She’s just been named as one of the MPA Top 10 Commercial Brokers of 2021, but Melissa Ashcroft is hoping for a very different result in the years to come.
The general manager of AAA Financial Group is the only woman to feature on the list, and the only woman in the past five years to make the cut.
It’s something she says that must change, with all segments of the commercial brokerage industry stepping up to support more women in these roles and address some of the structural biases that are not only preventing women from getting involved, but also contributing to pushing them out.
“I don’t want to be the only woman on this list in the future,” Ashcroft says.
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“We need more women involved. We need more women recognised and more diversity across the industry in general if we’re going to provide the best possible service and outcomes for clients.”
The list is created by Mortgage Professional Australia and is based on the total value of loans settled. Just two women have appeared on the list since it was created, the first being Fay Baker of Sky Financial Group, who took out the 10th place in 2015.
The percentage of female brokers in the industry has hovered around the 27% mark for some time. Unfortunately it’s not a number that’s increasing; rather, the 2020 figures from the Mortgage & Finance Association of Australia (MFAA) indicate that female participation rate dropped below 27% in the six month period to March 2020, for the first time. The proportion of women in commercial brokering is significantly smaller again, highlighting some of the additional challenges that come with breaking into this part of the sector.
Meanwhile, the MFAA report found that while industry leaders generally have an open minded approach to promoting diversity, they’re still not seeing it as a business priority. And there are stark differences between women and men in seeing it as a problem: 63% of women believe women are under-represented in mortgage brokering, compared with 28% of men.
Ashcroft believes that there are a number of key barriers that stand in the way of women entering the general brokering industry — including both unconscious and conscious bias regarding who should take on these roles. But she says that when it comes to commercial brokering, there are additional barriers in the way — particularly in the fact that it can take at least 18 months or so to gain much traction as a new entrant to this sector.
“It’s tough to get started, it’s a lot of work,” she says. “Which is why industry support, as well as access to mentors and networks, is so critical if we want to see these numbers change. That first 18 months in commercial brokering can be bleak, as you’re trying to take on entirely new clients and make a name for yourself.”
She says the industry also needs to do its bit in highlighting the career possibilities available for women. She came into the industry following a career change after previously running the fashion retailers Leona Edmiston in Australia.
“It’s an area I’ve come into following a career elsewhere and realising that it was an opportunity to take the skills I’d learnt in general management and customer service to a different field.”
She says accessing a career with flexibility has also been core to her role, as she has three young children at home. And she notes the role that supporters and mentors have had along the way— not only in supporting the career transition she made during three different stints of taking parental leave, but also in enabling her to leverage her previous career into an entirely new space.
So how can we get more women on these lists? It’s not only about more women joining the industry, but also about list creators ensuring that those already in the industry have opportunities to be recognised.
“Diversity is essential. We need to do more to ensure that we can see diversity in these lists, as this is what so many potential clients will look to when taking on a new broker. We need to open more opportunities to get the stories of different people heard and ultimately highlighted. Diversity can only make this industry better, and frankly Australia has some catching up to do,” Ashcroft says.
This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.