Today's science- and technology-based innovations have enabled inclusivity far beyond what could have been imagined a few decades ago. Efficient exchange of experiential knowledge powered by social media has brought corporate social responsibility to the forefront far more in this century than ever before. When it comes to gender equality, however, while more of us are talking about it, what have we achieved?
McKinsey & Co.'s Women in the Workplace 2017 report reveals that women remain underrepresented in the corporate pipeline compared with men. The representation of women gets progressively smaller from entry-level employment (47%, in spite of women representing 57% of college grads) to C-suite leadership (20%). Even the annual Gender Diversity Index conducted by the 2020 Women on Boards organization reported that women hold only 20.8% of board seats in the Fortune 1000 (an increase of 8%).
The inclusion of women at the upper echelons of corporate America should not be considered as token hiring. The influence of women both within corporations and as consumers is significant. A 2011 analysis by Catalyst found that Fortune 500 companies with a consistent record of having three or more female board directors over a five-year period realize nearly a 50% higher return on equity than companies with no women on their boards. According to a 2014 Credit Suisse Research Institute study, companies with more than 15% of women in top management have a higher return on equity than companies with less than 10%.
A Rising Female Force in Mortgages & Lending
Another way to understand the gaps that can result from a lack of female representation is by looking at the mortgage & lending sector, where the demographics for homeownership have changed drastically over the last decade. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women have outpaced single men in homeownership for the last 30 years. Currently in the U.S., single women account for 20% of home buyers, compared with 10% of single men. Single women and mothers are attracted to homeownership as a source of stability and a means of wealth-building
The increase of women entrepreneurs in the mortgages & lending industry will affect housing development as more women increase their buying power and become homeowners. Women-owned businesses in the U.S. grew twice as fast as fast as men-owned businesses in 2016 (2.8 to 1.4%), and employed nine million people generating $1.7 trillion in revenue in 2017. Additionally, women control $20 trillion in consumer spending globally. Forward-thinking mortgage lending executives recognize that they need to include women's voices for continued success.
A look at the industry reveals some promising signs. Women senior leaders are noticeably more common within mortgage lending compared with insurance or technology companies. "Traditionally, mortgage lending has been a sales-driven business model with primarily men at the helm and women gravitating to the more supportive, problem-solving, detail-oriented roles such as operations, customer service, quality control and compliance," writes Kathy Gyselinck, Executive Vice-President of Southeast Mortgage of Georgia, in an article in Mortgage Women magazine. Further, Gyselinck says, there's been a monumental shift in the mortgage industry from production quantity to production quality, following the 2007 financial collapse.
Today, she points out, "more firms are aiming to service consumers with customized, superior customer service that meets their specific needs and objectives with a higher level of professionalism, integrity, open communication, and a goal to take a personal, vested interest in each client's unique circumstances- interestingly, all inherent character traits often associated with women."
Additionally, technology has revolutionized how and where we work. The days of working 9 to 5 in an enclosed space have given way to the flexibility of online collaboration tools, giving us more flexibility to schedule work around "life." Women in particular have flourished in this environment, as they strive to balance their multiple roles.
What's Good for the Whole
Placing experienced women on boards and appointing them to senior executive positions is important as we need more diverse voices at the table where major decisions are made. This will require a culture shift in companies to embrace diversity and inclusion. More women need to be hired at entry and management levels and given opportunities to rise through the ranks. Increasing women's representation in the workforce at the professional level and above requires more integrated practices and policies and a focus on all levels of employment.
Tolerance, diversity and inclusion should not remain political opinions or corporate checkboxes- they are non-negotiable human rights. Collective action and shared responsibility for driving gender parity are key for creating a diverse and inclusive environment.
As Gloria Steinem once said, "The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights." It isn't just about women; it's about uplifting humanity, seeing beyond stereotypes and enabling success as a group.