Empowering Women in Leadership Starts with Listening


An excerpt from a case study with Alterra Home Loans

By Kristin Messerli, Managing Editor

For the full article, visit alterra.news/empowering-women-in-leadership-starts-with-listening/

Since 2010, the financial services industry in the United States has made strides to close the leadership gap at every level of the workforce. The mortgage and lending industry, in particular, lags behind banking and finance in terms of women in leadership roles. To date, there are no specialized statistics tracking women in leadership in the industry, but we can formulate an educated opinion based on financial industry data and anecdotal evidence.

Women in financial services make up 20% of executive committee positions, but that number drops to just 14% when we talk about banking.[1] There is overlap between banking and mortgage, and some of the largest global banks headquartered in the U.S. have significant mortgage operations. Additionally, nearly every woman in the mortgage industry notices the often blatant lack of women in leadership. Marcia Davies, the MBA’s Chief Operating Officer, is quoted by Fannie Mae stating, “I have spent the majority of my career in mortgage finance, and to this day it is not rare to be the only woman in the room.”[2] Similarly, the Co-Founder and Executive Vice President of Alterra Home Loans, Valerie Madiedo, said she and her team noticed a glaring omission of women when they compiled a video in 2016 of their top sales branches. There were zero women in the video. She said, “While the majority of our operations are female, our sales reps and management were lacking. This isn’t the message of inclusion we want to send to the public or our employees.” Nearly every company in this industry could say the same thing.

Why We Are Slow to Making Progress

While it is widely acknowledged that there is a lack of gender diversity in the top ranks in the mortgage industry, does anyone really understand why that matters? According to a recent study by McKinsey & Co., more than 75% of CEO’s say gender equality is in their top ten business priorities.[3] Yet most companies cannot make female recruitment and retention a priority because they don’t truly understand the depth of the problem or how it will influence their long-term sustainability.

Many people think that women’s voices are important to have at the leadership table because we represent female consumers’ needs and because we are more “nurturing” and therefore better at building relationships and encouraging self-development. While this is true that women tend to excel in these roles, according to a study cited in the Harvard Business Review, women executives outperformed men in many areas that are traditionally thought of as “male” strengths.[4] Women scored well above men, for example, in taking initiative and driving results. Valerie Madiedo says she believes women are, in fact, created to be stronger than men in many ways. The problem, she says, lies in whether they believe the sacrifice is worth the payoff to juggle both family and career.

Valerie explains that women may hesitate in pursuing a leadership position, thinking, “Am I going to be able to breathe if I take this step?” Despite progress in recent years, women still bear a heavier burden than men in balancing work and family. According to a recent survey by Pew Research Center, women are three times as likely as men to say being a working parent makes it difficult to advance in their career.[5] Because many companies do not have female executives to bring attention to this issue, they often don’t provide the flexibility and support that is needed to help working mothers be successful.

Additionally, leaders need to create more intentionality around recruiting and developing women from within. Having an internal pipeline of female leaders is critical to seeing more executive female representation. Unfortunately, there is still a level of bias or misunderstanding that often prevents women from having equal opportunities for advancement. In a study of more than 130 companies with over 34,000 men and women surveyed, findings showed that women negotiated for raises and promotions as often as men but faced more pushback than men and had less opportunities for informal mentorship. In an interview with a female branch manager at Alterra, she said, “I worked hard and have always been a top producer in the companies I used to work for, but my managers never encouraged me to grow outside of the role of a loan officer.”

In addition to less opportunities for mentorship or skill development, women are less likely to pursue management positions if they don’t have exposure to female leadership. As one branch manager said, “We knew we could become managers because we had a female manager. It didn’t seem out of reach for us.” Many women are unsure whether they are prepared to take on a greater management role or uncertain as to how to go about the pursuit, and therefore they wait until the opportunity may or may not present itself. Women are still underrepresented at every public-facing level of organizations, and there seems to be little progress in the mortgage industry to turn this priority into meaningful action.


Women in leadership not only means greater representation and equal advancement opportunities. It also means a greater opportunity for growth in reaching one of the largest segments of home buyers and household decision-makers. Women are leading the nation’s purchasing trends and decision-making in today’s housing market with single women making up one in five home purchases (NAR). Women in leadership means more market share, more female employees, and greater leadership.

A lack of female applicants to senior level positions is not an excuse for inaction. Companies like Alterra, who notice a need for change, must make meaningful steps toward recruiting and developing female talent in order to remain competitive long-term. As Valerie Madiedo says to women entering leadership, “If you really want something, don’t let anything get in your way. It’s going to be a lot of work, but don’t be afraid of it. At the end of the day, we are women and we are strong.” As an industry, we can work together to empower women in leadership, build our businesses, and ultimately improve our communities. If we really want it, we can make progress together.

To review all of the insights gained from the case study performed with Alterra Home Loans, read the complete white paper at alterra.news/empowering-women-in-leadership-starts-with-listening.


[1]Women in Financial Services” study, Oliver Wyman & Co., 2016

[2]Women Are a Growing Force in the Mortgage Industry”, Fannie Mae, 2016

[3]Women in the Workplace 2016”, McKinsey report, 2016

[4]Are Women Better Leaders than Men?”, Harvard Business Review, 2012

[5] “Women Still Bear Heavier Load than Men Balancing Work and Family”, Pew Research, 2015

Despite progress, women still bear heavier load than men in balancing work and family


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