Embracing diversity: Hear first-hand how the mortgage industry benefits by fostering inclusion
When Jeremy Hamelin was about to enter the mortgage industry four years ago, he admits he had some preconceived notions about how he may—or may not—be accepted by colleagues and clients.
In his earlier days in the industry, he recalls being mindful when choosing the words to refer to his same-sex partner.
“One thing I used to do quite a bit, I called it the fiancé trick, and it was my way of talking to clients about my spouse without giving it away. They could fill in the blanks, essentially,” he recalls. “‘Oh, my fiancé and I went to the zoo last weekend.’ You get to decide what my fiancé looks like based on that.”
But now, nearly four years in as a broker at Quickfire Mortgage Solutions, Hamelin admits that his initial apprehension about how the industry might react to his sexual orientation was largely unfounded. “I judged far too harshly,” he says. “The reality has been much more open, much more welcoming than I honestly ever thought.”
Handling the challenges that do arise
Hamelin has been fortunate that, so far in his career, he’s only had one client who ended the relationship specifically due to his sexual orientation.
But even in that case, he and the client managed to part ways in an amicable manner.
“At one point, I did let it slip. The client caught on through conversation that my partner was of the same sex, and she fully stopped the conversation,” Jeremy recalls.
“But what I appreciated, and I told her, is she at least had the respect to explain to me why we weren’t moving forward. She didn’t just ghost, she didn’t just ignore me. She took the two seconds to say, ‘Hey listen, I appreciate everything you’ve done so far. Unfortunately, we just have different values, and I would rather work with someone who’s more on my side of things,’” he says. “As much as I disagreed with that, I really did respect her for at least informing me of what was happening so that I wasn’t left thinking, hey, did I do something wrong?”
For others, however, the long history of discrimination is still far too fresh and personal. Monte Gannon is a real estate agent with Century 21 Masters in Edmonton and regularly gets referrals from mortgage brokers, including Hamelin. He recounted his struggle of coming to terms with his sexuality earlier in his career.
When asked if he’s always been comfortable being himself, he replies, “Well, I’ll say no because I was married to a woman for 14 years, and I have two children from that marriage.”
Although he’s been working in real estate for the past 15 years after coming out of retirement, Gannon spent the first 30 years of his career as a schoolteacher, principal and deputy superintendent of schools. While many in today’s younger generations only know of the discrimination that took place against the LGBTQ community from reading about it, Gannon belongs to the generation that lived it.
He recalls how he remained in the closet for much of his life, not only due to society’s intolerant views at the time, but also for the sake of his career.
“As a school principal in Alberta, I actually could have been fired. Under the School Act at that time, it said school principals basically had to be a model of the community standards,” Gannon says. “I was working in rural Alberta, so a gay principal wouldn’t have been very acceptable.”
He adds that he remained mostly closeted even after his eventual (and amicable) separation and divorce from his wife, and even after he ended up with his male partner, Brent.
But that did start to change over time as more people came to know Gannon for who he truly was.
“Over time, I guess I gained credibility and my partner and I were able to destroy some of the stereotypes people had,” Gannon says, adding that he was pretty well out by the time he took on the deputy superintendent position.
But there were still societal hurdles to overcome, particularly when his partner passed away. Gannon describes the challenges he faced trying to obtain the same standings and rights pertaining to benefits and pensions as he would have been entitled to if he had been married to his partner.
“I actually had to get people I knew, including my boss and Brent’s parents, to write letters saying that we had lived as a couple for 14 years,” he says. “Of course, I also knew of people whose families wouldn’t let them go see their partner when they were dealing with AIDS and dying.”
Learning to be comfortable in their own skin, in life and in business
These days, Gannon admits it’s much easier to be his authentic self, both in his personal life and at work.
“I think it’s way easier to just be yourself than it was 15 years ago, in no matter what profession,” he says. But he adds that most of his clients don’t know about his orientation, at least not in the early stages of the working relationship.
“That’s how it’s been,” he says. “I don’t lie, but I don’t wear a pink triangle on my sleeve, either.”
And if they do find out, Gannon says it can usually serve as a way to discover hidden commonalities with the client rather than be something that negatively impacts the relationship.
“I don’t think there was ever a time that I lost a client or an opportunity because they knew I was gay,” Gannon reflects. “I think that people accepted the experience and expertise. Maybe they didn’t want to hear about who I slept with, which I didn’t share anyway, but they would take you at a professional level.”
For Hamelin, he says he’s proud to have both the personal confidence, along with a comfortable and accepting work environment, to finally be himself.
But it wasn’t always that way.
“I think it really took until I was in my early to mid-20s when I really started to feel at home in my own skin,” he says. “Even with that said, from a business perspective, too, I think it’s always a work in progress.”
But for whatever insecurities or hesitation he may have initially felt about becoming a mortgage broker, Hamelin admits he was never going to let that fear stand in his way.
“I’ve always kind of been the type of person who, if I decide I’m doing something, come hell or high water it’s going to happen. So that was my mentality all throughout,” he explains.
“Whether it was facing a challenge or having that awkward client run-in, or someone in the office saying something offside. There were definitely days where you’re like, ‘Is it worth this? Should I keep going?’” he recalls. “But at the end of the day, my answer was always, ‘Well, hell yeah, I have to prove them wrong. I have to prove I do belong here.’”
Helping diverse clients feel more comfortable
As real estate and mortgage professionals have grown more comfortable being themselves in recent years, it’s had the effect of allowing clients, who previously may have hidden parts of their own personal lives, to also be more open.
“I find, no matter what, people do like to work with people like themselves,” says Gannon. “I think there’s a level of trust that you have when you know that your professional understands and accepts you.” Hamelin believes this is likely even more true for first-time buyers, who are dealing with the added stress and nerves of going through a home purchase for the first time.
“As a first-time homebuyer, you are completely relying on that expert because, let’s be honest, buying a house is flipping scary,” he says.
“So, if you have someone that you can truly see yourself in, that fear, that anxiety, instantly starts going away. And then you can actually enjoy the process,” he adds. “Because, as stressful as it is, it should also be fun. You’re buying a house, right? You’re putting down roots. That’s fun.”
The importance of this became apparent to Hamelin after receiving feedback from a transgender client he had worked with.
“They specifically sought me out because our team is part of the Alberta LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce. And they reached out to us and specifically connected because they wanted someone who, again, could relate,” he says.
“At the end of the process, what they said back to me was, ‘Honestly, there’s nothing you could have done better, because by you being you, you took away all of my stress. I felt comfortable. I didn’t feel like I had to come in here, learn about this scary topic and also put up a front as to who I am so that I’m not being judged,’” Hamelin recalls. “And that, to me, was probably my most wholesome moment. By being comfortable in my own skin, I helped another client feel comfortable enough in theirs so they were able to enjoy the process and not be stressed about it. That meant more to me than anything.”
Growing diversity in the industry, in all its forms
Both Hamelin and Gannon say they’ve noticed a growing diversity of professionals in both the mortgage and real estate industries in recent years and see it as a positive sign of the times.
“I think the whole idea that we accept people as they are, is very important,” says Gannon.
“Things have changed from the old view of tolerance, which was to love the sinner but not the sin,” he adds. “I think it’s changing more to where people are not only tolerating differences, they’re actually appreciating the differences that diversity brings, whether it’s in sexual orientation or religion or race, whatever it might be. I think society, in general, is appreciating what diversity can bring.”
Hamelin, too, believes much progress has been made in recent years.
“The real estate industry and the mortgage industry have kind of opened the doors. And I think that allows for a lot of different perspectives and a lot of different ideas,” he says.
“I think having diversity in the industry as a whole, whether it is sexual orientation, different ages, different ethnicities, different cultures, different languages, I think at the end of the day it just makes the industry, A, that much more accessible for everybody, and B, that much more comfortable for everybody,” Hamelin adds.
“It allows for personal growth and expansion. You get to meet all of these wonderful people from such different walks of life,” he says. “Being in an industry that is so open to allowing that and so collaborative, at least I have found, has been absolutely incredible. And from a client standpoint, the possibilities are literally endless.”