The Mortgage Bankers Association appointed Amber Lawrence as Associate Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, responsible for advancing DEI programs for the association and overall real estate finance industry.
Previously, Lawrence served as Associate Director of Career Development Programs. In that role, she was a core member of MBA’s education leadership team, where she managed its professional certification and designation programs. Notably, she managed the Certified Mortgage Banker (CMB®) program, responsible for candidate matriculation, curriculum development and the examination process.
In addition, she was responsible for the management of the Certified Residential (CMS) and Commercial Certified Mortgage Servicer (CCMS) designations; Certified Residential Underwriter (CRU) designation; and Accredited Mortgage Professional (AMP) designation. She also provided oversight on facilitation of several MBA Education courses, including MBA’s premier classroom program, the School of Mortgage Banking (SOMB). She is also an active participant in MBA’s DEI internal and external efforts, and serves on MBA’s DEI Advisory Committee.
Lawrence holds a Bachelor of Arts in legal communications from Howard University.
Connect with Amber on LinkedIn.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- MBA’s DEI Leadership Award Process
- MBA’s DEI Playbook
- Other MBA DEI Activities
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:02] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX studios in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s time for Association Leadership Radio. Now here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:18] Lee Kantor here another episode of Association Leadership Radio and this is going to be a good one. Today on the show, we have Amber Lawrence with the Mortgage Bankers Association. Welcome.
Amber Lawrence: [00:00:29] Amber Thank you. Lee Thank you for having me.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:32] I’m so excited to get to learn more about your association and tell us a little bit about Mortgage Bankers Association. How are you serving folks?
Amber Lawrence: [00:00:39] Sure. So we represent both the single family and commercial Multifamily Industries Trade Association, leading in educational and professional development. And from the seat in which I sit, I help with our strategic initiatives with regards to diversity, equity and inclusion. I myself have been with the organization for about 16 years now.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:03] Now, how have you seen DTI evolve over those years?
Amber Lawrence: [00:01:07] Quite a bit, honestly. But from the inside of the association as well as externally, the members in which we serve, the communities in which our members are placed, there’s a demographic that’s changing and it’s our part of our responsibility to be on the forefront of that change. And so I’ve seen it evolve in the sense of one of the initiatives in which we’re hyper focused on, in which we’re bringing those who look like the communities we serve into the industry and helping develop them through leadership positions and also changing our strategies and our focus to better serve those customers.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:43] Now, are you seeing the association kind of leading the way here or are you seeing some of the members that are kind of doing innovative things to help the cause?
Amber Lawrence: [00:01:54] I see it both. I see it as a partnership, honestly. But obviously our members are are leading in the communities in which they’re serving us kind of at the top level, being able to see all and bring those members together. While some are in competing spaces, we do understand there’s a lot that we can do when we’re together, and that’s essentially the message that we’re that we’re spreading, that we’re better together. So while again, yes, our members are leading a lot of the initiatives within their own communities in which they have a presence, the MBA is bringing all of that thought leadership together at the top levels.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:34] Now, what are some of the things that MBA is doing to help those members kind of maybe accelerate the pace of change?
Amber Lawrence: [00:02:42] Sure. And it’s very timely. Much of what I want to talk about right now is our DEI playbook. We’ve been in development with it alongside of a consultant to Juan Williams and her team at Williams Consulting, and we provide a comprehensive guide for our members that provides detailed instructions and resources for creating, developing and growing internal DEI programs, as well as providing strategies for products, as well as initiatives within the community and across the country.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:17] Mm hmm. Now, what’s maybe can you share a little bit of that playbook? Is there any low hanging fruit that any association could benefit from learning about?
Amber Lawrence: [00:03:26] Sure. Not just associations. It’s. It’s really a touchpoint for everyone within the process. Even if you are a practitioner within an organization or someone who is tasked with leading initiatives or someone who just maybe has a passion or is interested. So it touches out points, entry points from a foundational level. So we have basic definitions. What is diversity, what is equity, what is inclusion all the way up to recruitment and development and retention of an internal workforce, fostering workplace culture, reputational equity, a lot of strategy. So it’s all encompassing and it’s a very robust how to guide, if you will.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:13] But are there things like any organization that maybe has been considering this or maybe hasn’t said, I’m ready to take the leap into this world just yet, but what are some of the kind of foundational things they can do to start at least to get the ball moving a little?
Amber Lawrence: [00:04:31] Yeah, So exactly. So we understand that a lot of our members may not have an opportunity to employ someone who will lead DEI initiatives. So that’s where the NBA in this playbook comes in. So it helps assess if your current systems are improving or impeding your organization’s progress helps you evaluate what your current DEI competency is and your own position in that journey. So again, it’s not just for those top level executives, it’s also for those who may be at an entry point or just have a passion for it and not really tasked with doing anything specific. And then, like I said, all the way up to creating a scaled and purposeful strategy. So it helps you on your journey at each step of the way from the beginning and all the way through an ongoing development. Because DEI is a journey and not kind of the end point in which we’ll find a final solution. So we have to be able to evolve and be able to pivot whenever we have changes within an organization.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:30] Now, is there any research that kind of backs up the hypothesis that this is not just something that’s nice to do, this is something that’s good for the business as well, or the association in that, especially in this competitive landscape when it comes to hiring, that you want to look everywhere and you don’t want to exclude anybody. It’s just in the best interest of the organization.
Amber Lawrence: [00:05:53] Oh, absolutely. And I think that that’s something that is you can find in pretty much any data set that’s been put out there. I don’t have anything specific to point to. But the messaging is that it’s a business imperative and not just the right thing to do, as you mentioned. And the data is tell us data tells us that it’s crucial. And within that, data sets are real people. So the employees within an organization saying that working for an organization that not only professes to promote inclusivity and belonging, but also is walking the walk is imperative. And also the data tells us that the connection between DEI and business success is basic. Almost every leader wants to improve employee engagement, attraction and retention. And there are also the ways that leaders saw their efforts contributing to the success of their business and their bottom line. So what that says to me is that DEI initiatives and programs is not, again, not just the right thing to do, but organizations will be more profitable while workplace culture improves and flourishes.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:00] And I think the opposite is true, too. If you’re not really leaning into this, you’re really hurting your organization.
Amber Lawrence: [00:07:07] Oh, absolutely. I concur with that 100%.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:10] Now, let’s talk a little bit about the MBA’s Leadership Award process. Can you share about that?
Amber Lawrence: [00:07:16] Absolutely. We actually just wrapped up our 2022 residential D-I award, D-I leadership award cycle. We highlight members who are within a few categories. We do we highlight those who are proficient and very successful within their own organizational culture is where well, as those who have a strong emphasis and strong presence with within their market. So that market outreach, strategy, culture. And then also we have a category in which we highlight those who are in the non lending and servicing space, so vendors. And so for this year, if you’ll give me an opportunity, I’ll I’ll, I want to highlight those who did win. We have Synovus mortgage. We have new American funding Embrace home Loans, Experian, JLL and our commercial multifamily space. And those are just to name a few.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:17] Now, how long has this award been going on?
Amber Lawrence: [00:08:21] I believe, since about 2017 or 16. So we’ve had it evolve since then. We’ve had more categories added. We’ve had significant, more members participate in that process. And what we’ve seen throughout the course of the years in which we’ve highlighted our member companies is that we’ve seen real data that shows success and how they’re able to implement initiatives that really forward progress throughout their organization and not just internally, but also within the communities that they serve.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:54] Now, when you started out doing these awards and you’ve been doing them obviously over the years, is this something that you’re kind of bubbling up, these best practices that some of these organizations are willing to share, that is kind of then gets to be disseminated throughout everybody in the industry so then everyone can learn from what kind of the people that have got some things figured out or doing.
Amber Lawrence: [00:09:18] Oh, absolutely. So we have various touch points throughout the year. Most recently at our annual convention, we did have a success story panel in which we highlighted all of our winners from the 2022 residential awards cycle. But we also have webinars throughout the year in which we do feature those members and have them come on and we have them talk about their programs, we have them talk about what works, what didn’t work, some of the things that they’re seeing. And so yeah, we definitely share that across our membership base.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:49] Now are you finding that this DIY community that’s being formed here is very collaborative? Is it is it a situation where everybody just wants everybody to win so they’re trying to help out in this area? Or is it competitive that, hey, this is our secret sauce so we’re not sharing it? How do you how do you find the the community?
Amber Lawrence: [00:10:12] It’s highly collaborative. And what I’ll say is for any competition, it’s it’s it’s a very jovial, competitive space in which not only are they feeding off of each other, they want to see each other succeed. Our members want to see each other succeed. So if anything, there’s no negative competition in which no one’s trying to keep their own secret sauce. As you mentioned to themselves, people are willing to share it. But I think what happens is that it encourages participation and it encourages other members to say, you know what, hey, let me get in the game. Let me figure out what will work for our organization, what would work for our constituents and our customers. So it just fuels kind of that positive competition, if you will.
Lee Kantor: [00:10:59] Now, how do you feel that the real estate finance industry is doing as an industry compared to other industries out there that are, you know, working in this space?
Amber Lawrence: [00:11:10] Well, I think across the board, a lot of industries are struggling with some of the same things hiring, retention, some of the things that you hear about kind of from a general national speak. But what I’m finding with our industry is that when there are economic hardships in times where volume is low and when we’re struggling to keep a customer base and when there isn’t a lot of inventory and housing, I think that’s the right time to really dig in and focus on internal culture. Not that we can be hiring all the time and not that we can be promoting all the time. So I think being able to be agile and be able to see where you can really focus when times aren’t necessarily positive or when volumes again aren’t high. That’s the really that’s the best opportunity to really focus on your internal. A culture and those who are already within your organization so that you can elevate your initiatives and your strategies with the people that you have in place. But ultimately, I think what’s important is making sure that we have people within the industry that represent the communities and the customer base. So that’s always going to be something that Mbaye is passionate about and looking to see our members collaborate on.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:36] Is there a story you can share about maybe the something that’s been rewarding or impactful since doing this kind of work where you’ve seen real change? You don’t have to name the name maybe of the organization, but maybe, maybe share what they what their challenge was and how they were able to overcome this and lean into this and then maybe take their organization to a new level.
Amber Lawrence: [00:13:03] I’m not sure I was prepared for that particular one. But what I’ll say is this What I think I find most rewarding is that and this kind of replicates itself across the industry and not just one specific organization. And mentioning that we’re looking to foster a very diverse workforce. We get an opportunity to work with students, those at campuses, historically black colleges and universities, HBCUs or Hispanic serving institutions, or even predominantly white organizations and universities where there’s large students, large populations of students of color, and being able to see kind of on the ground before they enter into the industry the excitement and building that awareness. A lot of students don’t have any idea what the mortgage finance industry is. They know that there’s houses and they know that there’s commercial buildings, but not really seeing up close and personal how they can enter and how they can affect change. And so being able to see that kind of upfront and up close and personal and I’ve seen our members interact with students and just be really encouraged by a lot of what’s coming out of those campuses. There’s a lot of dedication, there’s a lot of bright stars, there’s a lot of a lot of students who are looking to get into it to really affect change and to really be that catalyst to drive our industry forward.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:27] Well, you’re doing important work and it must be very rewarding to see that change starting to happen.
Amber Lawrence: [00:14:35] Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:38] Now, if somebody wants to learn more about the D-I leadership Award moving forward or maybe just to learn who’s been winning, is there a website? What’s the best way to connect with you or somebody on the team?
Amber Lawrence: [00:14:52] Sure, absolutely. We have a whole website, a web page dedicated to all of our strategies, our awards. We offer a scholarship as well, a path of diversity scholarship. So that’s emba dot org forward slash d. E i.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:09] Well, Amber, thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s I mean, you’re doing such important work and we really appreciate you.
Amber Lawrence: [00:15:17] My pleasure. Thank you for having me on today, Lee.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:20] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We’ll see you next time on Association Leadership Radio.