It seems to be a common misconception that the financial services industry has achieved gender equality. While it’s true that 50% of all employees in the global financial services industry are women, according to the 2017 Catalyst Women in Finance Report, the status quo of male-dominated leadership positions and media attention, along with frat-house culture, still prevails.
In my 12 years of mortgage brokering, I’ve been to more mortgage conferences, workshops and trade shows than I can count – but one thing that was clear is that men always owned the stage. If there was a group of panelists, there might be one woman at the discussion. You almost never see women as more than 30% or 40% of the presenters at a conference, and the same goes for cultural diversity.
The thing that struck me as the most glaringly obvious gap in thought leadership was that in CMP’s very own Head to Head section, three men are featured frequently, but never has there been more than one woman featured in this section (not even in the Women of Influence issue).
Here’s a random sample of women’s representation in thought leadership and media. At the MPC 2019 National Mortgage Conference, two of the six keynote speakers were women. Seven of the 50 MPC Hall of Fame inductees were women, and 21 of the Mortgage Global 100 list were women. In a random sample of 12 CMP issues, three of 36 Head to Head spots were given to women.
Why is this happening? Because until now, nobody has demanded anything different. Most organizations, quite by accident, have been going along with the status quo: asking the same people who have had their spotlight, for decades in some cases, for input. Those at the top need to start questioning the status quo because not doing so actively stifles innovation. If you are getting the same people, or the same kinds of people to provide input, how can you expect a culture shift?
The Catalyst Women in Finance Report reveals that despite making up 50% of the industry, women are representative of only 15% of C-suite or board positions across the financial services industry. Male-to-male promotions accounted for nearly 40% of the gender pay gap. That’s right – all those golf and fishing trips, smoke breaks, bonding over sports, etc., which women are generally excluded from, have real impacts when it comes time to climb the ladder. In a lot of cases, women aren’t even told of promotional opportunities before they see yet another colleague with mediocre performance and large ego sail ahead of them.
If you aren’t moved by this fact, then consider the mountain of research on the benefits of women in leadership positions. According to Pew research, women are 34% more likely to be honest and ethical, 27% more likely to outperform peers in the long term, 25% better at mentoring and 34% better at working out compromises. These sound like good leadership skills, no? The problem is, we can’t benefit from them unless the men in positions of power become allied with this cause and start sponsoring women by providing them opportunities for growth and advancement.
This starts with changing the corporate culture. The microaggressions women face are real: getting cut off in meetings, being excluded from growth opportunities, being appraised more on their appearance than their work, and having to prove their point and face ritual opposition from men over any ideas they bring to the table.
Full-on assault happens far more often than anyone would like to admit – the horror stories of being groped and grabbed, unsolicited backrubs, passes from co-workers and men in position of power all point to the fact that frat-house culture is alive and well. Going to industry events after work hours requires women to fend off advances or, in some cases, leave early or forego it altogether because it becomes unsafe to participate. Imagine feeling unsafe at a professional event because booze-fuelled and ego-driven brokers lose the thin façade of respect after a few free drinks and women are relegated to their objects of desire.
We need to start speaking up when we witness misogynistic tendencies and sponsor women for leadership positions to create a more balanced work environment. This is not a fight between men and women. This is a fight against a small sub-group of men whom society has allowed to interfere with people’s ability to show up and do what they signed up for: work.
Laura Martin is the COO of Matrix Mortgage Global, one of Canada's fastest-growing companies. She will be a featured panelist at the CMBA Conference & Trade Show on April 2.