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Next Gen Female Mortgage Pros: 13 Going on 30

To get top pros into the profession, we need to reach out early and be helpful.

Claire Barber
Insider
Claire Barber
13 going on 30 — next gen female mortgage pros
We must empower young female mortgage professionals to grow and thrive within our industry.

The pre-teen blockbuster Thirteen Going on 30 was released in 2004. Like the film’s protagonist, I too had just turned thirteen years old. If you have had the great fortune of seeing the movie, bear with me. If you have not, here’s your rundown: 13-year-old Jenna dreamed of being popular but struggled to make those dreams a reality. After suffering total humiliation at the hands of the “popular girls” at her birthday party, Jenna makes a wish to be “thirty, flirty & thriving.”  The next morning, she magically wakes up in a swanky Manhattan apartment as her 30-year-old self, which includes a thriving career as a fashion magazine editor, while possessing the knowledge and mindset she had as a 13-year-old.  

Aspirations

Like Jenna, I had big aspirations at age 13. Those lofty goals were eventually narrowed to a career in law. Frankly, I am not sure whether I came up with this idea myself, or if my parents suggested it after I insisted on diagraming the fallacies as to why I could not stay out past 10 o’clock. I vividly remember walking away from the movie theater with my friends, telling them how I could not wait to have a corner office and a driver to chauffeur me to a big city courthouse to fight for liberty and justice for all, a notion that forms the basis of the American identity. 

One decade later, I would accept a job in the mortgage industry. Do you know what the 13-year-old me would say about that? I do. I would have asked, “what’s a mortgage?”  But would she be disappointed that I was not the next Elle Woods, the protagonist in another outstanding movie that spurred my legal ambitions? Would she be disappointed to know that the likelihood of ever seeing the inside of a courtroom as an attorney in the mortgage industry is virtually zero? 

When I accepted this position, none of that mattered. As a soon-to-be law school graduate in a tough legal market, I was thrilled to have a job offer. I did not know much about mortgage lending. I can definitively say I did not see a “mortgage lending” elective. It certainly wasn’t tested on the bar exam. 

Along the way, I learned that mortgage professionals can generally be placed into one of two categories: those who were raised in it and those who accidentally fell into it. So, while there may have been a path in the industry for those like me, was it a path I planned on taking? Probably not. But, worst-case scenario, I could use this opportunity to get experience and parlay it into my next opportunity. Over the past five years, however, I have found fulfillment, purpose, and a career in the industry I had initially intended to quickly forget. 

But many others in my generation have not found such fortune in the mortgage industry. According to population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, Millennials have surpassed Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living adult generation. 

Yet, as an industry so resistant to change adapts and adopts technologies to make the mortgage process easier, why are there not more Millennials driving the technological innovations within our industry?  We must empower young mortgage professionals,  especially young female mortgage professionals, to grow and thrive within our industry.  How we do that? First, start early. 

Empower

Organizations should focus on empowering and preparing the next generation of young mortgage professionals to lead. During my first year in practice, the generational gap appeared to be an insurmountable obstacle for an eager, driven individual looking to build a successful career. That mindset only intensified a self-imposed psychological barrier that, because of my age and lack of experience, my professional abilities were less than those of experienced attorneys. I carried these ideas with me for a long time. 

It was not until I read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg that I had several breakthroughs. I first realized that the beauty of being young and inexperienced was that my career had resilience; that I had room to take risks and step outside my comfort zone. I had the luxury of failing. This was not true of the many mortgage professionals that I had recently met. Perhaps I saw this ability to take risks as the only advantage I had over those in the industry. I began to try and leverage this ability to take risks at every turn. And it worked. Beyond empowering employees in work place, empower them to get out and attend industry-related events.  The best part about the mortgage industry is the people.  

Educate

Second, we must help the next generation find their purpose by educating them about our organizations and the industry at large. So much of who we are is tied up in our professions.  One of the first questions asked between two complete strangers making small talk is “so…what do you do?” Why? Because so much of who we are is what we do. The same is true of employees within our organizations. Many find themselves in a position like I was: not sure what I was getting into but thankful and excited for an opportunity to prove myself. Teaching employees their purpose and importance within our organizations will certainly improve the ultimate outcomes of their work. 
 

Elevate

Third, we must provide opportunities to elevate our newest employees to advance within our organizations. Employers so often look to hire external employees who check the proverbial box without first considering a less experienced internal candidate with potential to grow, leaving such individuals disenchanted by the prospect of advancement within the organization. Invariably, they will seek an organization where they perceive such opportunities for growth to be present.  

While it is often said that there is no substitute for experience, the same can be said for hard work, determination, and ambition. We should not be afraid to place a promising prospective candidate into leadership roles simply due to a lack of experience. Beyond promotions, we should not be afraid to entrust the next generation with projects that are critical to the success of our organizations. 

Along those same lines, I acknowledge that my path has not been paved by virtue of my own aspirations for excellence. I am lucky to have found mentors and leaders who have taken the opportunity to educate, empower, and elevate me into the position I am today.  Beyond finding career advancement and opportunities to lead within my organization, I found my purpose much greater than my own career. While the American dream of homeownership isn’t the lofty American identity I set out to promote and protect at the beginning of my journey, it is now. This industry presents the same opportunity for the next generation to discover their purpose and passion.

Maybe the 13-year-old me didn’t have it so wrong after all. 

This article was originally published in the Mortgage Women Magazine May 2021 issue.
Claire Barber
Claire Barber

Claire Barber is an attorney at Polunsky Beitel Green, LLP and leads the firm’s Houston office.

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