Regina Lowrie: A Leading Force for Gender Equality In Mortgage Banking
It was the early 1990s, and Regina Lowrie—passionate about the American Dream of homeownership—had hit the glass ceiling at the savings & loan where she had helped build the financial institution’s mortgage business.
The experience propelled her to put together a business plan and start Gateway Diversified Funding in 1994 with several partners. When she sold her interest in 2006, the lender and Fannie Mae partner had expanded into a national footprint with about $3.2 billion a year in mortgage production.
That’s only the start of her trailblazing. Lowrie served as the first woman chairman of the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) in 2006. In 2014, she formed RML Advisors, a mortgage banking consultancy focused on risk management and strategic support.
Lowrie spoke with The Home Story recently about the positive changes that have occurred for women in the mortgage industry since she started out in the business more than 30 years ago.
Coming of Age
Women currently hold 20, or just 4 percent, of CEO positions at Standard & Poor’s 500 finance companies, according to a Catalyst report, and just 18.7 percent of board seats at those companies, despite making up more than 54 percent of the nation’s financial workforce.
Lowrie recently returned from MBA’s secondary conference where she says attendees were mostly “a sea of men.” Still, she believes the mortgage industry has achieved progress toward the advancement of women.
“I think women haven’t pushed as hard because they didn’t feel that they could achieve,” she says. “I think if women can ignore that there is a glass ceiling and set goals and then just work to achieve the goals, it’s amazing how boards and senior executives are receptive to that.”
Change is happening. This year, Bloomberg launched the Bloomberg Financial Services Gender-Equality Index and recognized 26 financial firms with gender-equality policies and practices. Several big banks with mortgage operations made the list.
At the MBA, where only two women have served as MBA chairman over the course of more than 100 years, MBA’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee took root in 2013 to provide leadership and guidance to help the industry increase diversity in leadership, workforce, and suppliers.
Mentors Helping Others
For her part, Lowrie says two mentors helped her break the glass ceiling, including one who became a partner in Gateway, Paul Catinella. Catinella had a commercial lending operation and heard about Lowrie’s plans to raise capital for Gateway and expressed interest.
“He was instrumental in helping me raise the capital and he probably was my toughest critic, but his mentoring was instrumental in helping me establish Gateway and launch my career as an independent mortgage banker and entrepreneur,” she says.
She also credits Andy Woodward, chairman of Bank of America Mortgage in the late 1990s, with mentoring her. The two served on MBA’s board of directors together, a time when Lowrie, incidentally, was the only woman on the board. The two also served on an MBA strategic planning committee in 1997 that was instrumental in changing the governance of MBA.
“I called Andy my unofficial advisor,” she says. “He was so interested in what I was doing because he had only worked for huge institutions, so building something from the ground floor was novel to him.”
Never Underestimate Your Abilities
Lowrie recalls that when she served on the MBA board, prior to being elected MBA chairman, she was the only small, independent player on the board.
“What I started to see around that boardroom were very attentive and interested leaders who respected what I said,” she says. “That was really when my career started to launch with the MBA.”
Lowrie was asked to chair the legislative committee and the MBA’s political action committee. She was also nominated to serve as the vice chair of the residential board of governors.
“I was out there speaking on behalf of the majority of MBA members,” she says. “It wasn’t that I was just the first woman coming up the ranks of the MBA. I was probably one of the first from the residential side that was not from a major company.”
Lowrie, who often speaks on leadership at mortgage industry events, says she encourages women to pursue issues that are important to them and to reach for their goals, however lofty they may seem.
“I think women need to step out of their comfort zones,” she says. “Being the first at anything is tough, it really is, because what you are going to do becomes magnified.”
But the industry, she says, is exhibiting a greater commitment toward diversity in gender, ethnicity, and race than ever before, and those companies that don’t will face the consequences.
“The companies that don’t create diversity within their organizations,” she says, “are going to be behind the curve.”
In a closing observation, Lowrie noted that the primary origination focus of mortgage bankers is financing home purchases and 65 percent of real estate agents are women. Women, she also noted, typically drive the decisions concerning a family’s home purchase transaction.
“I wonder when we’ll see similar numbers in mortgage banking?” she asks.