Tuesday, March 8, 2022 is International Women's Day. To commemorate the occasion, STOREYS is profiling notable women leaders in the real estate estate industry, and the difference they're making in the residential, commercial, and mortgage spaces.

READ: These Women are Taking Residential Real Estate by Storm

READ: Women Leaders are Changing the Commercial Real Estate Landscape

Frances Hinojosa, CEO, Managing Partner, Tribe Financial

Women MentorshipFrances Hinojosa

Getting into the mortgage space wasn’t actually the plan for Frances Hinojosa. For the founding partner and CEO of Tribe Financial, it was a calling that crept up on her at the age of 19; upon taking a job at the Bank of Montreal as a teller while attending university for her psychology degree, she realized university life just wasn’t for her -- and she hasn’t looked back since.

“In hindsight it’s interesting; it’s the same with most entrepreneurs, sitting in the classroom is just not for them -- they learn by doing. I got offered the full-time job, and I thought, ‘You know what, I’m going to take the leap. I will drop out of school, and if things don’t work out, I can always go back.’ Well, I stayed at the bank for close to 20 years.”

From that point, Hinojosa rapidly moved up the ranks, leaning in at every opportunity to learn something new -- including being one of the first and youngest female lending managers at the time -- before landing as a mortgage specialist and media spokesperson. 

“One of the things I learned as a woman during that time is, not everyone's going to put the opportunity in front of you -- you have to grab the opportunities as they are presented,” she says. “So, I saw opportunities with the bank, and it was a great training background for me to get where I am today."

After two decades with BMO, however, she started to feel, well, stagnant.

“I wanted to do more, but the opportunities weren’t there at the bank. I was comfortable where I was, and not growing anymore, and I’ve realized I love to grow every step of the way.”

That led her to a nearly three-year stint as a mortgage agent at Dominion Lending Centres before she got the urge to take the ultimate leap: starting up her own mortgage shop. And so Tribe Financial -- an independent boutique mortgage firm that takes an advisory-based approach -- was born in 2016. While Hinojosa says she believes in slow growth journeys, alluding to the tortoise versus the hare, business has boomed in the years since, with now four locations across the GTA, and $500M in volume a year. 

“Oh man, setting up your own shop… I think anytime anyone takes a leap in their career, they come to that fork in the road, as to where to go? Of course, there’s a huge fear aspect to it, and anxiety of the unknown. Am I making a mistake and am going to fall flat on my face?” she says. “But you know, one thing I learned early on leaving university at 19 and not finishing my degree, I had the ability to understand and recognize when there is a fear-based thought coming up, and how to really communicate with myself internally, and not let fear control the narrative of the situation.”

Women Mentorship

In addition to her role as a mortgage broker and managing partner at Tribe, Hinojosa is a frequently-seen face in the mortgage space; having been a member of Mortgage Professionals Canada for nearly 30 years, she now holds the position of Director, Ontario, on the MPC national board, and also sits on the advisory boards of Teranet, Home Trust, and Community Trust. She is a member of Brokers Who Care, a charitable organization of mortgage professionals who provide financial support to those in need via quarterly donations, and has been the recipient of numerous accolades. 

You may also catch her on the small screen, as she frequently provides the media with expert commentary, and co-hosts “On Point” on BHBTV by Mortgage Magnates , a show that educates brokers and consumers on mortgage news.

Sharing knowledge, she says, is the key to succeeding in business -- especially sage advice for young women just starting their careers.

“Sharing is the glue of relationships, and that’s what really does help you succeed,” she says. “I have never in my life been fearful of sharing my knowledge [with] other individuals and fear that it’s taking something away from me. And that's something really great that, you know, it's not to discount men, but I think as women part of our superpowers is that we really do intrinsically like to share and we care, right? We care about other individuals.”

READ: In a Red Hot Real Estate Market, Are Lenders Being Cautious Enough?

Woman-to-woman mentorship within the industry is, in of itself, a beacon of how times are changing, she says, pointing out that as recently as the '60s, women needed their husband or father’s permission to even open a bank account. Starting out in finance, her opportunities to be mentored by women that were above her were few and far between. 

Fortunately, that’s changed significantly within the last 10 years.

“I have to say, I was fortunate enough to have some really great male mentors during my journey, that understood and appreciated, not what I brought to the table based on gender, but actually based on me as a simple human being. But in the last decade in this industry, I have also had some great female mentors. And for young women coming into this I think we need to lean into ourselves a lot more, and be secure enough to share our insecurities and vulnerabilities.

“Honestly, it doesn't matter what position you're in, you have some sort of experience that is going to be very relatable to another young woman that you can help them along the way in their journey. And as we blaze our path, we allow others to carve the way for them, too. And that's so important. And we should always be sharing that roadmap to the younger generation, so they have an easier time than us. That's how we're going to get progression for gender equality in business, and especially in the mortgage industry -- lift each other up, promote each other up, always.”

Hali Strandlund-Noble, Senior Vice-President, Broker Relations, Fisgard Capital

Canadian mortgage hall of fame e1646686310549Hali Strandlund-Noble with her husband Darren, when inducted into the Canadian Mortgage Hall of Fame in November 2014

For Hali Strandlund-Noble, success starts at the family level. TheSenior Vice-President, Broker Relations, at Fisgard Capital Corp. -- one of Canada’s biggest mortgage investment corporations -- grew up watching her parents, both realtors in the '70s, and quickly followed in their footsteps. By 19, she was a licensed realtor herself, with her own office by the age of 21. 

As the family business grew, so too did her ambitions; by the 90s, her family had moved beyond the residential real estate sales space and had entered the investment and development side, launching their MIC and four Fisgard Group of Companies, with a focus on mortgage investment corporation lending. Today, there are a total of six, in addition to their management company, boasting 32 employees and three generations of family members in the business.

While Strandlund-Noble gained a rich background from her parents’ expertise in the industry, it wasn’t long before she sought career experiences beyond the four walls of her family business, taking on director and committee positions such as the Mortgage Brokers Association of BC. “I was looking to really find out who’s who in the zoo: what actually happens out in the real world,” she says. “It was also somewhat our family philosophy; my dad was the president of our local real estate board, and our provincial real estate association, and notary society. He was always part of the solution, part of giving back.”

By her 30s, she was heavily into the construction and land development financing space. She recalls how daunting it could be walking onto a construction site on a Friday afternoon while workers awaited their cheques and let a builder know whether or not she’d give them their draw. But it was these experiences that gave her the backbone she needed to succeed.

“I think I’ve got some pretty thick skin,” she says. “I never fell into the ‘old boys club’ scenario, but always held my ground as a woman, and I knew what I was talking about. I thought, ‘I just need to be confident in myself and be confident in my information.' But there were some very tough times, just trying to go out there and be a woman, and be respected.”

And she had to navigate those formative years -- growing her business at the age of “barely 30” and looking to be taken seriously -- largely alone, as the concept of mentorship had yet to take hold.

“At the time, that wasn’t even a word, not even just a buzzword,” she says. “You weren’t out there going, ‘Oh, can I find another really successful woman and ask, ‘What do you do? How did you do this? How did you break through the glass ceiling and be taken seriously in a boardroom?’ It was always the boys over here, and some ladies over there.”

Now an inductee into the Canadian Mortgage Hall of Fame, she considers herself very fortunate to have been surrounded by some great male mentors -- but she promised herself that one day, she would have the experience to be a mentor for someone else.

“But it took many years. I became the president of CMBA-BC in my mid-30s; I was their president for two years, I ended up being on the board at MPC (which was CAAMP at the time) at the national association, and became the chair there, and was only their second female chair, at that time. But even then, in the boardroom… There were a couple of ladies that were on the board, which was fantastic, but none of them wanted to be on the executive committee, or run for the chair. And I’m like, ‘Why not?’ And they’d say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to lose.’”

“There were some on boards and committees, but they still weren’t throwing their names in the hat. And I thought, ‘What am I missing here?’ And I truly believe it was that mentorship, the building of confidence, giving them safe places to try and fail without feeling like a lesser person,” she says.

That got her thinking about ways she could change the status quo. She was particularly inspired when, speaking at a conference in Melborne, Australia, she learned of a network specifically for women in the business. After attending their luncheon, she realized how valuable it would be to provide Canadian women with a similar resource.

Things really gelled in 2014, however, when she was approached by Suzanne Fleur de lys- Aujla, AMP, to co-found the Women in the Mortgage Industry (WIMI) group, a 4,000-plus-member-strong organization. The online forum is a place where women in the mortgage industry can connect directly, ask questions, encourage, and celebrate each other’s successes. It regularly holds events across Canada, and has won the CMA Best Industry Service Provider Award as well as the AMBA Innovation Award. Prior to the pandemic, members would regularly have meet ups, attend award shows, and even travel together, Strandlund-Noble says.

Wimi random awardsVarious WIMI events

“It was like one of those kismet moments where you’re like, ‘Wow, what are we going to do? She [Fleur de lys- Aujla] actually started the group -- she did a lot of the upfront work, and had the time and energy to do that. What I had was, I knew people and how to connect them. So we just started building this group and we thought there would be 30, 40, 50, maybe 100 ladies across the country, mentoring each other and sharing information.”

“When you’re in an industry together, you can bring people together and create community together, you create strength,” she says. “And I think that’s just so powerful. I’m so proud of what we do, and it carries on.”