mPowering You: Leadership Lessons and Learning

((l-r) Laura Escobar, Audra Agen, Valerie Ausband, AMP, Tai Christensen and Julia Gordon.)

NASHVILLE—For women who have forged their way to the top, the path has been marked by triumphs—and challenges. Executives here at mPowering You, MBA’s Summit for Women in Real Estate Finance, shared their experiences.

“Ladies, we are making progress; we are making serious progress,” said Laura Escobar, MBA 2023 Vice Chair and President of Lennar Mortgage, Miami.

“I’ve been fortunate to have worked for the same company for more than 25 years,” said Audra Agen, Senior Manager with Accenture Credit Services, Phoenix. “I’ve asked a lot of questions, which have helped me develop a network of people who have helped me get ahead in my career.”

“I happened to be one of two people in my company who were of color,” said Tai Christensen, Chief Diversity and Public Relations Officer with Arrive Home, Eagle Mountain, Utah. “When I had the opportunity to become the public face of diversity in my company, I jumped at the chance.”

“I am here because of my friends and mentors; people who I have worked for, people who have worked for me,” said Julia Gordon, FHA Commissioner and HUD Assistant Secretary. “In politics, you have to have the support of a lot of different people. I have learned how to talk with people of all kinds of views. My goal is to find commonalities with everyone I deal with, and it has helped me advance in my career.”

The pandemic upended a lot of careers, panelists noted. “The past couple of years have taught me patience,” said Valerie Ausband, AMP, Senior Vice President of National Field Sales with Arch Mortgage Insurance Co., Atlanta. “I have learned how to slow down and be kinder to myself.”

“The pandemic has taught me how to reconnect with my family,” said Christensen. “As we are coming out of the pandemic and I am traveling more, I am working hard to maintain that balance.”

“The pandemic taught me the value of staying connected,” Gordon said. “I served on the Biden-Harris transition team, and it was the first—and I hope, the only—transition that took place on Zoom.”

Gordon said her greatest fear—and greatest challenge—came when she was nominated as FHA Commissioner. “I was worried that I would not be able to get things done,” she said. “The bureaucracy is a problem, but the skillsets are similar to that of the private sector. You still have to build relationships; and I learned you can get things done if things need to get done.”

During the pandemic, Agen created a podcast, Women in the Arena. “I was done with not being recognized for the work I did; I was tired of having to work twice as hard to get the same work done,” she said. “And I learned that many women felt the same way. I developed the podcast so that I could create a space for women to share their vulnerabilities with me. And I’ve learned that we are way more similar to each other than we realize.”

Christiansen recently changed jobs. “It’s been very challenging, working for a start-up,” she said. “But I value the loyalty and kindness of my co-workers. To be people that I truly love and care about has been the biggest reward.”

“My career is a result of figuring out how to be myself regardless of the environment,” Gordon said. “If you know who you are—if you take and inventory of your personal values and your personal mission—and find yourself in a room where things are different, being able to bring your true self to the table is rewarding.”

“When you conform, you don’t bring your true colors to the table,” Christensen said. “You don’t get to see the authentic me. We have to break out of the mold so that everyone can see the possibilities.”

“Early in my career, even 10 years ago, I was advancing in my career, but I realized that I had developed a lack of empathy,” Ausband said. “A decade ago, I felt like I had to conform. But I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of bright and successful people around me who have helped me to develop my true self.”

“We constantly hear, ‘you’re not enough of this,’” Agen said. “At the time I developed my podcast, I decided that I am enough, and I’m okay with that.”