Leading The Way: Woman-To-Woman Advice About Growing Your Career

Real Estate

One of the biggest challenges facing women in the housing industry is how to grow in their careers. Building a strategy to network and push yourself forward, as well as researching fair compensation, can be a daunting task, especially if you are busy working the business you have and caring for your family.

Jessica Siguenza

Women can oftentimes find themselves staying in positions longer, with more responsibilities, but with no real traction for promotions. We interviewed real estate and mortgage marketing expert Jessica Siguenza about her recent promotion. Making moves in the finance sector can present many hurdles for young women. 

Siguenza has used her bubbly personality, strong work ethic, and networking through Orange County’s Young Professionals Network (YPN), Orange County Realtors, and WomanUp! to her advantage over the years. Instead of being too busy to grow, she made it her personal mission to thrive and help as many women as she could along the way.  

Siguenza’s career in finance began in the operations department at a large bank. She transitioned into the mortgage banking arena, where for nine years, she polished her skills within quality control and later as a Business Development Executive for Finance of America Mortgage. 

Formally regional chair and later vice-president, she fulfilled a long-time bucket list item of founding a national non-profit. Jessica recently transitioned into the role of Director of Strategic Initiatives for Partners Mortgage (DBA of Synergy One Lending, Inc.) and she took a few moments from her jam-packed schedule to talk about how tenacity and patience led her to her newfound success. 

What are some important things you did along the way to move your career forward?

No matter what position I was in — entry-level, manager, or VP, I always gave it my best. Your best goes a long way. I carved out a niche for myself based on my ability to gain trust, help others embrace change and move big ideas forward.

I build rapport with people around me so that they invest in me and bring my name forward – even in conversations that I’m not a party to. I’m mindful of the people around me. I treat everyone with the same value, no matter their role or station. I believe everyone has something to bring.

I’ve built a strong community around me both internally within the companies I worked for and externally with outside organizations. My time spent outside of work has been extremely valuable to my success. 

Keeping close connections with people who knew me in high school or before I entered mortgage grounded me and they pushed me to achieve greater than what I could just see for myself.

The ability to be both a learner and a teacher has been crucial. I focus on the person in front of me as best I can and give them the respect of the moment.

How much value do you place on communication and ‘soft skills’?

I don’t think communication is a “soft skill.” It’s a hard skill and one that needs to be consistently used and refined. Successful people are good communicators, and they are willing to communicate about tough topics and tackle communicating in situations where there are high stakes and high stress.

 This translates into building trust and reliability with those around them. In tough times and on tough days, you must be willing to step into the ring and take a few punches and bruises, and then pick yourself up and go forward to make those meaningful connections made from tough communications!

When you embrace what society views as “soft skills,” it can bring opportunity.

A long-held bucket list item for me was to open a non-profit. Since leading a non-profit organization, first as a Regional Chair of California and later as the VP of the nationwide organization, I’ve learned the value of investing in soft skills.

While I don’t pretend to be an expert communicator, I do know the power of it. Effective communication skills either get your idea adopted, get you the promotion you’ve always wanted or, in the love realm, the spouse of your dreams.

Being a mom of a five-year-old whose future depends on my ability to communicate has grown me immensely in the business space. Parenting is one of the most challenging and most rewarding experiences of my life and I am a better leader, better business woman and better human for it.

What’s it like being a woman in finance, especially when working with more men in leadership/manager roles?

Representation matters. I had the honor of being part of the California Association of Realtors WomanUP!, an initiative that has a commitment to helping women see themselves and take jobs as leaders of real estate brokerages and companies. 

Having that outlet for myself was, in hindsight, one of the best things I could have done for myself and my career. While this organization doesn’t exist in the mortgage space, it certainly helped me to achieve and want more from my life.

To be a woman in finance means carving out space where space may not have existed. To be a woman in finance you blaze trails for other women to speak up and toss their hats in the ring. To be a woman in finance takes grit and grace and commitment and courage.

Maternity leave in finance and across all organizations needs to be at the forefront of conversations in terms of employee wellness and benefits. We can do better. I believe it.

Why do you think it’s important to help other women around you with their careers?

Selfishly, it’s important to me because I don’t have to carry the full burden of being the female courage in the room — I don’t have to carry the full load on my shoulders.

It’s important to me to pave the way for the next generation of women leaders. I want them to recognize and see their self-worth long before I was able to do it for myself.

Paying it forward means I can help dispel the myth of “catty women.” I’ve always wanted to be the supportive one. I’m a better person if they ever challenge my ideas because I view other successful women as allies, not competitors.

The only person I compete with is myself. Life will give me only what I am courageous enough to ask for.

I think it’s important to help other women because I have younger cousins and family members who depend on me. I want them to do and be whatever they want in this world.

Do you think women wait longer to seek promotions?

When I knew I wanted to be a mom, I turned down several different career opportunities when Noah was younger — and I have no regret about that. But I wish I had a mentor or another working mom who could have maybe showed me how to balance it all. Being a working mom became part of my title — being a mom is also a profession! 

At the time these promotions presented themselves I was a single mom carrying the load of building a business in a new county and figuring out how to care for a little human for the first time.

Oftentimes the internal work I did on myself to grow in motherhood I apply to my job and visa versa. There is probably also space in this to chat about self-doubt around not feeling like I was ready or deserved the positions, as well.

The mental part of actually going for a promotion is intense and my mindset is consistently something I work on. When I interviewed with a new company for my current position, I made it very clear to them my plans to have a second child in the next couple of years and that if I accepted this position, it needed to work around that scenario. I’m grateful to have that support around me.

Deciding to leave: When do you know you have outgrown your position and are limiting yourself by staying?

A snake sheds its skin once a month on average, a process that lasts between seven and 14 days. The purpose of this process is so the snake can keep growing; their old skin doesn’t fit them, so they need to lose it to survive and get stronger.

I saw my move to a new company as shedding my skin to grow and get stronger.

I finally accepted my appraised value in the marketplace and embraced it so I could move on. That said, I shed many tears over this decision as it meant leaving a lot of solid relationships and friendships behind. But in the end, I thought I’d be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t explore the opportunity.

Some key factors of knowing that you have outgrown your position are boredom, languor, and the lack of direction that inspires you. If that little voice in your head doesn’t leave you, it’s a sign. It’s time for growth. The LeAnn Rimes song “One Way Ticket” was on repeat, and it brought me peace with finally acknowledging that I had outgrown my current position.

What advice do you give to help support other women in the industry, especially other single working moms who are creating careers?

Build a great community around you! What that looked like for me was being the bread earner for my household. Before Noah, my son, was born, my mom and I discussed her quitting her job to be a full-time grandma so that I could build my career. I moved to Orange County my third trimester of pregnancy and I had no community around me.

I had ambitions and goals at my previous company that I didn’t want to give up, so after maternity leave my Mom watched Noah while I transitioned back into the workforce. During that build, I didn’t make very much money and we could barely make it. I remember being so stressed about buying diapers.

At that time I lived from one small diaper pack to one small diaper pack. When I made enough to buy a big package of diapers, I learned to pat myself on the back and remind myself that I could do it!

What’s next? What are your goals for growth in your new position?

I’m excited to open my heart to a new set of people and lay down a new set of footprints. My role as Director of Strategic Initiatives is not just about metrics; it is about the ability to grow and encourage a new community of people to achieve their piece of the American dream.

My job duties are varied: recruiting campaigns to hire branch managers and mortgage advisors as well as planning events to aid growth and brand recognition.

I’m particularly excited to bring financial literacy events to local community colleges, the community at large and hopefully a few high schools by the end of the year. With marketing, I design branded content, video content and provide social media support since that’s been my bread and butter over the last five-plus years.

I’m looking forward to working and building up new leaders to grow with me. It will also allow me to spread my wings up and down the state.

By day, Rachael Hite helps agents develop their business. By night, she’s tweeting and blogging. Feel free to tweet her @rachaelhite.

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