Inclusion, Demographics, and the MBA’s Role

A conversation with MBA Chief Operating Officer and mPower Founder Marcia Davies

Marcia Davies read “Women in the Workplace” — a comprehensive study of the state of women in corporate America — with some concern.

The study was based on surveys and interviews conducted at 279 companies employing more than 13 million employees, and its prime finding was that companies’ stated commitment to gender diversity hasn’t translated into meaningful progress. Women, especially women of color, continue to be underrepresented at every level, and in senior leadership roles in particular. As the intro page of the womenintheworkplace.com site states: “Progress isn’t just slow — it’s stalled.”

Davies, chief operating officer of the Mortgage Bankers Association, knows gender and race inequality is not specific to the mortgage industry and is found across corporate America. Changing it is going to take a mindful, focused and purposeful approach. At all levels, but especially from leadership.

“I don’t think our industry is unusual in that vein,” Davies said in a conversation with Mortgage Media’s S.A. Ibrahim at MBA’s 2019 Independent Mortgage Bankers Conference. “But I do think we are not going to make change unless we are purposeful about it. And unless we create measurable progress and stay focused on it.” Focused on inclusion in training, in leadership path opportunities, and more.

And, Davies noted, “it doesn’t happen by accident. It takes focus. And the focus starts at the top.”

MBA is in a position to be particularly influential in that regard, and among Davies’ priorities is to make sure there is inclusion and true engagement with employees. A member-driven diversity and inclusion committee, a subcommittee of MBA’s board of directors, meets several times a year to ensure it continues to be a priority, both internally and across the industry.

One major initiative of Davies’ at MBA has been mPower — MBA Promoting Opportunities for Women to Extend their Reach — the association’s networking platform for women in the real estate finance industry. Founded by Davies, mPower has grown to reach more than 6,000 women.

“I hear more and more about women not only connecting, but now doing business as a result of mPower,” said Davies. “Business is being done because of this network, in ways that it wasn’t being done before — through partnerships and really understanding. And supporting and growing and helping each other.”

Davies noted that gender and ethnic diversity and inclusion cannot be just buzzwords — business leaders need to realize the different perspectives and experience they gain from inclusion.

“Inclusion is about inclusion of thought,” said Davies. “It’s making sure that you, as a leader, have people around the table who are going to provide you with ideas and insights that you might not have thought of yourself, or that you may have not been aware of. And it creates a dynamic that makes organizations achieve more than they ever set out to achieve.

“When they have a diverse voice — and that can be through all ranks; it doesn’t have to be just in your leadership team, you open up your conversations to being more diverse in the way people think, you also get their experiences.”

Employees, Davies points out, need to be sure to actually sit down and engage with their peers — whether higher, lower or lateral within the business — and don’t just do it through phone, text or email.

Davies has been with MBA since 2011 and has been COO since September 2014. Prior to MBA, she served as a senior advisor with the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) commissioner’s office at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) from 2009 to 2011, after a 21-year career in various positions at Freddie Mac.

There’s little doubt, she noted, that her vast experiences and responsibilities at Freddie Mac and HUD have served her well. At Freddie Mac, she had worked in single-family sourcing, institutional eligibility, public affairs and more, affording her opportunities to grow and learn the multiple aspects of the business. She left Freddie (and the industry itself for a few years), returning to join HUD amid the fallout from the housing crisis. At the time, she felt that it was “a little weird to be sitting on the sidelines” at such a critical time.

“The experience I had at Freddie Mac, and then my experience at being at a regulator at the time of a housing crisis and understanding how it works inside the building, and how it’s viewed when people come into the building to talk to you about their issues, prepared me incredibly well for the opportunity at MBA,” Davies said. “I didn’t know it at the time. When I went to work for HUD, I thought it would be interesting and challenging, but I had no idea how well everything would prepare me for what was ahead. And so, I don’t know, maybe you get a little lucky. But I really do think the job I have right now is the best job I’ve ever had.”

She has been at MBA, initially working under then-President Dave Stevens, to help retool the organization and make it stronger. Coming out of the housing downturn, MBA’s financial position wasn’t as strong, and she and Stevens worked to bring MBA to a place – financially and status-wise – that would increase membership and get members to want to renew. There were new offices and a rebranding with a new logo, as well, to reflect that this was a new MBA. “Really, we wanted MBA to be seen as the voice,” said Davies.

The hard work from MBA leadership and staff has paid off. MBA’s voice as a leading advocate for the housing finance industry has become even greater and more influential in recent years, and Davies attributes that to a focus on what she calls pillars: advocacy, policy, education, networking, and information. Making sure that all the different interests represented within MBA’s “big tent” are heard, and the divergent views brought together into one powerful voice on Capitol Hill.

“The last thing that we want is to have a bunch of splintered messages going in to folks who are trying to create housing policy,” she said. “And so our goal is to make sure we go in as one voice so that what we’re trying to accomplish is clear.” She credits the leadership of current President and CEO Bob Broeksmit and 2019 Chairman Christopher George for helping ensure that happens.

“I’m happy to say MBA’s never been stronger than it is today,” she said.

Among the major issues facing the industry is the changing demographic of homebuyers. Tomorrow’s borrowers are increasingly more diverse — Latino, Asian and African American — and, in many cases, single heads of household, Davies and Ibrahim both noted. For many borrowers, income sources and flows aren’t necessarily going to be traditional — many will be self-employed, and some will have seasonal income. Lenders, including the GSEs, need to look for ways to make sure credit is available to creditworthy borrowers of all kinds, Davies noted, to make sure they can get into a home they can sustain and keep. And she sees widespread understanding of that fact: “I think the industry is working really hard to understand this incoming new market of borrowers that we need to serve.”

And it’s a savvy market coming up, at least judging by an example close at hand to Davies: her daughter, single, who bought her first house at 28, taking advantage of a first-time homebuyer loan that she could access through her employer. Her daughter knew what she wanted and what she qualified for, and figured it all out on her own — never discussing it with her industry-professional mom. It was quite different from how Davies approached buying her first house.

“I do think there’s a change in mentality,” said Davies. “And I do think that this next generation is really looking at what’s available to them, and how do they want to leverage what’s available to them so when they’re ready to buy, they have the opportunity to do so. So our job is to be ready, right? To serve whatever demographic it is.”

So what, Ibrahim asked, does Davies do, aside from her work with MBA, to balance the tremendous energy she puts in there?

One thing she doesn’t do is travel much, she said — she does enough of that through work. She spends a lot of time with her sister (who’s her next-door neighbor), and spends plenty of time with her husband at their future retirement home on Maryland’s Kent Island in the Chesapeake Bay. A self-described “crazy dog person,” she said their 5-pound Yorkie controls the household.

“And then, you know, the usual reading, exercise — every 60 days or so go on some fad diet and then decide, you know what, I need to have a glass of wine, I’m going back to the old way. But yes, I live a normal, basic life,” said Davies.

To learn more or get involved with mPower, go here: https://www.mba.org/get-involved/mpower