Changing Attitudes—Or Not?
There is a difference between being referred to as a “female mortgage broker” versus a “mortgage broker who is female.”
The first statement sounds like it’s surprising: “Wow, a female mortgage broker!” The second just refers to the fact that I am female. Subtle difference? Maybe you don’t even see the difference. But having been a mortgage broker who is female the last few decades, I think I can say that my journey might have been different from most mortgage brokers who are male. And some of them may not have been so subtle.
The difference might have started out with my own expectation. My plan was always to be a business owner. What drove my motivation was the ability to spend the time I needed with my children. I recall a time before I had children, when I overheard a co-worker asking if she could leave early to see her elementary school daughter in her dance recital. I thought to myself, “What if her boss said no? Although I didn’t even have children at the time, I wanted to do what I could to avoid this predicament.
For seven years, I worked toward building up my mortgage experience as a loan processor and then underwriter. I quit my job right before having my first child. I immediately started my business from the nursery of our home. Crib on one side of the room, and desk and computer on the other. My daughter on the floor or on my lap while I was working away. I suspect that this is the story of many women, and now for more and more men too.
For many women, I think the difference in the journey has a lot to do with their family’s expectations. My dad came from India. His father was very forward thinking and encouraged all his children to study. So, two of his sisters ended up being physicians. My dad had always encouraged me to do and be whatever I could be. My mom was born and raised in Switzerland. Her father encouraged the boys to study, and she was sent to work in a shoe factory after sixth grade. Luckily, she rebelled against that and went to Toronto to carve out her own destiny. Clearly, parents have a huge impact on their daughters, but sheer willpower can overcome obstacles.
When I started my company, Nationwide Mortgage, back in 1997, there were markedly fewer women business owners than there are now. When I think back, I laugh at the fact that I used to dress like a dude, in button-down shirts and slacks. I think I was trying to grab any power that I could. But even then, for example, whenever someone would step into my office, they would inevitably ask if the owner was around because they would like to speak with “him.” As a perfect out to a soliciting salesperson, I would usually just respond, “No, sorry, he is not in.”
Attitudes still haven’t changed much toward woman.
At a recent conference for commercial mortgages in Los Angeles, I was walking around the booths and came across a middle-aged man in front of his architectural services booth. He sized me up in with my purple skirt, matching suit jacket and heels and said, “I guess you don’t have much use for architectural services.” He might have been surprised to hear that I in fact had a bachelor’s degree in architecture. If I had cared enough, I would have attempted to enlighten him about not judging a book by a cover or a person by their femaleness. My initial interest was that I lend funds to developers and they need referrals to a good architect from time to time. Instead, I gritted my teeth and walked away.
Often people are surprised when I say I own my own business. Would that reaction be the same if I was a man?
Over 28 years, and 4 billion in loans, I’ve had quite a journey. As a mortgage broker and banker, it has been important for me to have industry role models who are female and male to help me develop the next leg of my business road map. I have found mortgage associations like AAPL a great place to find these movers and shakers and to have a chance to chat with them one-on-one.
We all have important woman in our lives. How can we support them and their journeys? ∞