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Breaking the glass ceiling in mortgages: Three steps to build real equality and inclusion in the mortgage industry 

by | Apr 9, 2024

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Written by Clare Beardmore, Director of Distribution and Mortgage Club, Legal & General Mortgage Services

Keeping pace with the everchanging mortgage market is never easy. How will major lenders slashing their rates open up opportunities in the market? Are swap rates rising or falling? Can lenders move quickly enough to service customers? 

But this incredibly busy period has also raised questions about the impact on our personal lives too. “Who will do the school run?”, “Will I have enough time to spend with my loved ones at the end of a busy day?” Many people, including myself, have found themselves dealing with ‘parent guilt’ as the demands of our professional lives took time away from our families. 

 
 

Although society has broadly moved forward, women often remain the primary carers for both young and old family members, significantly impacting their careers. One report earlier this year even found that two-thirds of mums felt childcare duties had cost them progress at work in the past decade. 

This raises the question of how we support women in the workplace – the mortgage market is already lacking in diversity, and we can’t afford to go backwards. Investing in D&I projects, promoting women into positions of authority, and listening to feedback are all vital pathways to making the mortgage market a more equitable place to work. 

There is good news in that progress is being made – we have seen some great work by the likes of AMI, which spotlighted several issues facing the industry in its Viewpoint on Diversity and Inclusion within the Mortgage Industry report. 

 

However, we must keep pushing onward. To deliver truly long-term change, we need a comprehensive restructuring of traditional business models that often remain built around the needs of men. We must address three key challenges: Embracing diversity as the new normal; recognising the menopause gap; and facing up to the achievement penalty. 

Mortgage market progress 

The mortgage industry, like the rest of the financial services sector, remains male-dominated. That’s been improving, with some great work undertaken by organisations including AMI, but there is always new progress to be made. In 2021, AMI research found that more than half of woman (54%) felt they were not well represented at all levels of the mortgage industry. 

 
 

Mind the gaps 

The first challenge requires embracing diversity as a business objective, not just as a marketing tool. The difference is to confront entrenched attitudes that influence the way offices work. We must recognise, for instance, the authority gap. First defined by Mary Ann Sieghart in her best-selling book of the same name, the authority gap is the persistent failure to take women seriously in the workplace, even if we say the same things as men and have similar expertise. 

We need training so that all genders and generations collectively challenge old norms, creating a professional space where women can realise their potential. Tackling unconscious bias is one way we can create truly inclusive – and genuinely competitive – workplaces that reward talent and hard work; where diversity and inclusion are priorities, not just buzzwords. At Legal & General, we have already taken several bold strides, promoting women to high levels of authority and influence. 

 
 

Of course, every workplace will have room for improvement. We must also be ready to have ‘uncomfortable’ conversations – daily realities for millions of women cannot remain taboo. According to one study, one in ten employed women in the UK will leave their work because of menopause symptoms,4 while more than one in four (44%) say their ability to work has been affected. It’s time for open conversations about menopause and the integration of this issue into diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs to ensure women receive appropriate support. 

Lowering the price of success 

We must also put in place support for those women who overcome hurdles and make it to the top. At present, shattering the glass ceiling often leaves deep scars. Our industry and others must reckon with this achievement penalty, which for women is unreasonably high. 

 

We see this in research on those who are promoted to chief executive or high political office in Sweden. In both cases, rates of divorce for these women are dramatically higher than their male counterparts.5 While each situation is different, it is difficult not to interpret this discrepancy as a reflection of the disproportionate pressures that are applied on successful women. 

Unfortunately, it is often the case that even when women succeed, they suffer for it in ways that men do not. We cannot fail women by encouraging them to aspire to high-powered executive roles, while failing to offer adequate support and appropriate working structures that accommodate their needs as they climb the corporate ladder. 

Some of these issues may be addressed by legislation in future, but smartly run companies will not wait. Organisations hurt their own interests by failing to tap into the talents of half the population when looking to fill the top spots. Equally, they miss out on the full potential of their existing female leaders. 

 
 

At a time when the global economy is waking up to the significant contribution of women, we must have uncomfortable conversations so that ambitious women receive the specific support they deserve. The mortgage industry has taken a few early steps, but it can lead by example by fostering workplaces where women are not just backed by words, but with tangible inclusion strategies

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