the shoulder and rising them up. It’s an actual job that we do. And so I, again, I’m going to repeat it again, super excited, I think every company’s just trying to figure it out. And it’s still super uncomfortable to talk about because we’re trying to be respectful and positive, right, which we all are. So, anyhow, it’s be comfortable in being uncomfortable. That’s the beginning.

SA Ibrahim: I really want to thank you for your time and your comments and look forward to having this conversation sometime in the next couple of years, and hopefully the story will change. And I want to close with saying that as somebody who has been in a position of leading organizations, I don’t see this … Even though it’s mPower and a women’s issue, I don’t see it as women’s issue only, I see it as a challenge for the organizations and the failure on the part of the organizations to make sure they create an opportunity for the best person, whoever that may be, to rise forward. And the fact that so many women in spite of being strong competitors and making such a contribution haven’t risen to the top is a failure of the organization. Thank you.