The broking industry needs to embrace diversity and inclusion if it is to avoid the risk of disruption and continue to increase market share, the MFAA has said, as it looks to improve the opportunities for women in the profession.
On Wednesday (23 October), the MFAA hosted a luncheon to preview the results of its upcoming Opportunities for Women Report 2019, set to be released next week.
Building on the inaugural report from 2018, the 2019 report continues the MFAA’s aim to explore the reasons why women remain under-represented in the mortgage and finance industry.
According to the most recent edition of the MFAA’s IIS report, the proportion of female brokers in the industry has been slowly falling – dropping from a high of 28.3 per cent in 2016 to 27.0 per cent as at March 2019.
Moreover, the number of women recruited has also fallen – with just 313 women recruited in the six months ending March 2019, down from 406 the year before.
The MFAA sought to understand the barriers to entry for female participants in this industry as part of its Opportunities for Women report, conducting workshops with industry representatives and surveying MFAA membership database to understand perceptions and attitudes towards diversity with the goal of encouraging greater inclusion within the wider broker community.
Speaking of the soon-to-be-released report, MFAA Community Panel member and diversity and inclusion specialist Jane Counsel revealed that the data shows an increasing awareness around the barriers facing women in entering the broking industry.
For example, 59 per cent of male respondents said they did not believe there were any barriers to women joining the industry (compared to 34 per cent of women who said the same), which was markedly down on the male respondents’ responses from the year before – when approximately three quarters of male respondents did not believe there were any barriers to women joining the industry. (The proportion of women who believed there to be no barriers also dropped this year, from 40 per cent in 2018 to 34 per cent this year).
Moreover, fewer men said that there was “enough promotion of successful diverse role models” in this industry than they did last year (47 per cent, down from 54 per cent in 2018), which Ms Counsel said suggests that male participants are becoming more aware of the barriers and gaps in female representation.
Year-on-year, the proportion of men who thought that safety concerns were a barrier to entry for new female brokers has also increased.
From a female perspective, 44 per cent of women cited “unconscious beliefs about gender roles in the workplace” as the biggest barrier to women working in this industry, while a third did not believe there to be any barriers.
The third most cited barrier to inclusion was “an industry culture that is not inclusive to women”.
At the luncheon on Wednesday, Ms Counsel said: “This is a really positive shift because this is showing us is that the awareness of this program, the conversations it is promoting, the use of data to support situations – these are actually raising awareness...
“These are positive trends in terms of showing that this program has been critical in sparking some really, really important conversations.”
Assessing the business case for diversity
The report also found that while the majority of people believe it is socially responsible to have a diverse industry, no participants stated that they believed it made good business sense.
Likewise, respondents said that they believed industry leaders were open-minded about promoting diversity, but less than half (49 per cent) said they thought leaders considered it to be “an important business priority”.
According to Ms Counsel, the feedback from workshop discussions when undertaking the research was that diversity would not become a priority for this industry until it starts to impact on their bottom line.
“It’s already potentially impacting your bottom line, and those industries who are not being progressive enough in diversity inclusion are going to be – and are being – disrupted by changes in technology by the advancing rise of women as powerful consumers and by increased cultural diversity.”
She continued: “One of the key themes that came out of the research is that our customers are diverse, but our industry members are not. And we’ve not yet made the connection to the business case for diversity. We’re more inclined to think it is socially responsible (women are 17 percentage points more likely to think that it is socially responsible) rather than thinking about the bottom line impact on our business.
“So, starting to think about what might be the bottom line benefit of increasing the diversity of this industry is critical.”
As such, Ms Counsel said that the MFAA would be focusing the 2020 program on the business case for diversity to “future-proof the industry’s sustainability and longevity”, along with the cultural diversity.
‘If we don’t do better for the women in our industry, we are failing’
MFAA CEO Mike Felton added that while perception gaps remain, they are shifting, which reinforces the importance of continuing to engage people in the opportunities.
He said: “The MFAA inaugural opportunities for women report released in November last year confirmed that certainly there is a marked difference in the way women and men perceive inclusiveness and diversity in our industry and, indeed, their experiences of obstacles and barriers.
“These divergent experiences that women have in comparison to their male counterparts, without doubt, go some way to explaining why we have 27 per cent female brokers in our industry and declining.
“This is a sorry tale and an indictment on our industry. This is of course a problem. A massive problem. Women are vital to the finance broking industry – they bring new perspectives, they have different strengths and, certainly, they bring a whole set of different values to our industry, and that is absolutely necessary for our business success.”
Mr Felton concluded: “As customers grow in cultural and ethnic diversity – and as females continue to be the primary decision-makers in regards to financial decisions in the household – having the ability to show our customers that we understand, that we reflect their uniqueness and diversity, is imperative to our performance, to our competitiveness, and to the sustainability of our industry.
“If we don’t do better for the women in our industry and for those that interact with our industry, we are not only failing in a moral sense but we fail in a business sense, too. We are failing to properly represent and benefit from one of the most influential demographics that we have access to in our industry.”
The Opportunities for Women Report 2019 is expected to be released on 4 November.
Find out more about how the industry believes more women can enter this industry from the leading women in finance in the November edition of The Adviser, out next week.
Annie Kane is the editor of The Adviser and Mortgage Business.
As well as writing about the Australian broking industry, the mortgage market, financial regulation, fintechs and the wider lending landscape – Annie is also the host of the Elite Broker and In Focus podcasts and The Adviser Live webcasts.
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