Some of the commercial finance industry’s most influential female brokers gathered at CAFBA’s International Women’s Day event to celebrate their achievements and talk about what more needs to be done to increase participation.
Sitting at the Kirribilli Club in the shadow of the Sydney Harbour Bridge on a bright Monday morning, it was easy to see how far we have all come.
Not just because this was the first in-person event that many present had attended in almost a year, but also because we were celebrating International Women’s Day 2021 in the company of a roomful of more than 50 female brokers at the Commercial & Asset Finance Brokers Association annual International Women’s Day (IWD) breakfast meeting.
The mortgage broking industry is now far more diverse than it was when many of those present began their careers, a fact that wasn’t lost on several of the women present.
“When I started, there weren’t many of us. I couldn’t count them on one hand,” said Tina Clark, a broker at Laurentide Financial Services.
“I don’t actually have role models per se; I just like individual people – people that are doing the same thing that I am – and [hearing] how they got to where they are.”
“There’s not many female brokers that I can aspire to, because we’re few and far between. You watch everyone else’s business. I like [talking to] individuals and many different people, because I can take a little bit of everyone and make my own business.”
Clark has been in the business for 20 years and has been something of a trailblazer. In fact, one of the other women that Australian Broker spoke to was quick to highlight her as a role model.
“A few of the women here today inspire me,” said Caroline Watkinson, an adviser at Danforth Finance.
“I used to work with Tina Clark, and she’s driven me to do loads of courses and develop my skills as a broker over the years. She’d be one of my role models. I’ve been in the industry for 12 years now, and I started in the reception where Tina worked, and there was literally just her.”
The IWD event was hosted by CAFBA and sponsored by lease finance provider FlexiCommercial. Keynote speaker Karla Poulton, head of account management and settlements at FlexiCommercial, emphasised the increasing number of women coming into the industry year-on-year, and the new role models who would be there for the next generation.
“I’ve been in the industry for 20 years, and there wasn’t really anyone I guess who I could look up to,” she said. “I forged my own way and took the opportunities that were presented to me. That’s how I’ve lived my working career, I think.”
“Probably in the last five to 10 years there’s been an increase in the number of women in more senior positions. It still depends what part of the industry you’re in as to whether you would have women to look up to, but there’s definitely more than when I started.”
Poulton believes the industry still has plenty of ground to cover.
“I think the industry needs to show that there are careers and that employers can be flexible. Certainly, that is why I’ve spent so long at FlexiCommercial, because we’re fairly ahead of our time in terms of working arrangements,” she said.
“I think we need to appear interesting, too: I work in asset finance, and I think that is the part of the industry that has the least female representation. It’s improved significantly, but there’s still such a way to go.”
The COVID-19 pandemic was brought up frequently by attendees, with several women pointing out that it had not all been negative. Indeed, the increased flexibility of working from home was seen as a step forward for helping women in the industry.
“I think the pandemic has helped many people, and not just women,” Poulton said. “I know a lot of dads have been much more involved in their family life because of the work-from-home [situation]. And that helps women, because if you’ve got men being more involved, that helps free women up to participate.
“I was at a dinner on Friday night, and one of my colleagues was saying that he worked at another organisation that had the same parental leave for both men and women, so he did six months and his wife did six months. That was great for her, because she really wanted to go back to work, and it didn’t take her out of the industry for too long. She could go back and play in the game again.
“I guess that’s not acknowledged: we talk about advancing women’s rights, but sometimes there’s not an acknowledgement in organisations that you need to provide equal opportunities, whatever they are, because that can help. If the men are involved, that can free up women to participate and do what they need to do.”
Rachel Hind, founder and CEO of Best Capital, agreed.
“I think pre-COVID, women came to broking because it gave you that ability to be flexible and to work as little or much as you want,” she said.
“You’re your own boss. The world has changed so much now, and even talking to people today from Macquarie Bank, they’re 100% working from home, so even the big corporates are getting on board.”
Clark also pointed out the benefits of the ‘new normal’.
“The pandemic has helped with flexibility; I’m not getting stuck traffic and driving any more,” she said. “I can actually go out and work. I’ve got my phone with me, and that’s my tool of trade. When we finally figured out that the world wasn’t crashing around our ears, it actually turned out to be a bit better. Once we’d gotten over the shock of everything, we realised that we could do this.”
That said, everyone was happy to finally be back at in-person events and happy to have events that cater for female brokers specifically.
“These events are great, because women are better networkers than men,” said Clark. “The breakfast is nice because you can chat, and I think events of all types have to be diverse and not pigeonhole people. I’ve been to the football plenty of times on a corporate card, and most of the time what really annoys me is that most of the corporate events in finance are sports-based.
“More corporate events need to be toned to women, so not just sporting events all the time. I’m a football tragic, but ... surely there have to be other events we can do in Sydney that aren’t [sports] and that include everybody.
”Hind said it was vital that women and men should share the space, and that women in the industry should put themselves out there.
“There’s a lot going on in the female space,” she said. “Even today, we’ve got male champions here as well who get into the events and empower each other. It’s very inclusive. I like events that are unisex, because everyone brings different dynamic, and it’s important to have that support. It’s come so far – a lot of amazing women before me have paved the way and made it easier for women like me.
“It’s all about having that self-belief that you can do anything. Even if you’re entering a male-dominated industry, you have to have that belief that you can do a good job and you deserve your right to be at the table as much as anyone else. As a woman, you have to have that self-belief that you can compete as an equal. This’s year’s theme is Choose to Challenge, and you have to be loud and choose to challenge the status quo. That’s not as a broker but just as a female. If you’re not feeling happy about the level of gender inclusion, then you have to speak out about it.”