New research has highlighted gaps between what male and female brokers believe is slowing down the progress of women in the industry.
Jane Counsel, research lead on the Mortgage and Finance Association of Australia’s (MFAA) Opportunities for Women program unpacked the initiative’s primary findings from its recently released fourth annual report.
The Opportunities for Women white paper has looked at perceptions of women in the industry, as the number of female brokers in Australia slid by 2.5 per cent during the 12 months to March last year, down by 83.
With a total headcount of 3,209, women represented 25.8 per cent of Australian brokers at the end of March 2021, compared to 27.8 per cent a year earlier.
More recent data from the MFAA’s Industry Intelligence Service report showed the female proportion had slipped further to 25.6 per cent of brokers in September 2021.
The Opportunities for Women report noted perception gaps between men and women on diversity in the industry have narrowed since the survey was originally conducted in 2018, but the momentum froze in 2021.
Brokers surveyed were asked on what they thought were the largest barriers for women working in the industry.
As revealed by Ms Counsel, female respondents had rated unconscious beliefs around gender roles in the workplace, conscious biases around gender roles and safety concerns as their top three hurdles.
While the majority (57.7 per cent) of male respondents said they were not aware of any barriers for women in the industry, the top two hurdles ranked by the cohort overlapped with their female counterparts.
Around a fifth (19.7 per cent) had agreed with unconscious biases around gender roles as a barrier for women in the sector, while 16.2 per cent had expressed safety concerns.
However, the third top barrier voted by men (with 11.97 per cent agreeing) was lack of industry experience and expertise.
“I would love to encourage conversation around what does that mean? Why did more men think that women lack experience and expertise?” Ms Counsel told industry participants at the launch of the report.
“I would encourage you to take this research back to your organisations and have some conversations around the depth and understanding why there are gaps.”
The proportion of men who believed there were no barriers for their female colleagues has dramatically dropped from 2018, from 71.7 per cent down to 2021’s 57.5 per cent. But it had crept up from the previous year’s proportion of 50.1 per cent.
Over half of male brokers don’t see women as under-represented
The researchers had discovered there was a large divergence in how male and female brokers viewed representation of women in the industry.
The majority of female brokers (55.7 per cent) said women are under-represented in broking, while only 23.9 per cent of men in the sector agreed.
Most male respondents (54.4 per cent) said women are not under-represented in the sector, despite females only making up around a quarter of all Australian brokers.
Men were also more likely to think there is enough promotion of successful diverse role models in the industry, with 45.4 per cent agreeing and only 7 per cent saying no. Around 46.4 per cent were unsure on the matter.
In contrast, only a quarter of female brokers (25.71 per cent) said there is enough promotion of successful diverse role models in the industry, slightly less than past years, with there being 27.9 per cent in 2020.
The majority (57.4 per cent) were unsure, but only 17.1 per cent said there was not enough promotion of diverse role models.
Ms Counsel noted there had been a “range of reasons” for the momentum in shifting perceptions coming to a standstill, including COVID, rapidly changing regulations and record levels of home lending activity.
However, she said the industry cannot get slack.
“Even though we’ve been making great steps in the right direction, we can never get complacent,” Ms Counsel said.
“This is an industry issue to solve. It’s not a gender issue, it is an industry issue.”
‘A major opportunity for the industry’
The report also noted that industry leaders understand the business case for increasing their diversity, with 32.4 per cent saying they believed more support for diversity and inclusion would bump up business opportunities.
A further fifth (22.2 per cent) said publicly promoting their support for diversity and inclusion would positively position the broking industry to a more diverse range of customers.
“If we think about, the fact that as an industry, we are trusted… as a major channel for consumers around home loans and financial decisions more broadly, and 50 per cent of our population is female – this is a major opportunity for the industry, making this a strategic priority for all of us,” Ms Counsel said.
The MFAA has run a number of initiatives, including the introduction of a new category in its annual excellence awards and the showcasing of diverse brokers in profile pieces.
As Ms Counsel noted, industry players can also look to improve their diversity through testing their own biases, investing in initiatives such as mentoring, and considering the language they use in job advertisements.
“If I’m hiring you as an owner, I’ll write an ad based on what I’ve been doing, we all do this, but this is why I’ll often surround myself with a team of Jane Counsels,” she said.
“So you have to be really conscious of language because it’s the first way that we connect together.”
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