To mark International Women’s Day, Mortgage Solutions has been speaking to female mortgage brokers about their experiences of the industry and what more can be done to make mortgage advice an attractive option for the next generation of women.
While brokers generally suggested that the industry has improved in terms of how women are treated over recent years, it’s clear that there is still far more work to be done on boosting the support on offer to female advisers.
Why do men dominate senior roles?
Clare Beardmore, head of broker and propositions at Legal and General Mortgage Club, said there was a “real issue” of a gender split within the industry, with men dominating managerial positions, adding “we need to understand why this is before we can change it”.
She continued: “Society still often expects women to be the primary caregivers, and from personal experience I know how hard it is to balance one’s family with a stressful job. We need a conscious change of culture in the industry and a widespread determination and commitment towards driving gender equality.”
Flexibility of advice can help women
Jane King, mortgage and equity release adviser at Ash-Ridge Private Finance, emphasised that there are “great women at the top of their game” in the mortgage industry, and argued that those who have succeeded in the mortgage industry have done so purely on the basis of talent and hard work “rather than because a gender diversity box had to be ticked by an HR department somewhere”.
King pointed to the fact that mortgage advice is not necessarily a 9-5 job, which can allow advisers to fit their work schedule around children where necessary, adding that part-time work is also perfectly possible.
I couldn’t find a home
Rebecca Robertson, director of Evolution Financial Planning ‒ an all female advisory business ‒ said the challenges faced by women in the industry was a driver in her setting up the firm.
She explained: “I couldn’t find a home for myself, a firm that suited where I was at and how I wanted to do it. It’s about community and understanding each other. Sympathising with those issues and overcoming them together.”
However, in her experience only a small number of male colleagues were in a position and willing to “hold the door open for women” in terms of aiding career progression.
Despite this, she emphasised that mortgage advising can be an excellent career for women, as it “works around children brilliantly”.
The industry is changing
Karen Noye, mortgage expert at Quilter, said it was clear that since starting her career in 2003 there has been an increase in the number of women working within financial services, particularly in leadership roles.
She said: “I feel that having more women in leadership roles within financial services has helped encourage other women to join the industry. One area that has improved considerably is the ability to strike the right work-life balance, and I think the increase in female leadership in the industry has contributed to this as it has helped to shine a light on the needs of a family, for both men and women.”
Beardmore emphasised that there is cause for optimism, with a “clear generational trend” at play.
“My daughters have grown up in a world where it’s perfectly normal for women to play football or to study engineering and perhaps also importantly, so has my son. We need to ensure we embed this progress in every part of our industry.
“I’m hopeful that someday we will reach a point where we no longer really need an International Women’s Day – not because gender equality is no longer important, but because by that point it has simply become second nature.”
Starting a family
Siobhan Holbrook, owner and director at Mortgage Light, said the biggest challenge for women in the mortgage industry is taking a break to have a family.
She continued: “It’s really difficult to find the balance of having a career and raising children without feeling the mother’s guilt. The remortgaging side of the mortgage industry does offer the flexibility needed for women with children, as customers generally have a six month remortgage window to work with which takes away the tight time constraints.”
However, Holbrook warned that when it comes to property sales, brokers may have to deal with unrealistic timescales, which puts them under severe pressure.
She continued: “This is just not realistic for many women with children. With that in mind, it’s definitely a career better suited for those without children. I do think, however, that women and particularly mothers in many ways make the best mortgage advisers. Generally speaking, women are empathetic, lending to a natural passion for helping people.”
A level playing field?
Carmen Green, mortgage and protection adviser at Xpress Mortgages, noted that she has worked in all-female office for most of her career, and pointed out that she has always considered herself to be on a level playing field with others in the industry. She also noted that she has always felt supported by all co-workers, irrespective of gender.
She continued: “Perhaps that speaks for itself as a female professional born on the cusp of the millennial/Gen Z generation, climbing the ranks within a female-owned business in a predominantly male dominated industry. I was brought up to believe that I was capable of achieving anything if I had the skill, patience and mindset to achieve. Now I’m proving it.
“I expect there will be others in the same boat as me and I love to see it.”
Attracting more talent
King argued that the reputation and perception of the mortgage industry may work against it when it comes to attracting young women to a career in advice.
She explained: “I think that jobs in finance generally are not perceived as particularly glamorous by young girls and probably thought of as dry and dour, so I think anything that can be done to encourage women that this can be an interesting, challenging and satisfying career choice should be highlighted.”
Advising the next generation of advisers
King suggested it was important for any young women looking to start out as a mortgage adviser to initially work in a busy firm of brokers, so that they could gain experience and learn as much as possible from their more experienced colleagues.
She added: “After that try to maintain ownership of your client bank so as you grow your clients you can build a business that will provide you with ongoing opportunities into the future.”
Noye suggested that the progress in flexible working and hybrid advice offered real benefits to the prospects of women within mortgage advice. She explained: “Personally, having a family and being a mother to a daughter who has a medical condition, the changes in working practices and the ability to work flexibly has been a real lifeline. It has allowed me to get the balance between family and work life right.”
Noye added that the biggest key for women just starting out in the industry was securing the right level of support, noting that much of her own progress had been helped by managers as well as the training on offer within the workplace.
She continued: “Working as an adviser can feel isolating at times, more so with the increase of home working, so having help and support available in your early years – and actually making use of it – can make all the difference in terms of the longevity and success of your career.”