The need to create a more inclusive broking industry is more important than ever, says inclusive leadership training coach Jane Counsel, as MFAA figures show the proportion of female brokers has reached a new low.
The third edition of the MFAA’s Opportunities for Women 2020 report, released on International Women’s Day (8 March), shows that the proportion of female brokers in the industry has fallen to below 27 per cent for the first time.
According to the MFAA figures (based on aggregator gender information), there were 3,267 female brokers in the industry as at March 2020 – or 26.9 per cent of all brokers – 0.3 percentage points down on September 2019 figures.
Moreover, there were 412 fewer female brokers in the industry than there were in March 2019, a reduction of 11.2 per cent over 12 months.
Similarly, there has been a falling number of female recruits into industry, further exacerbating the proportion of women in this industry. In the six-month period ending March 2020, 268 women joined the industry, according to the data, down from 313 the year prior.
A growing awareness
However, the Opportunities for Women (OFW) initiative, which was developed by the MFAA to explore the reasons why women remain under-represented in the mortgage and finance broking industry, found that there was a growing recognition in industry that there may be barriers to women joining the industry.
For example, the first report – released in 2018 – found that 72 per cent of men believed there were no barriers to women’s participation in the industry. However, the number of male responses citing no barriers has fallen by almost 10 percentage points year-on-year to 50.2 per cent in 2020.
When asked what the top barriers to participation in the industry, the top barrier cited by both male and female respondents was “unconscious beliefs about gender roles in the workplace”.
Speaking to The Adviser about the report findings, inclusive leadership training coach and the MFAA’s Opportunity for Women Program lead, Jane Counsel, said that there were a range of reasons why the number of women could be falling, including both societal and industry-specific challenges.
She said: “There's no one element that jumps out as the sole reason for the falling numbers, it’s a combination of things. In Australia, women are still the primary carer. While this is shifting, there are still more women in the primary carer role than men. If you couple this factor with pressures of running your own business, and an increasing workload, these could all be contributing factors.”
Ms Counsel welcomed that progress was being made on the perceptions regarding female under-representation.
She said: “There is a significant shift that we are seeing in awareness to the barriers, and people are starting to think about these issues, and they’re starting to have more honest and open and transparent conversations. To have that level of change and shift in three years, that’s really significant.”
The CEO of the MFAA, Mike Felton, also noted the reducing “perception gap”, stating: “I’m pleased to see we are acknowledging the measurable difference in the experience women have in our industry…
“According to the MFAA Industry Intelligence Service (IIS) 10 report, unfortunately this year’s shift in opinions hasn’t translated into more women joining the industry at a broker level,” he said.
“While this year’s report shows a shift in opinion, we still have a lot of work to do,” he said.
“These perception shifts are great first steps, and the building blocks of real change. Now, we need to take action as individual businesses – and as an industry – to continue to champion and drive change.”
The MFAA said it would be commencing a pilot in Queensland and South Australia “before the end of first quarter 2021” for a new peer-to-peer support program for women aimed at providing career advice and professional support. It would also be supporting pathway programs such as Jane Counsel and Michael Trencher’s thrive4women business coaching and professional development program, which is targeted at female brokers and industry professionals, such as BDMs.
The association noted that it had also recently launched the Champions of Diversity series to profile existing diversity within the industry by highlighting case studies and stories about people from diverse backgrounds who have successfully developed a career in the industry.
Change only comes through industry-wide work
However, Ms Counsel added that creating a more diverse and representative broking industry would require work at every level of the profession.
She said: “I think people are doing a lot of positive things in the industry, but I always say, gender diversity is a ‘wicked’ problem; there’s no one element that impacts everything, no single solution, no silver bullet. Wicked problems force us to work harder in finding solutions. So, we need to be thinking about solutions on all fronts.
“As an individual, a company, an industry, we need to ask ourselves: What could we be doing in hiring brokers and targeting diversity? How are we, as an industry, setting the right expectations in what you can expect as a new broker and ensuring expectations are met/realistic? What kind of industry are we inviting people into? How are we valuing success (outside of rewarding those who work the longest or write the most volume)?
“As leaders and business owners, and aggregators and lenders in our industry. What are the symbols of culture that we’re holding up? What are we doing, as an industry, to ensure that we hold events that everyone feels like they can attend?
“What kind of culture do we, as an industry, do we want to promote to ensure that women, cultural diversity, LGBTQ+, people with disabilities – anyone who is different to the status quo – do feel welcome and do feel included? What are we going to no longer tolerate as an industry? Do we have the social courage to call out any negative behaviours and have those uncomfortable conversations that help us grow.”
Ms Counsel concluded: “There is on opportunity for the industry to consider that perhaps we need a stronger pathway program into the industry that helps set people up for success, make them fully aware of what broking consists of, and manage expectations.
“But we need to think about what else we could be doing differently around what we value as an industry. I think that’s where we need to shift towards if we are really going to make a difference because otherwise the risk is, we’re still having the same conversation in 10 years’ time and nothing has changed.
“If you look at the rate of change – demonstrated all too well by COVID-19 – we’re never going to go back to what used to be. We’re only going to see more complexity and uncertainty. So, if we, as an industry, don’t start to really tackle the issues and opportunities around diversity, with a little bit more innovation and a bit more kind of courage, then we’re not going to progress as an industry, and the risk is that we continue to get disrupted.
“If we’ve only got the same people doing the same kind of thinking, we’re not going to be in a position as an industry to respond to continued disruption and change.
“So, I would really encourage the leaders in this industry to lean in to some more of those uncomfortable conversations around diversity inclusion because that’s where the growth happens,” she said.
4 ways to create inclusive working environments
Ms Counsel said that anyone wishing to create more inclusive working environments for people who are diverse could follow the EACH strategy:
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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