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8 top women in mortgage finance offer career encouragement, advice

March 8, 2017 | By

You’ve come a long way, baby. Or have you?

A Catalyst survey finds that women make up 53 percent of all financial services industry employees in the United States. But only 29 percent hold executive and senior level positons. And just 2 percent are CEOs.

Yet having at least 30 percent of women in leadership positions – or the “C-suite” – added 6 percent to the net profit margin. That’s according to a study from the Peterson Institute for International Economics and EY.

In celebration of Women’s History Month in March and International Women’s Day on March 8, we asked eight industry leaders to share their advice. We hope you’ll find their insights inspiring as you navigate your own career and break your own glass ceilings.


We need a generation of women who aren’t afraid of assuming leadership.

Patty Arvielo, president and co-founder, New American Funding

It’s important to be able to clearly see yourself in the mentors you select. And they should be at a level you can reach. Once you’ve reached that level, graduate to the next mentor and continue to grow.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Anyone moving toward a goal is bound to make some. Risks are necessary for growth. In hindsight, I wish I had taken more risks earlier in my career, because earlier failure dictates earlier success.

Playing it safe won’t allow you to reach your full potential. You have to have a big dream and then pursue it. No one is going to tap you on the shoulder and tell you to be successful. Take a seat at the table. Let your voice be heard in meetings. And take the lead. We need a generation of women who aren’t afraid of assuming leadership. One woman can make a difference, and together we can rock the world.


Learn to advocate for yourself.

Marcia Davies, chief operating officer, Mortgage Bankers Association

Listen to your own voice and do not dismiss your thoughts.

Speak up when you feel strongly about something. Don’t be afraid to say what you need or give your opinion if you believe something needs to change.

It’s OK to have a different opinion. Just be sure to own yours.

And if you encounter challenges along the way, learn to advocate for yourself and reach out for help when you need it. There are people in your network who have probably faced similar challenges. They can give you advice and counsel.


Think of a career as dynamic, rather than as one straight line.

Nancy Jardini, senior vice president and chief compliance officer, Fannie Mae

I went to law school, and it never occurred to me that I would not be a criminal defense lawyer. But after eight years, I needed a different challenge. I became an excellent prosecutor because I understood both sides of the argument and had much better insight to overall strategy.

That transition got me thinking of my career as dynamic, rather than one straight line.

I later became a teacher. I directed a federal law enforcement agency. And, ultimately, I became a chief compliance officer.

You can go to law/medical/business/fill-in-the-blank school. But it doesn’t tie you forever to a traditional progression within that discipline. In fact, applying skills you learned in one discipline to another can exponentially increase the value you bring, as well as your own satisfaction.


The skills that you build at work are a product of your experiences.

Kimberly Johnson, chief operating officer, Fannie Mae

I’ve discovered that your experiences are mostly a function of your mindset. At the beginning of my career, I focused on completing assignments quickly and thoroughly so that I would get more “important” work. I focused on what people asked me to do. I realize now I should have focused on how to get things done.

The skills you build at work are a product of your experiences. And I learned how to be productive in a number of different environments. Each experience taught me how to manage the most important aspect of my career: me.

Even my worst jobs were a great lesson in managing myself. I learned how to reframe disappointments and reenergize in the midst of a tough challenge. I learned patience and self-motivation. I learned to recognize and accept my weaknesses while relying on my strengths. You can find valuable lessons almost anywhere.


Challenges are not roadblocks. They are opportunities to learn and grow.

Regina M. Lowrie, CMB, president and CEO, RML Advisors, LLC; and former chairman, Mortgage Bankers Association 

My biggest challenge has been delegating responsibility. Early in building my first company, I felt I had to have my hands in everything. Overcoming that was a big challenge. But I learned. To help others grow as leaders, I had to collaborate and let them make mistakes, just like I had.  I wish I had learned that earlier.

Believe in yourself. And get ready to set your goals and plot out a roadmap to achieve them.

Challenges are not roadblocks. They are opportunities to learn and grow. I strongly advocate stepping outside of your comfort zone.

No matter what your area of specialization, get involved. Engage with others. And learn as much as you can about all facets of the mortgage industry. Broadening your perspective and networking with others are key to your growth as an industry leader.


Find a mentor and a sponsor.

Renee Schultz, senior vice president for Capital Markets, Fannie Mae

Never undersell yourself. Women tend to underestimate their abilities – even when they are 100 percent qualified.

Your network is everything. You never know who you’ll meet. So have an elevator speech ready.

Find a mentor and a sponsor. A mentor is someone who gives you advice and guidance. But a sponsor is your champion. One person can play both roles. And sometimes it takes two.

Find balance between work and life. “No one on their deathbed ever wished they spent more time at the office.” I wish I owned this quote. But it belongs to Life’s Little Instruction Book. If you haven’t read this book, that’s my final piece of advice. Do it now!


Take constructive feedback as an opportunity to learn.

Debra Still, president and CEO, Pulte Mortgage

A career is a work in progress. It requires cultivating knowledge, expertise, and experiences. And it takes time and patience for that to happen. Begin by doing your current job really well. And be objective about whether you are getting measurable business results.

Take constructive feedback as an opportunity to learn. Be curious about new ways to make contributions to your organization.

Remember that leadership is not a job. It is an attribute that – at its best – is about developing healthy relationships, collaboration, and trust.

There are leaders at every level of an organization. So give yourself permission to get involved, be visible, and find ways you can lead and contribute to enriching your work environment. Above all else, accept that your career development is ultimately yours to own. The possibilities are endless.


Handle failure as a badge of honor, not as a personal shortcoming.

Maria Zywiciel, president, National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP) Consulting Services

Growing up as a young Latina, I was used to being first. But not in the way you might think. I was the first to go away to college. I was the first to pursue a business career.

I was the first to live away from home. A lot of stress came with being first.

Some of my greatest learning moments came when I fell the hardest. Especially when I was blazing new paths and had a lot of skeptical eyes on me.

Handle failure as a badge of honor, not as a personal shortcoming. This is so very important. I marvel at athletes, political leaders, motivators, and anyone else who can excel by applying what they learned from a hard knock.

Take risks. Be proud of a solid effort – even failure. It means you are trying!


Cathie Ericson is a freelance writer who writes for The Home Story as well as for The Oregonian,,, and other online and print publications.





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