MBA Diversity & Inclusion Interview: Catherine Pharis of Wells Fargo

(One in a recurring monthly series featuring efforts of the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee, part of MBA’s commitment to increase racial, gender, sexual orientation and ethnic diversity within the mortgage banking industry.)

Catherine Pharis is managing director and head of the FHA Platform for Wells Fargo Multifamily Capital, responsible for overseeing origination and underwriting of all projects financed by WFMC using HUD’s mortgage insurance programs.

Prior to joining Wells Fargo in 2009, she was with Deutsche Bank Berkshire Mortgage Inc. (including predecessor companies) for more than 25 years. She has extensive experience in unique financing structures, including mixed financing, IRP decouplings, LIHTC and bond transactions.

Pharis has been a member of MBA for 25 years, currently serves on MBA’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee and has served MBA and the industry through advocacy on Capitol Hill and before regulators on commercial/multifamily issues. She chaired MBA’s FHA Task Force in 2011-2012, where she played a key role in shaping MBA’s recommendations to FHA.

Earlier this year, Pharis earned the MBA 2016 Commercial Real Estate Finance Distinguished Service Award, the highest honor and individual can receive from fellow MBA members, at the Association’s annual CREF/Multifamily Housing Convention & Expo.

MBA NEWSLINK: How did you become involved in diversity and inclusion issues?

CATHERINE FARRIS: I was very fortunate early in my career to work for and be mentored by Gaye Beasley, who actually was the first woman on MBA’s Board of Governors.

Back in the early 1980s, commercial mortgage banking was a very male-dominated business, so Gaye truly was a trail blazer in 1985 when she started her own company. Before joining Gaye, I worked for a developer, and, when I was looking to advance my career, was permitted to increase my responsibilities but was told that they could not increase my pay because the “other secretaries would be angry.” I took the opportunity to advance my skills, but as soon as Gaye offered me a job that recognized my potential l jumped at the chance and never looked back.

NEWSLINK: What grade would you give the mortgage industry on its diversity/inclusion efforts?

PHARIS: I would say there are improvements to be made. When I attend industry events related to affordable housing or government-insured programs, the audience has become much more diverse over the past 10 years or so, especially when those meetings target mid-level managers. However, when I go to commercial mortgage banking events that are geared toward the larger industry, with a retail, commercial and high-end residential focus, it becomes remarkably white-male oriented.

NEWSLINK: How has Wells Fargo prepared for the workforce of the future?

PHARIS: Senior leadership spends a significant amount of time discussing the challenges the changing workforce presents and strategizing on ways to assure that we attract not just the best talent, but a diversified work force.

When I was hired to head the FHA Multifamily and Healthcare team for the Bank in 2009, my boss made it clear that his goal was to hire the best people. With keeping diversity in mind but strong talent being his primary effort, he achieved a very diverse senior management team that included one white male, one black male and two white females (including me). Our recruiting team has a strong push to attract diverse candidates, as the only way to have a diverse team is to actually interview a broad range of potential team members.

NEWSLINK: Is it easier, or more difficult, to promote diversity and inclusion within a company the size of Wells Fargo?

PHARIS: Because of the strong cultural push toward diversity from the top, I think it is easier to attract a diverse workforce here than at many other companies.

Wells Fargo was just awarded the NYSE Best Board Diversity Initiative Award for 2016–our Board of Directors includes 44% women and 31% minorities. Women count for 50% of our officers and managers, with minorities coming in at 30% in the same category. DiversityInc named us as the Number 4 Top Company for LGBT and Number 12 Top Company for Diversity in 2016, and LATINA Style named us as the 8th best company for Latinas in 2015. I am proud to work for a group that lives their Vision and Values in this regard.

NEWSLINK: What resources would you suggest for readers who want to learn more about diversity and inclusion efforts in the mortgage industry?

PHARIS: I would strongly encourage readers to consider attending the MBA Summit on Diversity and Inclusion in November. The agenda is shaping up to be extremely informative and relevant to both single-family and commercial mortgage bankers.


The MBA Diversity and Inclusion Committee was formed in 2013 to provide leadership and guidance to help the real estate finance industry gain a competitive advantage by increasing diversity in leadership, workforce and suppliers.

MBA encourages its members to support these efforts and to recognize the competitive advantages of embracing a diverse and inclusive workforce and marketplace. For more information about the MBA Diversity and Inclusion Initiative, click