Tiba Raja, Director, Market Financial Solutions
I have been working in the bridging industry for more than 15 years and, in that time, it has changed significantly. It has become more diverse in every sense of the word; the number of lenders, the range of products, the specialisms on offer, and, crucially, the variety of people plying their trade in this sector.
Everyone’s experience, man or woman, will differ. For instance, I am acutely aware that having worked with MFS since 2006, I have been part of a business that champions diversity – a healthy majority (62%) of our management team are women. The industry norm is far lower than that (around half, according to some estimates), so many women will have felt like something of an outsider when trying to get a job in the bridging sector, particularly at a senior level.
Positively, progress has been made. As noted, I have seen first-hand when attending meetings and events that there is far greater representation of women. And this is across all roles – BDMs, underwriters, marketers, directors, brokers and more. It is markedly different from how it was a decade or so ago; in fact, in the early years of MFS, it was not uncommon for people coming to our offices for a meeting to mistake me for a secretary, rather than a founder and director of the company – sadly, that was a reflection of how male-dominated the industry was back then.
The improved professionalism of the bridging market has played a central role in aiding gender diversity over the past decade. The days of quick deals being done between men in the pub are, for the most part at least, a thing of the past. The bridging sector has become far more competitive, and now the focus is rightly on delivering great products and a great service. In turn, there is fierce competition for the best talent among lenders, and certainly no room for alienating half the workforce.
Today, employers across all sectors must focus on creating inclusive, supportive and nurturing cultures. Ones that will accept people of all backgrounds and genders. This requires a careful consideration of the language used in the workplace, and specific policies that will ensure a level playing field for all.
Flexible working practices, for example, are important. These allow parents – and especially women returning to work after maternity leave – to juggle their professional and personal lives. Ensuring you have a diverse panel of people involved in the recruitment process is also beneficial, as well as structures in place for any employee to report issues within the workplace.
For me, International Women’s Day is a great opportunity to celebrate the progress has been made and the amazing people now driving change across the bridging loans sector. But, as ever, it is a timely reminder that much more needs to be done to champion gender diversity across the financial services industry. This starts with employers having a brutally honest look at their own practices and processes, ensuring they embrace diversity and create open opportunities for anyone irrespective of gender, ethnicity or background.