Starting the Conversation on Sexual Harassment in the Mortgage Industry

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Dear Mortgage Women,

In light of the recent news and media coverage around sexual harassment, I thought I’d get the conversation going in our community. I want to present a few questions and concerns to you that I would love for you to address. As you read the below commentary, please reply to this email or tweet your thoughts to me (@kristinmesserli). I will be writing a larger piece on this topic soon.

To preface the conversation (and I think this goes without saying), I am unquestionably supportive of any movement that supports equality. Despite significant progress over the years, I am constantly shocked by some of the behavior and comments my colleagues and I receive as women in business. A friend and industry leader, Rick Roque, recently said it well in a Facebook post. “The women’s movement may have resulted in women in the workplace, but it didn’t make women safe once they got there.”

While we are seeing great progress toward improved safety and opportunity for women, there seems to be a mix of emotion in public discourse. So I’d like to hear from you. What are your thoughts regarding the conversations you’re hearing around sexual harassment, and what are you hearing from your colleagues?

One of the great things about the #metoo movement has been that it seems to have galvanized women with the confidence that their voices can be heard and their assailants liable. Valuable men of large institutions and networks are getting fired. Eventually, politicians will be held accountable too.

On the other hand, I’m hearing people (men and women) complain about the tone of the conversation. I was speaking with a veteran woman in the industry recently who said, “It almost feels like you can’t say anything anymore without being called out for harassment.” This comment surprised me since I had heard her talk previously about the level of harassment she had experienced through the years, including physical groping, crude and embarrassing jokes, and discrimination.

While I think we’re making great progress, I can understand her sentiment to some degree. When we decide to examine something in our culture or society, it requires that we analyze it and sometimes redefine it. This can often lead to conversations that feel petty to those who have overcome significant challenges to get where they are today. It can also be surprising for some to find that the definition or consequences of something like sexual harassment has changed over the years.

That said, I’m concerned by how little conversation on sexual harassment is had in the mortgage industry.

As is the case with any movement, the pendulum swings. There will be men who are innocently caught in the crossfire. As Rick mentioned in his post, “There is blow back here – for past “sins” sort to speak.” We are in a sensitive time in history, where women and minorities are becoming empowered with the knowledge and voice that demands equal treatment. But that voice doesn’t come without years of trauma to precede it.

That means that women are going to be more sensitive to a male boss saying he likes her skirt because she remembers her last boss asking for sexual favors. She may even feel nervous about going to drinks after work even though it’s so important that women get equally invited to after-hours events and networking in order to be considered for promotional opportunities. This is a burden that men have to bear, in addition to women, as a result of others’ behavior. These issues are not just women’s issues. Everyone carries the damage, and we must work together to overcome them.

That’s why it is so important that we have these conversations in our companies and in our homes. I think we’re all aware of at least some minor sexual harassment that occurs on a regular basis. Most of us only experience it through some stupid jokes or uncomfortable comments about our appearances. But do all of the men (and women) in our industry understand that this is harassment?

What are next steps?

The solution is not to step back from male/female relationships. It’s to “lean in” as Sheryl Sandberg might say. Let’s talk about it and work together to identify strategies to improve our workplace culture and opportunities. We must bring a stop to sexual harassment in our worlds, and that starts with meaningful conversation.

President of MIT, L. Rafael Reif, shared a letter to his students last week that I think articulated this collective mandate very well:

“Every member of our community is valuable, and harm to one is harm to all. As long as sexual harassment and assault persist in our community, we fail to live up to our shared potential and to fulfill our aspiration to make a better world.”

I look forward to hearing your thoughts,

Kristin Messerli
Managing Editor

 

On this topic, I’m excited to announce that I will be offering a free webinar this week on “Gender Diversity in the Workplace,” hosted by National MI. I will discuss some of the hot topics related to women’s workplace issues such as how to prevent sexual harassment issues, tips for recruiting and promoting women in leadership, and how to create a thriving work environment in the modern era. Sign up at: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/88400020678772481

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