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Working Toward a More Diverse Industry

Editor's note: This piece originally appeared in the September issue of DS News, out now.

Mortgage servicing companies and related businesses have worked to offer better diversity in their companies for many years, but those efforts came into even more focus in 2020 following months of protests and a renewed societal focus on questions of equality and how to move past lingering legacies of racism. 

 The diversity movement strives to eliminate the glass ceiling minorities and women have faced for years, seeking both to offer greater opportunities within the servicing industry and to promote a stronger sense of inclusion for those who join the fold. 

“Diversity is still a work in progress,” said Ulysses Smith, Head of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging for Blend. “Many communities have been left behind.” 

Miles to Go Before We Sleep 

Historically, the housing market haleft some communities behind, and both those trends and their lingering aftereffects can take a long time to end, much less reverse, according to Smith.  

Homebuyers have been impacted, in part, because many industry companies were not as diverse as their customer base, according to Smith. 

“The barriers to entry were ridiculous. The industry didn’t make an effort to hire from HUBCs (historically black universities and colleges). 

An increasing number of mortgage industry companies, however, include their commitment to diversity in their corporate agendas. Many having proactive outreach programs to work with other industry groups committed to diversity and non-industry groups that are diverse in their very essence.  

“What has pushed things forward over the last five years was the implementation of Section 342 of Dodd-Frank, which required various agencies to establish offices of minority and women inclusion,” said Lola Oyewole, VP, Human Resources and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer for Ocwen. “This action prompted the industry to begin making positive changes toward diversity and inclusion. Since then, companies have been much more focused on increasing the number of women and minorities in their organizations, especially in leadership roles.  

As Darrell Wall, VP of Transaction Services and Business Process Solutions at Auction.com, puts it, “This journey is not a moment in time but rather a continual trek in which we will push ourselves further each year.” 

The How and Why of D&I 

Christopher TammenPrincipal, Marketing, Global Sales & Marketing, CoreLogic told DS News that a company’s commitment to D&I should be laid out in its core values and leadership principles on down. This sort of top-down philosophy will help “guide ... everyday actions and drive accountability. 

It is reflected in our Board compositionand in our Corporate Social Responsibility Program that addresses critical needs and supports organizations that provide a pathway to financial dignity and homeownership for those in underserved communities," Tammen said. He added that it was also reflected "in a targeted portfolio of inclusion and diversity initiatives deployed to promote a culture of respect, flexibility, and personal development. 

 According to Briget Young, Employee Engagement Manager for Nationwide Title Clearing (NTC), one way NTC promotes a commitment to D&I is to establish partnerships with groups such as Boys and Girls Club of Tampa Bay, Tampa Pride (LGBTQ), Big Brother Big Sisters, NAACP, and more 

“The partnerships allow us an opportunity to involve our staff to be a part of these organizations by attending events, donation drives, and community outreach initiatives to give back, Young said. 

Last year, NTC had a large number of employees come together to support one another by marching in a company-sponsored LGBTQ Pride parade, Young told DS News. Employees formed a small committee to help manage the event and allowed them to promote to staff within the opportunity. 

“Overall, the introduction of LGBTQ events and support from our company created a positive impact on our company morale.” 

Another key program that NTC has sponsored for years is helping inner-city and underprivileged youth from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay. Each Christmas, employees can shop for a child’s “Wish List” that is wrapped and given to the children the week of Christmas. NTC also enables employees to volunteer at a company Christmas event.  

Tammen also emphasized the importance of offering employees specific, tangible programs that they can participate in. Tammen cited several programs that have become an integral part of CoreLogic’s company culture and which “serve to support inclusivity and the development of a diverse leadership channel.” Those programs include:    

  • The Women in Leadership Program: an intensive, 12-month program designed to prepare women for leadership roles of high impact and influence, supplemented by executive engagement and mentorship. 
  • The Leadership Development Program for Junior Military Officers (LeaP): offers an exclusive, 18-month rotational training program designed to expose transitioning Junior Military Officers to corporate careers, followed by placement in a high-impact role upon completion. 
  • The Year Up Program: provides urban young adults who are pursuing a higher education with a six-month internship to gain exposure to professional careers with the opportunity for placement upon completion of program.

Tammen also noted that Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)—an increasingly common industry staple—can help build a sense of belonging and connection among team members, as well as allowing for learning and discussion forums and community-based activities. 

Auction.com’s Wall told DS News that the company had recently formed its own Diversity and Inclusion Council, “made up of employees with the mission to help guide the advancement of inclusion, social responsibility, and engagement ... specifically relating to employee relations, business practices, community involvement, and partner, supplier, and customer relations.” The overall goal, Wall explained, "is to always strive to create an inspirational workplace and a great everyday experience for all employees. 

Some of the other concrete D&I efforts Wall cited included appointing a Head of People and Culture to help the company “implement best practices and make improvements in any disparities and to help create a dynamic, strong leadership team.” For International Women’s Month, the company honored some of its top female leaders by publishing their stories and inspiring advice for others to follow. 

Wall also noted that Auction.com had created a group called N.O.W.—the Network of Women. Auction N.O.W. is described as “an empowerment platform for women to unite, inspire, and support one another with the common goal to improve the lives of our members and the greater community.” NOW provides an array of professional development, networking, mentorship, and educational opportunities for women at various levels of their careers. 

“I’ve been here for 10 years, and when I started there was only one female member on the executive team," Wall said. “Now, we have very good representation across our organization.”  

Auction.com’s Diversity and Inclusion Council have so far set the groundwork for four programs that have been or will soon be implemented: 

  • Enhance recruiting efforts to create a pipeline of diverse candidates and a diverse slate for hiring managers. 
  • Implement mentoring programs to create a path for advancement and expanding diversity into management teams.
  • Expand the 2021 Holiday Schedule with focused efforts on volunteerism on MLK Day and attention to diversity and inclusion, such as celebrating Juneteenth. 
  • Monthly diversity and inclusion communications and education. 

 “I’m proud of the success we’ve achieved in creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace and look forward to continuing this journey of celebrating and championing diversity,” Wall said. 

Industry Diversity Hiring Efforts 

There are a significant number of associations in the industry, such as the American Mortgage Diversity Council (AMDC), the National Association of Minority Mortgage Bankers of America (NAMMBA), and MBA’s mPower, that are working to promote D&I within the mortgage industryOyewole said.  

For example, NAMMBA’s Visionary initiative seeks to connect over 50,000 high-potential, talented undergraduates and recent graduates to internships and careers in the real estate finance industry over the next five years. 

Beyond those industry groups, many industry businesses have developed their own partnerships aimed at promoting diversity in hiring. 

NTC utilizes many different methods of obtaining diverse applicants, including job boards, local schools, job fairs, and employee referrals, Young said. 

“Our company strives to ensure everyone feels validated and important regardless of their gender, background, and differences,” Young added.  

Hiring diverse associates allows companies to have “someone for everyone,” said Nash Subotic, CEO, WestPac Wealth Partners.  

"With so many advisors with different backgrounds, we quite literally have an advisor who can connect on a deep level with just about any client out there," Subotic continued. Because we have such a diverse team, we can cater to the needs of all different types of people. These client-advisor relationships turn into something more meaningfula relationship in which both parties have an underlying understanding of their values and culture, attributing to the success of their financial plan and achievement of long-term goals.” 

Subotic clarifies that, while diversity is a priority, that doesn’t mean companies should not still strive to hire the top talent they can secure. 

We do not hire based on superficial qualities such as race, gender, sexual orientation, or age; rather, we hire based on qualities such as work ethic, drive, and potential," he explained. Naturally, our team has become more diverse through these efforts. A large portion of our new hires come as referrals from our advisors. Because our team is diverse, they know and refer a diverse group of people. An as our new hires become more diverse, they begin to refer their friends of various backgrounds which continuously brings in top talent from every walk of life." 

Blend’s Smith recommended that industry firms look outside of traditional colleges for talent. Some employees with outstanding talent don’t have four-year degree.  

“We need to challenge our hiring processes,” Smith said. “There can be unconscious bias. You need to look at what you can do to eliminate that.” 

Fifty-eight percent of Ocwen’s hires over the past 18 months have been people of color, and 30% of the company’s SVP level or higher employees are women. In 2019 aloneOcwen hired June Campbell on as CFOand the company’s board has two female members. 

By being proactive, companies can ensure diversity among new hires. 

“Our goal is to continuously set the standard for equity and inclusion as both an organization and as an employer,” Blend says in its Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging annual report. The company saw an increase to 33.9% (+0.7 ppts) in women applicants for all roles across the organization. Hispanic or Latinx applicants rose significantly to 6.5% from 5.7% in the previous year. Black or African American applicants decreased slightly to 3.3% (-0.2 ppts). 

We nearly doubled our applicant count to 40,000 unique applicants this year,” Smith said. 

However, if the diversity effort stops at the hiring stage, any potential benefits will quickly disappear, said Jodi Gaines, Chief Client Relations Officer, EVP of Government Relations and Business Development for Insight One Solutions. 

“If people don’t have a voice, if they don’t have an opportunity, they will go somewhere where they do, she explained. 

 Subotic also suggests that the industry should also focus on recruiting diverse candidates while they are young. 

"The mentorship and investment in their business need to be done early, giving them the opportunity to build and grow a practice that will be able to have a more significant impact on our communities," he explained. 

However, hiring is only the first step in helping any new employee feel empowered. 

“On the very first day, new team members are given a personal tour by the Employee Engagement Manager. They are introduced to everyone in human resources, the training room staff, as well as their management team.” 

Young said the goal is to let new team members feel valued from the very beginning. Additionally, NTC informs news hires about the company’s open-door policy, and about their ability to talk to any member of the leadership team, including CEO John Hillman, should they choose to, Young said. 

“We empower not just our new team members, but all of our employees to give us what I refer to as courageous feedback, Young said. 

“The reason I’m at Auction.com is because I have a voice here. My journey is to make sure that everybody has a voice at the table. Empowering our employees cultivates diversity, said Ali Haralson, General Manager and Chief Business Development Officer, Auction.com. 

Paying Dividends 

Actively pursuing diverse hiring practices provides benefits, according to Young. 

We have found over the years that by managing and promoting diversity and inclusion efforts, it improves company morale and positivity in our workplace, Young said. 

There is no doubt that there is more [industry] focus on diversity, as there should be,” Gaines said. “We try to make sure it is always at top of mind so that it becomes natural. You have to make it a priority. Everyone should have a voice; if you don’t allow for that, you are missing out. If you don’t think about it, you are behind.”  

Without a diverse staff, a compandoesn’t know what it is missing, Ganes added. 

“It takes all kinds of people to make the world go around," she explained. Successful companies are the ones that have the most diverse, engaged employees. 

CoreLogic’s Tammen said that the company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is reflected in its core values and its leadership principles, both of which serve to guide the company’s daily actions and drive accountability. Tammen added that the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts encourage all employees to bring their point of view to work every day. 

Building a diverse and inclusive culture is critical to winning in the workplace, in the marketplace, and in the community. This is reflected in our portfolio of inclusion and diversity initiatives created to promote a culture of respect, flexibility, and personal development, Tammen added. 

Subotic explained that hiring diverse team members helps build a company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion organically. 

[Diverse people] ... are more accepting of diversity,” Subotic said. “When we started this … wdidn’t know it would create as much success as it has, but we did believe it could.” 

Subotic said that WestPac employs open communication through one-on-one meetings with leadership and mentors as well as anonymous surveys to obtain feedback on its diversity efforts, using the information to quickly make changes before any small issues become larger ones. 

“As our advisors see that their feedback creates change, they feel more inclined to openly speak with us. We also believe in supporting our advisors in every aspect of their business. Our associates know that they can become leaders in the company and in the industry with our help, and our help is open to each of them. They can rise to the top, not because of or despite their background, but because of their hard work and great performance.”  

There have been challenges, Subotic admitted. “This hasn’t always worked perfectly. We have hired people who were not a fit for our culture, and that’s okay. Those people were good people too, they were just a better fit for a different work environment, and we are pleased that we were able to help find the right place for them.” 

Though the industry is still looking to improve, and women and minorities still face career challenges, Gaines said that those seeking industry careers shouldn’t let those challenges get in the way. 

“I don’t have a college degree,” she noted. “I don’t let [diversity challenge] thoughts take up a lot of space in my head. We can be our own worst enemy. I’ve dealt with executives and have had some great relationships. I never felt excluded. Maybe, early on, I wished I had more opportunity to have more of a voice. But I didn’t sit back because I was afraid. I encourage everyone that they are worth it, they are valuable. Inclusivity is important.” 

We’ve made improvements year-over-year, but there is always room to do better,” Oyewole said. “We are committed to providing a safe and fair environment for all employees, and we will continue to maintain a place where all people are respected and have equal opportunity for success. 

About Author: Phil Britt

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Phil Britt started covering mortgages and other financial services matters for a suburban Chicago newspaper in the mid-1980s before joining Savings Institutions magazine in 1992. When the publication moved its offices to Washington, D.C., in 1993, he started his own editorial services room and continued to cover mortgages, other financial services subjects, and technology for a variety of websites and publications.
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