Women account for less than 2% of CEOs, yet financial organizations with greater gender diversity on executive teams typically outperform others on profitability, according to a recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) study.

If cultivating a gender diverse workforce is good for the bottom line, what is behind the disparities related to women leaders in the mortgage and housing industry? And what are some ways to address these alarming trends?

Mortgage industry and diversity and inclusion experts recently met to discuss the current trends related to women leaders in the workplace, offering perspectives on how to tackle these challenges.

Here are three key takeaways from the roundtable event for mortgage industry leaders to consider:

1. Best Practices of Successful Female Leaders

There are specific practices related to successful women leaders that companies should reinforce, said roundtable panelist Alex Clemente, managing director, Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, referencing recent findings in the HBR study. These include:

  • Seeking consistent support from high-level executives.
  • Mastering the art of self-promotion.
  • Taking risks for growth opportunities.
  • Maintaining a consistent work-life balance.

One often overlooked benefit for women was the lateral move, Clemente said. It is all too common that women shy away from risk and growth opportunities when they perceive themselves as unqualified. Many of the women featured in the HBR study saw immense career growth when their resume consisted of widely diverse experiences within an organization, he said. Women who can gain exposure to various aspects of a business are then uniquely qualified to take on higher-level positions once the opportunities arise.

2. Allyship in Championing Women and the Benefits to Business

The ability to find and work with strong female role models as well as male allies in positions of power is a critical component to elevating women to leadership roles, panelists said.

It is important for women to see themselves represented in leadership positions, Donna Corley, executive vice president and head of Freddie Mac Single-Family Business, said during the discussion. “There’s something about seeing someone in a leadership role you can affiliate and associate with, like ‘hey I can do that too,’” she said.

Male allies can also use their privilege to advocate for aspiring female leaders. “It ties back to their own success and the success of their organization,” said Frans Johannson, author and CEO of The Medici Group.

According to the Freddie Mac and HBR study, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 21% more likely to outperform on profitability. Finance and mortgage organizations who can place an emphasis on advocating for women leaders will ultimately become high-performing drivers of growth and innovation in the industry.

Focusing on increasing gender diversity in the workplace “isn’t just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do” in terms of the sizable business benefits, said Riham El-Lakany, chief marketing and communications officer of Freddie Mac Single-Family, who also moderated the roundtable discussion.

However, it is not enough to just have one woman or person of color in the room. It is far more difficult for the majority to try to ignore the views of two or more people with similar experiences, rather than a singular diverse member of the team feeling isolated. “Authenticity is power and group think does not lead to innovation,” El-Lakany said.

3. How Organizations Can Empower Female Leaders

Panelists explored ways organizations can support women in order to decrease gender disparity. These include:

  • Checking your organization’s college-hire statistics. “Women make up more than 50% of college graduates, so if you’re looking at your entry-level employees and they aren’t matching those demographics, you’re not setting your company up for success in the long run,” Corley said.
  • Offering high-performing women with training and mentorship/sponsorship opportunities and highly visible projects to get the experience needed to become an effective executive. Also, women need to raise their hands, take calculated risks and ask for the assignments that get them noticed, promoted and ultimately grow their careers, Corley said.

The Conversation Doesn’t Stop Here

Would you like to stay engaged in the conversation? Follow Freddie Mac Single-Family on LinkedIn to be notified about our upcoming #LeadingTheWay live masterclass sessions featuring Freddie Mac executives and diversity, equity and inclusion leaders.