Her early experiences growing up in a low socio-economic suburb in Perth taught AFG Commercial Business Development Manager, Richele Janjatovic, the importance of both inclusion and education, which are key foundations of AFG’s approach to supporting the success of its female brokers.
Growing up as a bi-racial child, her mother is Filipino and her father Serbian, Richele remembers many moments when she was acutely aware that she didn’t fit in.
“I had a number of confronting situations growing up which made me really empathetic and aware of the importance of embracing cultural diversity,” Richele said.
“My mum used to make me wash my skin with Papaya soap because it makes your skin go whiter and I also remember playing netball and incurring racial slurs.
“It was a challenge not having a sense of belonging - I’m not fully Asian but I’m also not fully European and I also didn’t feel Australian because I really didn’t have Australian cultural heritage.
“It was quite conflicting trying to work out your sense of identity early on and so I think now being older I can really appreciate those experiences a bit more.”
Those experiences have helped shape the approach she has taken to leading AFG’s Winning Women Program, which has been short-listed as a finalist in the MFAA’s Diversity and Inclusion Award at the National Excellence Awards.
Richele says bringing women together to learn how to enhance their business success but also to build a sense of belonging and community has been critical to the success of the Winning Women program which was launched in January 2021 as part of AFG’s response to addressing the declining rate of female brokers in the mortgage and finance industry.
The program has evolved from AFG’s Winning Women scholarship which AFG had been offering for more than 10 years, into a broader program that includes:
- mentoring from two award-winning AFG brokers, Katrina Rowlands and Marissa Schulze
- participation in AFG’s Broker Academy where brokers are stepped through relevant business case studies with Harvard University professors and partly funded participation in professional development
- business coaching with thrive4women’s Accelerate program.
Richele says participants have seen a broad range of positive changes as a result of participating in the program including increased loan lodgements and settlements, but also reduced times to unconditional loan approvals and increased customer retention.
“There has been qualitative and quantitative evidence that our Winning Women’s program is making a real difference and it has validated the design of the program around connecting women through education,” she said.
Having commenced maternity leave to welcome her first child, a daughter, Richele has recently handed the Winning Women reins over to Nicole Tosev, AFG’s Sales Support Manager for Recruitment, who is equally passionate about supporting the success of AFG’s female brokers.
Nicole is keen to build on the early success of the program and bring even more women into the fold, especially females starting out on their journey as a broker.
“My aspiration for the program is to ensure that we let all females getting into this industry know that there is support when starting out and we can assist you in building your business,” she said.
Both Nicole and Richele see the value that brokers bring to diverse customers, which reinforces their commitment to driving diversity within the industry, especially around gender.
“Brokers provide a huge amount of support to people on their financial journey and it’s not just about buying that first home or whatever the purchase might be. They really add to financial literacy which is incredibly important in terms of building wealth and having a sense of safety,” Richele said.
Nicole says having greater diversity in the industry will allow the industry to evolve and innovate and ensure that it remains relevant to the needs and aspirations of its diverse customer base.
“If you continuously do the same thing, you will get the same results. By having different perspectives in the industry, we can be more relevant and meet the needs of customers,” she said.
Both Richele and Nicole are seeing a lot of positive change around greater gender and other diversity in the industry but still see several barriers to the industry becoming fully inclusive to all. This includes closing the perception gaps between men and women, having a clear pathway for brokers into the industry and providing more education and support.
“When you have males as the predominant employers in this industry, if they don’t think there is a problem or are not aware of the problem, then they will continue to fish from the same talent pool,” Richele said.
“So, educating them on the benefits of diversity and giving them the tools to help them be more inclusive is key.”
And as two women forging successful careers in the mortgage and broking industry, what are their secrets to success?
“Create a methodical process, “Nicole said.
“I tell this to brokers all the time and it works – have a process and structure in all the things that you can control so when the uncontrollable hits – you don’t have to sweat it.”
Richele’s secret to success has been leading with a sales mindset and always seeking to understand.
“Once you understand, either the broker or the customer situation, it naturally leads to solutions,” she said.
And with the wisdom of their years in the industry behind them, what is their advice to their younger selves?
“Don’t be afraid to fail – it’s better to take the risk and fail than to never try at all,” Nicole said.
“Learn to really embrace my difference whether that be as the youngest female in the room or being from a mixed-race background because I can look back now and see that difference has formed a really large part of my own success,” Richele concluded.
Champions of Diversity is brought to you by Teachers Mutual Bank Ltd.