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Closing the C-Suite Gender Gap

Freddie Mac recently hosted its “LeadingTheWay: Female Leadership Gap Roundtable Discussion” webcast, and while great strides have been taken in terms of gender equality in the C-Suite, there is much work to be done to close the gender gap.

The webcast analyzed a Freddie Mac-sponsored White Paper, “Female Leaders on Reaching Financial Services’ Upper Ranks,” compiled by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, which found that women still comprise less than 20% of the highest-level jobs that have profit-and-loss responsibility in American banking, insurance, and mortgage companies.

Moderated by Riham El-Lakany, Vice President and Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Single-Family Business for Freddie Mac, the webcast examined the current state of the industry in terms of gender roles, and what measures can be taken to improve the role women play in the business world today.

“While we’ve made progress, it’s clear we need to do more to make our workplaces an equal playing field and as full of opportunities for women leaders as possible,” said speaker Donna Corley, EVP and Head of Single-Family for Freddie Mac.

As outlined by one of the White Paper’s authors Alex Clemente, Founding Managing Director of Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, the four elements cited as driving the most positive change in the careers of women include:

  • Receiving consistent support from seasoned high-level executives who’ve recognized their talent and helped them advance in their careers.
  • Being ambitious, hardworking, and adept at getting work noticed by higher executives.
  • Taking a risk for a growth opportunity.
  • Establishing a work-life balance that allows them to do their job, while tending to their family’s needs.

Even though males and females enter the financial services industry in roughly equal numbers, the report found that more women exit the industry mid-career—just as they’re ready for development into senior roles. The report also found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 21% more likely to outperform on profitability. Female senior leadership increases three times for each executive woman added to an organization.

According to the Harvard report, many women face tough decisions when it comes to their careers. And when some choose to leave their jobs, they also decided to exit the industry altogether, citing that they believed the problems they encountered were so pervasive that they would find those same issues at other financial firms.

Some of the issues cited as reason to “walk away from an industry,” included the “boy’s club” atmosphere of many financial services firms; unclear career paths; and too little flexibility in managing work-life balance, particularly when they were ready to raise a family.

“Women shy away from taking risk when they don’t feel they are qualified,” said Sheri Thompson, EVP and FHA Finance Group Head for Walker & Dunlop. “Jumping off that cliff was a life-changer for me, and pushed my career to new levels.”

And while closing the gender gap remains an issue for much of male-dominated corporate America, diversity too remains an issue in the boardroom. Frans Johansson, Founder and CEO of The Medici Group feels that change must start at the top and trickle its way downward in order for change to begin.

“How can we create an inclusive environment that is inclusive and drives belonging? Why are your ideas not coming to pass? Look for others who can drive that narrative,” said Johansson. “If that’s not happening, look for an environment where it will. There is an invisible war going on, where companies who are setting the stage for diversity will grow.”

To further the conversation and enact change, Freddie Mac has launched the #LeadingTheWay initiative, which focuses on advancing women in the housing industry by focusing on inclusion and diversity.

“As the numbers have long shown, financial services companies are traditionally male-dominated. Numbers indicating the relative lack of women and minorities in leadership roles in the housing and finance industries (and others as well) have been disappointing, but not surprising,” said Corley. “The numbers just confirmed what so many of us in the housing and financial industries already knew. But they have also pointed to a real opportunity for us to make positive change.”

Click here for more on the Freddie Mac-sponsored report, “Female Leaders on Reaching Financial Services’ Upper Ranks.”

About Author: Eric C. Peck

Eric C. Peck has 20-plus years’ experience covering the mortgage industry, he most recently served as Editor-in-Chief for The Mortgage Press and National Mortgage Professional Magazine. Peck graduated from the New York Institute of Technology where he received his B.A. in Communication Arts/Media. After graduating, he began his professional career with Videography Magazine before landing in the mortgage space. Peck has edited three published books and has served as Copy Editor for Entrepreneur.com.

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