A Conversation with Charmaine Brown, MBA Director of Diversity & Inclusion
The Mortgage Bankers Association recently hired mortgage industry veteran Charmaine Brown to fill its newly created position of Director of Diversity and Inclusion.
Brown is responsible for developing, promoting and advancing diversity and inclusion programs for the real estate finance industry.
Brown brings to MBA an extensive background in business development, corporate social responsibility, diversity and inclusion and community relations. Most recently, she served as Chief Equity Officer for Charles County, Md., where she developed an Equity Plan for County Government and was appointed Co-Chair for the Maryland Commission on Climate Change, responsible for climate and environmental equity.
Prior to that post, Brown worked in various roles at Fannie Mae for more than 20 years. Her most recent position was as Diversity Director in Fannie Mae’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion where she was responsible for creating training and development programs and promoting inclusionary, corporate-wide engagement. Her successful leadership in this role included developing a D&I action plan, creating unconscious bias workshops for customers and diversity recruitment.
Brown holds a Master of Arts in Communications from Johns Hopkins University; and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Bowie State University. She also earned Diversity and Inclusion certificates from the Intercultural Development Institute, Harvard Kennedy School, Cornell Labor Relations School and The Conference Board.
MBA NewsLink spoke with Brown about her goals and objectives with MBA. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
MBA NEWSLINK: You are coming into a newly created position here at MBA. What attracted you to this opportunity?
CHARMAINE BROWN: I think the first thing was best summarized back in 2020 what [MBA President & CEO] Bob [Broeksmit] said. In that message, Bob said that MBA is the envy of a great many peers in the industry because of its talent. And that is why I found this organization and this position to be so attractive; doing the work for an organization that has a reputation for exceptional leadership and talent is the first thing that attracted me.
I also had some previous familiarity with MBA, having delivered a number of D&I Webinars, and seeing MBA’s growth in the D&I Space from your inaugural D&I Conference to where you are today is incredible.
NEWSLINK: What do you see as your most important goal here at MBA?
BROWN: I have a number of goals, including creating a multi-year strategic plan; but if I distilled it down to the most important it is to reinforce MBA’s culture of inclusion. We know that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Equally important is understanding the DEI needs of MBA’s members and being responsive to those needs.
I will be working with Lisa Haynes [MBA Senior Vice President, Chief Financial Officer and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer] and the MBA Senior Management Team to develop and implement.
NEWSLINK: Even as recently as a couple of years ago, few, if any, companies would have a position devoted solely to diversity and inclusion. Are you encouraged by the growing willingness of employers to address diversity and inclusion issues?
BROWN: I am very encouraged. I worked for a company prior to MBA, Fannie Mae, that had a dedicated department to D&I back in 1992. Seeing now that companies are getting on board is absolutely encouraging. And it’s clear in terms of the business case—we know that diversity leads to better financial performance; we see greater opportunities in the C-Suite and in senior management. We are making tremendous progress. When I was at Fannie Mae, the work we started in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion immersed me in barriers to safe, decent, affordable housing for minorities and how applying D&I principles addressed these barriers.
NEWSLINK: You recently moderated your first all-MBA staff open dialogue on a number of issues—the recent violence at the U.S. Capitol, the elections, the current political environment and ongoing social disparities. What were your takeaways from that session?
BROWN: My biggest takeaway was that the MBA leadership is truly committed to doing the work of diversity, equity and inclusion. I was impressed with all the levels of participation from the employees. But the only way for diversity, equity and inclusion to work is to have it come from the top. To have Bob and the senior management team leading the discussion let me to believe that I had made the right decision to come here.
And the dialogue was important, too; it wasn’t so much what people said; it was their willingness to engage.
NEWSLINK: Why is it important for employers and employees to have “uncomfortable conversations” about diversity and inclusion?
BROWN: The data speaks for itself. According to McKinsey and Glassdoor, 75% of Millennials expect their employers to take a stand on issues affecting constitutional rights. Sixty-six percent want to hear employers speak about social issues. And 50% expect managers to carve out time in meetings to solve social issues. There is an expectation that companies will not only focus on the bottom line, but to create a better world.
What we’ve seen happening over the past couple of years—we’ve almost been pushed to have these uncomfortable conversations. When you build the muscle and the competency to have uncomfortable conversations, employees will feel more confident in voicing their concerns. And the added benefit is, employees become more comfortable raising voices when they see behaviors that are more harmful to the business.
NEWSLINK: You’ve mentioned “diversity, equity and inclusion” several times. Why is “equity” important to the mix?
BROWN: Diversity is about representation. Inclusion focuses on culture—belonging, having a seat at the table without fear of retaliation. Equity is about outcome. It’s a natural part of any conversation about diversity and inclusion. It ensures that people are given the tools they need to fulfill their potential; Any robust DE&I program must look at equitable outcomes and creating condition for everyone to thrive.
NEWSLINK: How can senior management and middle management at companies better encourage an environment that supports diversity and inclusion? And how can employees encourage that environment, too?
BROWN: It is top-down and bottom up. A good example at MBA is the Embrace Team Group, which supports us with these issues. But bottom-up is not going to happen without top-down encouragement. Without the right tone at the top, and action at the top, progress will be minimal. The data says it; my own experience says that. My attitude is you dig the well before your thirsty. Don’t be forced to do the right thing—you won’t get credit for it, anyway. That’s why leadership is so important, you have to lead and show everyone the North Star. And if you do that, you will get bottom-up engagement.
I’m so encouraged by what I’m seeing at MBA. We have incredible leaders in Bob and Lisa. They understand the importance of setting the tone and ensuring that it takes hold company-wide.
For more information about the MBA Diversity and Inclusion Initiative, click here.
To learn more about MBA’s Diversity and Inclusion efforts, visit www.mba.org/diversity.