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A woman's work

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A woman’s work, it’s said, is never done. While this rhetoric may seem better placed in the days before the phrase ‘work life balance’ found its way into popular culture, in reality, it rings true for many women in the mortgage and finance industry.

Here, women at the head of the game are far and few between. So, what are the secrets to their success?

Cathy Anderson, Smartline’s Franchise Owner of the Year and 2009 MFAA Operator of the Year, says while both men and women face many of the same issues in terms of building their business – dealing with lenders, managing their staff and so on – women have the added pressure not only of doing it all, but doing it all at once.

“I think many women think they need to be all things to all people – both their clients and their family,” says Anderson. “Some women in the industry put a lot of pressure on themselves to be successful and may feel they have to work harder than their male counterparts to achieve the same recognition.”

Executive chair of FAST and mortgage and finance entrepreneur Anne-Marie Syme, though, believes the responsibility lies with the individual to get it right, regardless of gender.

“In my experience, women in the broking industry have never experienced the ‘glass ceiling’ per se – I certainly have not. The usual work-life balance is applicable today as it has always been. Female brokers certainly have the choice of choosing their hours; we don’t live in the nine-to-five work day.”

Chelsea Bouma, founder of Melbourne-based Momentum Home Loans and winner of the 2009 MFAA Achievement Award, agrees.

“This is a great industry to work in considering the opportunities to vary your work schedule and maintain other interests.”

Support act

Recognising and advancing women in the industry is crucial, says Kathy Cummings, general manager of third party broking at the Commonwealth Bank.

“There’s a lot of male networks set up,” she says. “It’s very blokey, still. And there’s quite an acceptance of that.”

This acceptance does not spread across the board.

“The MFAA and the Commonwealth Bank does a lot to foster women in the industry.”

Despite a hand up (not to be confused with a hand out) from the corporate sector and the Association, Anderson says, whether male or female, you need to be very driven to be a success.

“You need to have a very strong desire to achieve. You also need to believe in yourself and your abilities, and to be prepared to back yourself,” says Anderson. “For me, having a very supportive family has been critical to my success, as has having a great team around me.”

Delegation, she says, is also key. The reality is there are only 24 hours in a day; it is near-impossible to be an all-singing, all-dancing one man band. Particularly, that is, if you are a woman.

“I’ve been very mindful of empowering my staff and allowing them to take control of their roles. As you move from being a sole operator to taking on staff, you need to select people who have similar levels of passion and commitment and then get out of the way and let them do their thing.”

Cummings says it’s no different to any industry – for any woman to succeed in business, support networks are crucial.

“Particularly if you’re a mum. A lot of women I see go to a certain level with their careers and then they hit barriers because of family responsibilities. So you’ve got to have very strong support networks; you’ve got a really clear and transparent understanding with your partner around how you’re going to manage those sort of family responsibilities and accountabilities.”

A woman’s touch

Cummings says those who manage this, manage it exceptionally well.

“There are some fabulous women in this industry,” she says. “They have great rapport-building skills, they have lots of empathy, they relate well to customers and have great organisers and they multitask like anyone’s business, and so it makes them really successful.”

“Juggling all the demands that go with this role – as well as the demands of managing a team and running a family – means you do have to be very good at doing more than one thing at once,” says Anderson.

These attributes put many women at an advantage in an industry so reliant on emotional intelligence.

“Women are often perceived as gentle and good listeners, if a particular client values this approach they may seek a women mortgage consultant,” explains Bouma.

For this reason, it’s crucial to be conscious of how you are presenting yourself and how that will be perceived. Sometimes, when it comes to showing your strengths, there can be too much of a good thing.

“I think a disadvantage can be in that trying to prove ourselves, women who are assertive and successful can often be perceived as a bit of a bulldozer.”

The reverse also applies.

“Some women can be quite emotional and while this can make us empathetic with our clients and staff, I think we need to be mindful of managing our emotions and presenting ourselves in a balanced way.”

When you stand up, you stand out. Ever the optimist, Syme suggests the fact that women are in the minority is to their advantage.

“There are far less women in senior positions then men and therefore are often noticed more easily,” says Syme.

Ladies first

The last year has proved a challenge for many. But Cummings says there are many women in the industry who have not only survived the recent crisis, but thrived because of it.

“They’ve had a good look at their business, they’ve had a look at the way they operate, they’ve had look at the systems and the controls they’ve got in their business and they’ve got rid of any fat. I know a lot of brokers who did more business this year than they did last year.”

And Syme agrees.

“The GFC has allowed all industry professionals to take stock, look at their business from a holistic stand point, hone their skills where needed and prepare for better times.”

Anderson says the crisis has reinforced how important building and maintaining long-term relationships are to this business.

“We have invested a lot of time and effort in our customer relationship management systems and these have certainly served us well in the past couple of years. I think the global financial crisis has also highlighted that none of us can afford to be complacent about our business.”

“It is vital to be flexible and open minded to seek to understand clients needs and concerns,” says Bouma. It’s a matter of perspective – Bouma says while it’s inevitable that any perceived hurdle with make you stumble, it’s up to you decide to what’s a hurdle.

“Listen to the client’s needs and provide a solution that suits the problem,” she encourages. “Be innovative and courageous to tackle problems as an opportunity to improve.”

Female focus

No matter what challenges arise, Anderson says it’s important to keep the faith.

“You have to be prepared to back yourself,” she says. “Work out what it is you want to do and how you’re going to make it happen. As the saying goes, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Don’t look for the reasons why you shouldn’t do something or why it’s not going to work – look for the reasons why you should do it and why it will work.”

Confidence, says Syme, is also essential.

“Believe and achieve. If you want something, go for it. Success may not happen overnight, but it will happen if the belief is there to be had.”

Focus, says Cummings, is crucial. The right focus even more so.

“Focus on the things that really make a difference,” she says. “If you asked ‘what is a disadvantage of women?’, it’s that women probably aren’t politically naturally. We want to cooperate; we want to help people, that’s our natural leaning. So, for women – or for anyone operating in business – the advice is to focus on the things that really make a difference for you. Influence the things that you can really make a difference on. Don’t get caught up in things that are peripheral.”

That is, focus on the work you can do and you know you do well.  


Work on your business, not in it. To learn how, book a complimentary business assessment today with a Switzer Business Coach.

Important information: This content has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular individual. It does not constitute formal advice. For this reason, any individual should, before acting, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual’s objectives, financial situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice.

Published on: Friday, December 18, 2009

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