Diversity Challenges in the Housing Industry, with Homebridge Financial’s Brian “Woody” White

Brian “Woody” White has seen it all in his 35 year technology executive career – overt racism, sabotage, unconscious bias, being the only one in the room, and more. He now brings his leadership, experience, and advice to his new role – Chief Diversity & Inclusion Office at Homebridge Financial Services.

 

Transcript

Jackie Ferguson: Please welcome Brian White to our show. After spending more than 35 years as a Technology Executive and Entrepreneur, Brian known to his friends as “Woody” has recently taken the role as Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Homebridge Financial Services, one of the largest privately held, non-bank lenders in the United States.

His goal in this role is to use his many years of experience as a Business and Technology Executive to pay it forward assisting underrepresented professionals, obtain visibility and access concerning employment opportunities and training, and the space of financial services, and mortgage banking. Woody, thank you for being here today. Welcome.

Brian “Woody” White: Thank you, Jackie. Great to be here.

Jackie Ferguson: Woody, tell us about your work in technology. You’ve had a long career. I’d love to hear more about that.

Brian “Woody” White: Okay. So I’ll try to give you a background, and at the same time, sprinkle in some of the issues that I also ran into just in technology concerning diversity and inclusion. So we’ll kind of mix it in there together. Okay?

Jackie Ferguson: Sounds great.

Brian “Woody” White: All right. So let’s see, my actual formal technology background started by accident. I actually was in the 11th grade and I was selected for an internship with a Congressman. And this was in Yonkers, New York. His name was Congressman Peter Peyser. And when I went to the office, there was a whole bunch of computers there, but nobody was using it. And it turned out that nobody really knew how to use it.

So I opened up all the boxes, the manuals, I started reading the books. And without understanding what I was doing, I was actually teaching myself COBOL programming and how to write COBOL reports. So I wrote those reports, I learned how to do that, and that was actually how I got into formal technology.

From there, I went to the University of Maryland in College Park, and typical scenario, didn’t really have all the money for college so I had to get student loans. I worked two full-time jobs, pretty much close to two full-time jobs while I was in school at the same time. One of those jobs, because I’m a night owl,  one of my jobs was working from eleven o’clock at night to four in the morning working with C-SPAN in their Master Control section.

I also worked as the Lead Tech in the Educational Technology Center at the University of Maryland. And this is where it gets interesting. I just happened to be there when the first Apple computers came in and then the IBM PC came in. And, you know, I was asked to put it together and all that kinds of stuff.

So I was there at the very beginning when the personal computer came out. And it was interesting because I was taking mainframe programming, but I saw this personal computer thing. And as far as I was concerned, this was a game changer. For me, mainframe programming was dead. So for the next three years in college I spent my time teaching professors how to use computers, and I just basically grabbed all the books. Back then they had these books called uh, Peter Norton, this, that, and the other languages.

And I taught myself visual basic things like that. And my brother bought me a program book for C and I taught myself C language as well. And kind of after that, things really started to take off. I worked in fiber optics, whole bunch of specialty gigs. If you’re familiar with the DC area, Washington, DC,

Jackie Ferguson: Mhm.

Brian “Woody” White: They have something called Beltway Bandits. And basically, a Beltway Bandit is a consulting company that only focuses on supporting the federal government. So I worked for a Beltway Bandit for a couple of years. I worked in the Department of Agriculture, Department of Justice, Pentagon, doing a number of things. And after that, I kind of moved to working with banks.

One thing is when I got out of college, I actually took a number of security licenses. Went with the NASD to become a financial planner. All those kinds of things; trade stocks, bonds. I did that because I had a heavy interest in finance. And I didn’t really like that as a career.

Jackie Ferguson: Mhm.

Brian “Woody” White: So by moving into banking, I was able to kind of blend the two together. So I was able to work financial services and technology at the same time. But one of the first gigs I got was with the Mortgage Bankers Association in the late 1980s. And that was unique because I was able to create brand new software for the industry.

And working for a nonprofit, one of the platforms I created basically was a big hit for the Mortgage Bankers Association and almost every mortgage bank in the country, including banks use that software. It was called Echo. And , you know, it got to a point where Echo was making a whole lot of money, far more than I thought it was making.

Jackie Ferguson: Mhm.

Brian “Woody” White: I guess it

wasn’t really

good for the MBA being a nonprofit to be making that kind of money. So eventually they sold it and shut it down. And I’ve, you know, again, I did a number of things and then in the early nineties, that’s when I first stepped into the technology entrepreneurial side. I started a company in the early nineties called AntiqueCom. And, the whole concept was to get antique dealers, I’m a big antique collector, and I had a hard time finding antiques. And I just decided I’m going to create this online system, and at that time there was no internet. It was more or less ARPANET, BBS technology, bulletin board technology. So I created this system called AntiqueCom to put antique dealers and yard sales online.

And believe it or not, it was actually going quite well until the antique dealers realized that I was black and they were basically sending their inventories to this black guy in this so-called black box. Right? Because nobody saw anything online. Right? And shortly after that was known, I started losing a bunch of participants. And eventually shut that down. And in 1996, I got a call from two gentlemen I work with and the goal was to work together and create a business plan to create a new remittance processing company.

And we did that. We raised $250 million to create a company called the Regulus Group. Within two years, we were the largest remittance processing company in the country. And from there,  after I moved on from that, I worked for a number of Fortune 500 companies: ETNA, Credit Suisse, First Boston, Countrywide. And I’m here today at Homebridge. And that’s a short story.

Jackie Ferguson: Wow. Woody, that is so impressive. You know, some of that I knew, but some of that is new to me. So thank you for sharing that.

So it’s not lost on me, Woody, in the intro. And then some of the things that you’ve described that you spent your career in two industries that are heavily underrepresented by blacks. Tell us about some of the glass ceilings that you were able to shatter and the roles where you were the first.

Brian “Woody” White: Okay. Yeah, that’s a very interesting question, because to be honest with you, I’m not really a hundred percent sure. When you’re just doing something, you don’t really know globally, if you’re the first. I know some things were probably clearer. Let’s just say in the sixties and before, this person was the first person to sit at a lunch counter and break some barriers.

But in today’s age, it’s just a lot harder.  I can tell you in every company where I was the first, but for example, when myself and two other white gentlemen raised $250 million, and that was in the Philadelphia area. For all I know, I was one of the first people as part of a funding group to raise that much money and be a black executive.

I just don’t know. I know where I went to companies and I was the first black or the first black executive and things like that, that I know, and that’s really been much of my career.  But it’s hard to know from a more global scale when I hit those particular points. When I was working and things like fiber optics and I was doing things like core and cladding analysis before fiber optics  was a big thing. I know somewhere in there I was probably a first, but I just don’t know it. But I will say that uh, over the last 25 years, you always know when you hit the glass ceiling because you run into some very interesting scenarios. But I will tell you this, for the X number of years over the 25 plus 30 years, as a peer, I’ve only worked next to another black man once. Another black woman once. And the black woman that I worked to next to as a peer was primarily because I helped bring her in as well with the company. But outside of that, I’ve been the only black person, period.

Jackie Ferguson: And Woody, tell us about what it was like being one of few or sometimes the only in those industries?

Yeah,

Brian “Woody” White: you know, so like I said, when I left college, I had a heavy focus and uh, technology and finance and, you know, I was already managing master control and doing all that kind of stuff with C-SPAN and, and it was interesting, but to me, I was just working. And, I do know I was one of the first students to run master control overnight for C-SPAN. Didn’t see myself as a black student.

I was just a student. So, you know, that probably was something I was unaware of. But as far as being like the first or few, just to give you a quick example, I was a Senior Manager in a company. And the company was thinking about moving its corporate office. And everything they talked about when I went to the meeting was all about the pristineness of the environment, playing golf and all those kinds of things.

And they picked some locations and I remember saying, ” I appreciate these wonderful looking places that you guys pick, but the areas you’re selecting to move the corporate office is like 0.00005% black, let alone minority in general.” And you know, I brought up conversations and things like, “So you guys do realize that my wife wouldn’t have anywhere to go to get her black hair done because nobody will understand it.”

My kids would be not only the only black kids in the class, but probably in the school and possibly the neighborhood based on the places you’re looking at. So, when I brought some of those things up, it meant absolutely nothing. So, it’s things like that, that I like to mention because those are the things outside of the workt that a lot of black executives don’t know when  you start moving up, it’s conversations like this that just make you say, “Wow, what uh, what exactly do I do here if we move these offices? Okay. So, another example I want to give you that really, I would say um, helped me understand something, and you can take from it what you  may, but I worked at a bank.

And they wanted me to upgrade the bank technology. And they moved me into this new division. It was great. And the new division that I moved into was kind of like a balance of getting rid of mainframe technology for this new client server  technology. So, I mean, my first week I go there, we’re talking about mainframe programs that had been running for it.

And when I say a long time, I’m talking like 10 years. You know, just doing its thing, chugging along, and nobody ever touched it. A week after I started, the mainframe for our programs started failing all over the place. Big companies, their financial transactions not going, everybody’s all over me, and I didn’t understand what was going on and it just kept happening.

So I snuck, and I hired what I called a programmer that was actually a forensic programmer. And this person figured out that a 66 year-old white guy was basically sabotaging my mainframe programs.

Jackie Ferguson: Oh my God.

Brian “Woody” White: So I reported all of this and I confronted this guy on a phone call about what he was doing and that I had digital proof. He basically yelled at me on the phone call and called a black woman who was one of my leads a racial slur that I can’t even mention on this podcast. So I reported all of it, it did the thing, and somebody came back and basically told me that ,”This guy’s the only guy that understands all of our mainframe systems.”

So what that basically meant was, “We’re not going to do anything.” So after a period of time of going back and forth, at the end of the day to make a long story short, I was offered a package to leave, to not have to deal with the tension, and this and that and the other. And to be honest with you, I took the package and I left.

So, you know, these are the inside stories of black executives and the things that don’t always come out that they’re happening. And it’s not like I’m talking about 1950, this is in the 80s and 90s and 2000s. This is what was going on. And I’m sure some of these things are still going on today, but separate from just getting your job done, you’re dealing with this type of stuff and you just have to keep pushing

Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely, Woody. That’s so true. You know, we have to deal with so much with unconscious bias, conscious bias, and that type of sabotage. Wow. That’s an interesting story, but not a unique one, unfortunately. Right?

Brian “Woody” White: Unfortunately. That is correct.

Jackie Ferguson: Wow. So. You know, we still have so many diverse individuals who are the only right, or one of a few. What advice would you give to the “only” in an organization today?

Brian “Woody” White: Well, you know, you you’ve heard comments in the past about uh, ” If you’re an “only”, you better be good.”

Jackie Ferguson: Mhm.

Brian “Woody” White: You know, we we’ve heard those comments before and I echo those comments.  First and foremost, deliver your expertise.  Don’t sit around thinking about, “I’m the only person in this meeting.” Focus on your expertise and deliver it. You know, focus on learning and growth is job one. More so than anything. Even though you know you’re the first, focus on delivering the best that you have so that people clearly understand why you’re there. That’s the first thing I’ll say.

Jackie Ferguson: Mhm.

Brian “Woody” White: The second thing I’ll say is that you have to also understand that when you are in a company and you’re the first or the “only”, you may be working next to a lot of people who did not grow up with diversity. That may be there.

And they have no idea of unconscious bias. They have no idea that they may be doing something offensive. And you have to figure out in a way how to handle that. So, I mean, just to give you an example, you’re in a meeting and your eyes are going to just get big when somebody says they’re surprised at how articulate you are.

They know you went to college, you have a degree. You’re sitting here as  Executive, Junior Exemplary Executive, whatever it is running what you’re running, but they still will say something like that, right?

Jackie Ferguson: Yes.

Brian “Woody” White: And if you’re a guy, you’re in a conference and everybody’s shaking everybody’s hand. But when the guy gets to you, he wants to give you this “black handshake” that he learned off of television and doesn’t understand what that means to you. And everybody else is John, Bill, but when they get to you it’s, “Hey, what’s up brother?” These things will occur. It’s not if, they are what. They will occur.

And you know, the best thing I can say is that those are opportunities if you’re not fearful to educate. And at the same time participate in those corporate initiatives that allow you to foster some change around that.

Jackie Ferguson: Mhm.

Brian “Woody” White: But I have to tell you, you cannot wear your heart on your sleeve. And, if you wear your heart on your sleeve and these things are going on, it’s possible you could be unhappy all the time. Because they will happen. You just have to know how to roll with that and where the opportunities present themselves. Educate.

Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. That’s amazing advice. Woody, thank you for sharing that. You definitely chose a road less traveled. Can you talk a little about your background? Where did you grow up? Who inspired you to step out into territory that was so difficult for underrepresented people and even harder to rise in the ranks, right? As an African-American in tech.

Brian “Woody” White: Right. Well, I’ll say this, you know, sitting here today and looking at where I am this stage of my life. When people are looking from the outside, looking in, it seems like I had some plan. And actually I didn’t have a plan, you know?

This life book that we create from birth to death, that this life book for me is just been a collection of chapters. Some failures, successes, micro-decisions, plans, risk-taking, and twist and turns that got me here. And I’m saying that first, just to basically say for people that are out there listening, you may have gone to college, or you may have left college, or you may be coming out of high school.

Don’t feel bad if you don’t have that plan that you think people think you need to have. It doesn’t really work like that. It’s okay to say, “I want to go do this. I want to go do that.” But beyond that, it’s a collection of micro- decisions of things that happen. So, if you’re out there and you know what you want to do, but you don’t really know how to do it, don’t feel bad. What you’d need to do is just keep doing, pushing, adjusting, and moving forward. So I just wanted to say that because–

Yeah.

Even though I’m here, I didn’t have some master plan and people need to hear that. So, more specific to your question. I grew up in Yonkers, New York, and spent a lot of time in Harlem.

And the neighborhood I grew up in, the nickname was called the “Bucket of Blood.” And even though it was called that as a kid, we just moved on and ran around, you know? I went to public schools, which I already communicated and  I’ve always been a tech- oriented person.

I was that kid that took phones apart, put them back together, installed new phone lines for my family and friends, I fixed televisions, tried to create cheesy, animated movies, and I liked to draw. I was more of a creative type and I just gravitated to computers and tech.

Because if you think about computers and programming, you can kind of create worlds. You can create anything you want. And you know, I just gravitated to technology. And to be honest with you, I had no idea that technology was a challenging road for minorities. I was just interested and nothing was going to turn me around, but I will say I did hit a racist college professor in college that did wake me up in a big way, that I was black.

And that meant something in terms of what I was trying to do. And you know, I would say in terms of inspiring me, I’ll just say from a family standpoint with my mother, she just didn’t put any limitations. You know, it was just letting me goof around and you know, that goofing around turned into fixing TVs and phones and other stuff and that was really the biggest thing for me because I just love school and I enjoy doing it.

Jackie Ferguson: Wow. Thank you for sharing that. So let’s talk a little about your current role in diversity and inclusion. I want to dig into why this change at this point.

Brian “Woody” White: Okay. You know what? Can I just go back and mention one more thing?

Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely.

Brian “Woody” White:  And this is just because we’re talking about DNI, I’ll mention this. When I was in New York, I went to a technical high school, and I was an architecture major.

And I was so committed to architecture at the time that I finished my architecture drawings almost two months early. And I was in this class, they have something in architecture called “strengthened materials.” And when you build a house, if you build it  on the West coast versus the East coast, you can’t really use the same material because of heat and cold and that kind of thing.

And I took this class. I took an exam on strength and materials. And I basically scored the highest in the school. And the teacher in a joking way said, “Well, you’re not white or Italian, so I’m going to have to knock you down three to five points so that this guy scored the highs.” And, he said it in a joking way, and I just didn’t think anything of it.

And two weeks later, he left his grade book open and I saw that he actually changed my grade. So I went to the principal, brought my mother in, and he denied everything and he forgot he changed the grade. So they looked at his book and basically saw it.

And that was really an eye-opener for me because I wasn’t really paying attention to everything that was going on. Even though I could see it, I didn’t realize that racism could be that intentional. And in the end I ended up going to a different school that I really didn’t think could support my educational thirst, but I graduated in this and that kind of thing.

And the reason I brought this one up, there’s a podcast you did earlier this year about early childhood learning and unconscious bias.

Jackie Ferguson: Yeah.

Brian “Woody” White: And that’s why I wanted to bring this up because my son, when he was in the first grade, he came home and he said he was unhappy because every time he raises his hand in class, the teacher never picks him.

And that was my reminder that the experience I experienced at high school with that teacher, I needed to continue with those “antennas up” with my kids.

Jackie Ferguson: Yeah.

Brian “Woody” White: Because we did confront the teacher about it, but the other thing that I noticed, and like I said, I just wanted to bring this up, was that when my kid came home with something wrong, it had a red line and a, you know, minus three.

But when I went to the teacher’s events with parents, a lot of the white kids had the same red line with minus three, but the teacher wrote an explanation of what they did wrong. And those little things contribute to why minorities don’t do as well in school. So I just wanted to bring that up because I did listen to that podcast you had, and I wanted to bring that up.

Jackie Ferguson: Woody, Thank you. Thank you for sharing that. Well, you know, it’s, it’s, again, just a reminder that, that these things are not part of the past, right? When we think about what happened 30 years ago. These things are, are still occurring today. And we certainly, as parents have to be vigilant over our children and their education.

Brian “Woody” White: Right.

Jackie Ferguson: So thanks for sharing that.

Brian “Woody” White: And I’m going to segue into your original question there, why diversity. So after experiencing so many things over the years, I just wanted to move into dedicating my time, and from what I would call the purpose, that I think I’m here for as well as paying it forward to help others.

I’ve worked in the community for a long time doing things like financial planning help and things like that. And at Homebridge, it was a discussion over the last couple of years.  The George Floyd situation did come up and it kind of helped push things forward. And you know, it became a mutual decision at Homebridge to take on this role.

Jackie Ferguson: Awesome. And in other roles that you’ve had previously, you’ve been tapped to lead diversity and inclusion efforts. So you’re not new to this work, but organizations have recently, as you said, with the issue and, and an unfortunate and untimely death of George Floyd have made a push for more diversity and more inclusion in our industries. What advice would you give to those who are being tapped that have no experience in diversity and inclusion? How do they measure success? How do they begin that process?

Brian “Woody” White: Well, here’s the first thing I’ll say is that anybody that’s tapped to do this in terms of diversity inclusion, again, inside of a company, the first thing you have to remember is there is a difference between working and doing diversity and inclusion inside of a company or corporation versus a community organization, a cultural organization, or an activist organization.

You have to remember that your goal is to help the company grow in the DNI space in a way that supports the company core values. So this doesn’t mean that you can’t have tough conversations to create change where needed. It just has to be done through discussion, negotiation, planning, and delivery.

Again, this is a company. And the company has its own goals for product sales and other things. And this is a company that wants to do better. Especially if you were tasked. So you just have to remember that you’re not working in your church where certain conversations would happen differently than it would in a corporation.

The other thing I’ll add is that you have to have a more intimate relationship with Senior Management, meaning that you may have worked in a career where you saw things, but you didn’t really say anything. You know, a lot of employees do that. Right? You see things wrong, and you think your job is going to be on the line so you don’t really say anything.

But to do this job, to be blunt, you gotta enter a new level of bravery. You can’t just be worried about your job, because if you worry about that, when you do find something, you’re going to be afraid to speak up and you can’t be afraid to speak up in this role. So that new level of bravery you know, that you have to find in yourself, means that you may find yourself in a very non-diverse meeting trying to explain to some people their behavior.

And what you’re saying may not sit well with them. And you have to get comfortable with that. And finally, I would say, you know, depending on the charter that you have with your company, everybody needs to get used to the fact that this is a grassroots effort. Internally and externally. You gotta get out there, you gotta be talking to people.

You have to be out there to see, feel, and get everybody else to see and feel. This is not a cold kind of email you can send out. It’s about private conversations. So you have to be prepared, but just don’t be scared.

Jackie Ferguson:  Great advice. Thank you for sharing that, Woody. Let’s talk a little bit about lending. Why in your perspective, are there so many inequities for underrepresented communities and mortgage lending?

Brian “Woody” White: From a lending standpoint, especially around minorities, in the beginning, it’s easy to hop to racism. Even though racism plays a role, there are other reasons why more minorities don’t have homes. We’re not really participating in this big boom that you see going on right now in the mortgage space.

And I’ll just kind of outline for you the four items that I see as the primary reason that minorities just still don’t get the right kind of participation that we should be getting in terms of representation with mortgages.

Jackie Ferguson: Yes, please.

Brian “Woody” White: So, the first is the lack of historical knowledge and transfer. And you know, it sounds like no big deal, but you know what, if my great, great, great, great grandmother cooked cookies, and years later, that was just passed down. We all would know how the, the secret family cookies are made. We know what to do, and everybody would have that knowledge. But, when you start talking about mortgages,  if we’re not getting mortgages today, and we’re still having a hard time, that means if you go back generations, it was happening then.

So that means we don’t have a lot of stories of our ancestors and uncle John and others. How they got into their homes because they didn’t get homes. You know? And if they did get homes, it was in weird ways where it was stolen later. So we just don’t have that historical knowledge where around the dinner table, people were talking about the process of getting a mortgage.

“Here’s how I did my mortgage. The family got together…” And we just don’t have a lot of those great stories. And our stories are really very negative. So we just don’t have the historical knowledge that’s been passed down and therefore it’s not in our DNA. You know? If you start talking about paying rent and having an apartment, we know a lot about that.

We live in that more than anything, but when it comes to mortgages, we just don’t have a lot of generational, historical knowledge. The other reason is lack of trust. As black people, as minorities, nobody’s forgotten what happened in 2008, right? Those subprime loans hurt a lot of minorities. Getting people into loans that they couldn’t afford just for the purpose of making the money.

Jackie Ferguson: Yep.

Brian “Woody” White: You know, that lack of trust concerning that whether you talk about, and you can go back as far as you want. You can go to the middle passage, you can go to Tuskegee experiments. All of these things add up. See, these are the stories that are passed down from generation for us.

Jackie Ferguson: Yep.

Brian “Woody” White: Maybe not mortgage stories, but these stories are passed down. And we know not to trust, and going around to a mortgage company where you don’t see a lot of Black or Hispanic loan officers and they want that trust. It’s hard to do, right? After the big subprime debacle and all those kinds of things. So, it’s hard for us to trust this process or anything. I think the third reason is literally lack of understanding of the mortgage process. Understanding proper planning. You know, you can’t just wake up tomorrow.

If we follow this story, we don’t have a lot of generational knowledge. So when we finally are able to get some way to get a mortgage, you don’t just walk into a bank and say, “Hey, I want a mortgage.” You got to prepare for that. You got to think about the budgeting around it, right? It’s not just getting the house, but it’s the cost to upkeep the house.

Jackie Ferguson: Yeah.

Brian “Woody” White: It’s not just saying, ” I have the money.” It’s going through proper budget and planning to make sure really how much money you have. It’s about learning things like debt-to-income ratio, which if you were properly planning, you would know what debt-to-income ratio meant before you sat in the seat of that loan officer in you’re hearing all of this for the first time.

Jackie Ferguson: Right.

Brian “Woody” White: So we don’t have an understanding of the process in terms of first time home buyers, closing costs, down payment. And when you go in and you get hit with all of this, and then you think about the lack of trust, you just want to walk away.

Jackie Ferguson: Mhm.

Brian “Woody” White: So there’s just a big misunderstanding and a lack of understanding around the mortgage process. And then finally, we get to the racism and bias. Even though we think about the mortgage itself when we talk about the issue of racism and bias, it happens long before that.  When you’re sitting in your house and you want to sell your house, it’s already been documented. You could be in a nice neighborhood and three doors down there’s a white family and here you are as a black family. You get an appraisal. Your appraisal was less than theirs in the same neighborhood. That’s documented. That kind of racism, red-lining bias, that’s the kind of stuff that gives us problems with the devaluation of our home values.

When we go looking for a home red-lining telling us, “Oh, the house is no longer available,” when it actually is. It’s all of that, that contribute to why we are still struggling to get into homes.

Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. That is so insightful and more than just the one thing that we generally think it’s racism, right? But there are so many more aspects to it. Thank you for sharing that. What are your goals with Homebridge? Why did they make this an organizational initiative now?

Brian “Woody” White: Well,  you know, like I said, it was in conversation for a couple of years. But again, I think as companies go, anything that looks like a large initiative, you can sometimes get into “analysis paralysis” if you’re thinking about, “Okay, how do we do it?” And just, it just took a while. But I do think, you know, again, the George Floyd situation helped move things along and everything popped out and it became a neutral agreement. The one thing I’ll say to everybody is that just because a company launches a DNI, or diversity and inclusion, or inequity program, that does not mean that racism is running rampant in the company. What it means is that the company wants to put together a more focused effort to commitment and constant improvement.

And I think, cause I had a conversation not too long ago when someone assumed that because the company is putting together this initiative, we’ve identified all these racial issues going on and that’s not it. It’s a company focusing, saying it’s time to focus on trying to improve the best that we can and to support not only our customers, but also our employees.

Oh, as far as my goals. My first goal is to work closely with HR, to monitor our recruiting efforts, examine where we might have shortages or issues or anything like that.  I will say just in the mortgage space in general, we have a shortage of resources. Especially in the loan officer rank.

So our goal is to try improve our diversity 10% by the end of 2021. And I’ll use this platform to say, if you’re a minority loan officer, give us a call. Call our HR department because we would like to be able to hire more minority loan officers, but we have to identify people that are out there. And it’s not as simple as just putting out an ad.

Believe me, we’ve been at this and it’s not that simple. And we do other things to reach out to the minority community. But yeah, we’re looking for minority loan officers. I would say the other thing would for me, would be to understand the experiences of our associates. It’s one thing to start a DNI program, it’s another thing to really go out there and learn the experiences of your actual employees. What are they experiencing? What do they have to say? And really get a temperature check. And that’s uh, one other thing I wanna do. Working with Senior Management  and sales, we’re going to focus on affordable lending programs.

There are tons of programs out there. But,  like I said, there, some of the reasons why we are not getting into homes has to do with education, not understanding affordable lending programs, the power being a first time home buyer. So we’re going to be focused on that so that we could, uh, get out there in the community and get people to better understand the mortgage process so that they can get into homes.

I also want to examine our internal contracts. We have contracts for cleaning, t-shirts, all the things you could imagine. And I want to make sure that we work harder to get some of those contracts into the hands of women-owned businesses and minorities. And the last thing I’ll say is that our HR group did a great job and they launched a program that’s called Homebridge, Homegrown.

And what that is, is it’s a program where people can come into Homebridge without mortgage experience and I wouldn’t say start at the very, very bottom, but they will be trained somewhere in the middle there, that they could learn various skills like processing, work the weight of underwriting, and things like that.

You don’t have to have a college degree, but it’s our way of getting people into Homebridge that could learn the mortgage space and not only do they get an opportunity to work at HomeBridge, but at the same time, we’re adding new resources to the overall industry. So, again, you’re out there, you’re interested in opportunities like that, call our HR department at HomeBridge. But,  that’s pretty much the bulk of my goals for this year.

Jackie Ferguson: That is great and so robust. You know, you covered everything from recruiting to supplier diversity, expanded lending for more individuals, especially underrepresented individuals, skills, growth. That is fantastic. That is really fantastic. If more organizations follow that lead, I think we’ll be in a better place by the end of 2021. Diversity is so much more than race or gender. Banking and lending has had to evolve for millennials and gen Z.

And they prefer to bank entirely differently than you and I did when we first opened our checking and savings accounts. Right? So how are you addressing generational diversity as part of your office?

Brian “Woody” White: So, how about I put it this way? Everything you just said is true. Millennials understand the tech. More about the tech focus and doing everything online with less human interaction. And that’s true, especially around the mortgage process, but I’ll say this. When it comes to millennials, for example, while they better understand the tech, they also still don’t understand the process of a mortgage. And they actually need a lot of help around the conversation, discussion, and support of applying for a mortgage, gathering all the documents that you need, and all these things.  They’re still younger people who have never made a purchase that is larger than a mortgage.  It’s a big purchase and it’s a lot of process. So I’ll say that yes, millennials can do it online and yes, they love doing that, but they still need help as well.

One thing that everybody also has to remember is that fairness and equity in financial services is governed by a lot of rules and regulations that are confusing to a lot of people. And that’s why at HomeBridge we do have the technology for millennials. You can go online, you can use your app, but at the same time, you can even use a telephone if you have to. Telephone is still important. But the thing about it is we also have locations all around the country and many loan officers out there that are willing to take the time and help millennials or anybody else. And I think that’s our path to increasing the mortgage space is that if you’re a millennial and you need help, you’ll get the kind of walkthrough that you need with a loan officer.

And at the same time, if you’re an older individual and you don’t understand the technology, we have loan officers all around the country and in Hawaii that will help you do that as well. So I think we’re well positioned either way it goes, but I like to separate a millennial’s ability to use technology and understand at the same time they’re walking into something that they’ve never done before. And it’s a massive purchase that they want to understand and that they also need help with.

Jackie Ferguson: Thank you. Yeah, that’s such an important consideration because you know, people who are dealing with lending banking, they have different ways that they want to approach it. Different needs, and that’s such an important part of the conversation. So thank you for sharing that. And Woody, pivot and talk about a couple more light things as we begin to wrap up. Tell us something about you that not many people know.

Brian “Woody” White: Let’s see, I’m an avid baker and cook.

Jackie Ferguson: What do you bake?

Brian “Woody” White: I’ve baked everything that you could imagine. I’m a master cookbook person. So I will watch the cooking channel, I watch HGTV. Lately, I’ve been getting tons of recipes off of Instagram, and  from the food department standpoint, I like anything that’s spicy, whether it be Soul Food, Italian, Indian, Cajun, as long as it’s got a lot of flavor to it, I’ll cook. From a baking standpoint, I’m not sure there’s a cake or whatever that I haven’t attempted to bake, but I’m also a unicycle rider. So I’m the one-wheel bike guy. No two wheels for me.

Jackie Ferguson: Wow. That is so interesting. I don’t know that I know anyone else who rides a unicycle.

Brian “Woody” White: I’ve been doing it since I was thirteen.

Jackie Ferguson: Wow. And then you also collect antiques, which you mentioned earlier, what kinds of things do you like to collect?

Brian “Woody” White: I like to collect antiques. I’m sort of an “interest” type of person. Like some people collect furniture and things like that. I do lean towards the technology side, you know, cameras all sorts of unique things, but I also get into just anything that’s of interest.

Just to give an example, JFK Jr. wrote a magazine called “George.” I have all unopened issues of George. I have that whole set that was made. I have an original green book about black travelers around the country; where to go, where not to go, that type of thing. I have slave shackles. I have all sorts of stuff. My house is a mini museum.

Jackie Ferguson: That is incredible. And, you know, just thinking back to the first thing that you mentioned was that you like to cook and bake. That’s interesting that you can do both. And I think it lends to the fact that you’ve been so involved in technology, but also very creative at the same time.

Brian “Woody” White:  Yeah. I love the creative. Just love doing it.

Jackie Ferguson: Love that. And then finally, Woody. What do you want to leave our listeners with today?

Brian “Woody” White: For the first time in my lifetime, especially some of the things that I’ve outlined for you that I’ve been through, this is the first time I see national activity towards looking into diversity, equity, and inclusion at a corporate and social level.

And I find it encouraging so the, you know,  the most I can think of right now to leave everybody with would be the uh, oldest writing-song, a change is going to come. That’s it.

Jackie Ferguson: Love that. Woody, thank you so much for spending time with us today and for sharing your insights and continuing to be a leader in diversity and inspiring so many. We really appreciate your taking the time with us today.

Brian “Woody” White: Oh, happy to be here. And if you ever have any other questions for me, feel free to give me a call.

Jackie Ferguson: Sounds great, Woody. Thank you.

Brian “Woody” White: You’re welcome. Great being here.

Full Episode Transcript

Diversity Beyond the Checkbox is presented by The Diversity Movement and hosted by Jackie Ferguson. For more information including the latest webinars and other DEI content, head over to TheDiversityMovement.com. Podcast production by Earfluence.

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