When Loan Market’s Executive Director Andrea McNaughton first made the transition from real estate to mortgage and finance broking six years ago, the first thing she noticed was the obvious lack of gender diversity.

Her desire to address this lack of diversity and her passion for building and scaling successful businesses, was what first motivated her to establish the Leading Ladies of Loan Market initiative, which was recognised as the winner of the Diversity and Inclusion Program in the mortgage and finance industry at the MFAA’s National Excellence Awards.

“I thought that Real Estate was male-dominated, but then I went to my first mortgage and finance boardroom lunch in Melbourne I was floored by what I saw and the attitude to a woman being present,” she said.

“I even got asked are you here for the coffee order?”

Andrea said the motivation for establishing Leading Ladies was ensuring that it provided a supportive environment where women felt comfortable asking questions that were never raised at male dominated speaker events but also focussed on developing the competence and confidence of female brokers as successful business owners.

“When we first started Leading Ladies it was all about building confidence and encouragement by sharing the spotlight. Now the forum is much more about sharing learnings and insights,” she said.

Some of our female business owners share more openly and are happier to ask a lot of questions when they have the space free of their male counterparts. We talk a lot about how you build a business, what cycle of that business phase are you in, how do you grow and where do you want to take your business?

“They are just awesome women – it’s really inspiring how they support each other.”

Four years on, Leading Ladies now has almost 300 members and is one of the highest rated events on the Loan Market calendar, drawing upon a strong network of advocates, industry partners and role-models to provide support and advice for female business owners.

It is also helping deliver tangible improvements in Loan Market’s gender diversity including an almost 40% increase in female representation across Loan Market, a 22% increase in female productivity and two females achieving number one broker rankings in New Zealand and Australia for the first time.

Helping brokers become “awesome” business owners is one of the things that Andrea enjoys most about her role and part of what inspired her to shift industries after spending her early career working for Ray White in Victoria where she held roles as State General Manager and then CEO.

“What I enjoy is working with small business owners around the challenge of scaling up their business versus clarifying what they want to achieve from their business and then building the skills and resources around them to enable them to achieve their goals,” she said.

“As an Aggregator – our whole business proposition is to help build businesses, so we have to be able to challenge you – if you are going to be a business owner you have to get great with feedback.”

The business benefits of diversity have long been impressed upon her by her mentor and Loan Market Executive Chairman Sam White, but Andrea says she sees the benefits of diversity everywhere, even at home on the family farm near Sale, in Victoria’s Gippsland region.

“Even in a shearing shed my husband will say it works much better when we have women in the team – so why wouldn’t you want that for businesses?” she said.

“You get better results – whether it be gender diversity, diversity of experience, diversity of perspective, I am a big believer in that team perspective. I saw back in my real estate days that you can’t achieve brilliant results on your own, you need the strength of the diversity of the group, - a strong team is a diverse team.”

Andrea says growing the diversity of the mortgage and finance broking industry is important to ensuring the continuing relevance of brokers to the diverse communities they service.

“If we are not reflective of that diversity – we are not going to be able to relate to them – we are not going to be able to effectively service them,” she said.

 “You can’t be relevant if you are not represented,” she said.

“The contest is on ideas these days – it’s not on brute strength – why wouldn’t you want to create an environment where you are going to hear and test the very best ideas from a diverse range of people?”

Andrea wants to see less “tokenism” in the industry around gender diversity and believes there is much more that can be done to promote diversity, particularly around how the industry celebrates and profiles diverse role models and diverse success stories.

In that regard, she says Loan Market has changed broker reward and recognition away from being focussed on total loan book value to recognising total number of customers. She also has plans to expand Leading Ladies into an industry-wide initiative to give female brokers across the industry the chance to leverage more learnings from each other.

“I’d like to see more female leaders and female decision makers around the table, more pursuing their agenda around outcomes for other women, including customers,” she said.

“These initiatives are not about the end of men – it’s about the recognition of the great results that women are already getting in the industry.”

And when it comes to sharing insights, what’s Andrea’s secret to success?

“Love what you are doing, who you are doing it with and how you are doing it” (i.e. working), she said.

“I’m in a position to say I love what I do and I love who I’m working with – success for us is about enjoying the grind, enjoying what we are building together and trying to capture the spirit of being in a winning team.”

And what is her advice to her younger self?

“Not to bash up my mentors so much,” she concluded.