As we continue our celebration of International Women’s Day through the month of March, we are pleased to highlight some of the achievements and breakthroughs of women leaders – starting right here with our Longbridge team. In a mission to #BreakTheBias, we proudly stand with International Women’s Day in their commitment to forge women’s equality.
For our latest “Ladies Who Lead” discussion, we sat down with Laura Cullen to talk about women’s empowerment, the importance of role models, and opportunities to shatter the glass ceiling.
As Vice President of Compliance, Laura is an integral member of the Longbridge senior management team and a true resource to all employees. With over three decades of experience in the mortgage banking industry, Laura joined the Longbridge team in 2015. Previously, as Director of Loan Operations at Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union, Laura oversaw multiple areas of loan lending operations. Her career in the reverse mortgage industry began in 2005 when she joined BNY Mortgage Company as Operations Manager. During Laura’s time with BNY, the company’s ownership changed to EverBank Reverse and then again to MetLife Home Loans. She proved to be an integral part of each of these transitions, working closely with legal and compliance to ensure regulatory, state, and HUD compliance within her divisions. A true expert in the mortgage space, Laura’s earlier career experience includes Operations and Underwriting Management positions at Countrywide Home Loans, Dollar Dry Dock Bank, and Merrill Lynch Realty, Mortgage Banking Division.
Q: What does International Women’s Day represent to you?
A: I think that it’s an opportunity to celebrate women. A day set aside to recognize women who have given so much of themselves to the world, and to the causes they’ve supported, as well as to acknowledge their achievements, and inspire young girls to understand they can achieve anything. International Women’s Day shows that we need to continue to educate people globally and raise awareness about the treatment of women that is still often unequal, even in 2022. It’s all about bringing these matters to the forefront and making sure that gender equality is a priority – not just today, but every day.
Q: What are some ways you could contribute your experience, wisdom, and ideas to empower other women?
A: Firstly, I think the most impactful way to do this is leading by example – being a strong leader and setting an example for others on how you approach tasks, challenges, and dealings with other people. It’s about being the best version of yourself for others to see. I also strongly believe in instilling confidence in others (men and women). Whether it be colleagues, those within social circles, or even my own daughters (and sons). I strive to foster confidence, courage in other women and drive out feelings of inadequacy or feeling like they are “less” because they are women. I’ve always been a huge proponent of building each other up. As women, we often need to be reminded of this because there are so many other ways society may make us feel judged, often in ways that men aren’t subjected to.
Q: How do you feel that Longbridge sets a culture of equality and inclusivity?
A: Equality has been ingrained in our culture since Day 1. When I started with Longbridge, we were a small company of just over 20 employees – and even back then we were pretty evenly split in terms of men and women. As we’ve grown as a company, so have the number of women in leadership roles with Longbridge. Our senior management and company leadership are always looking to promote those who have exhibited a great work ethic – regardless of gender, minority group, etc. I think that as a company, we’re very good at setting an inclusive culture. Longbridge employs is a a very diverse group. And I think that’s something we’re especially proud of, it’s definitely a strength for us.
Q: Do you have a female role model?
A: Yes, Ruth Bader Ginsburg! She was just such a brilliant woman in all facets of her life. From being a working mother, to a Supreme Court justice, to an activist, she was such an avid supporter of women’s rights throughout her entire life. I think she was a great pioneer in the fight for women’s equality and advocated for the cause relentlessly. Regardless of whether you agree with her politics or not, I think her willpower and determination are certainly admirable qualities for a role model.
Q: What advice could you give to women who are juggling between home and work?
A: It’s difficult. One of the main reasons for this is that women tend to take on more of the nurturing or caretaking roles at home. Even if you have a very supportive spouse or partner, working and maintaining order in your home is quite challenging, especially if you have children. When this is factored in with a career and home workload, it becomes challenging for women to really set that 50/50 split and come out on top.
The best advice I can give here is just for women to be true to themselves. At the end of the day, you have to be comfortable with your role as you decide it – whether that be as a full-time employee, full-time stay-at-home mom, or both. And this role may not always stay the same over the course of time, it may change. As a younger woman, you may find yourself opting to prioritize work and your career and seldom take time away. However, later on, if kids are in the picture, you may have a change of heart. Once day you may be a working mother with kids in daycare and eventually decide that it’s time for a change, thus focusing more on the home-life. It’s all about being true to your unique feelings and situation but allowing yourself the flexibility to adapt and change down the road.
Q: Do you have any advice for women struggling in a male-dominated industry?
A: Simply stated, don’t give up. If your work is something you feel strongly about and really want to pursue, then fight for your place in the industry. I’ve seen this firsthand in the case of my friend’s daughter. She’s a very smart woman and went to school for architecture, a field that doesn’t have very many women. In her classes, she found there were about eight men for every one woman at the school. And while she felt a bit intimidated by this at first, she knew that architecture washer passion. And then she did. She stayed true to her goals, graduated, and now has the job she’d dreamed of. She’s a great example of following your dreams, doing your best, and giving it your best shot.
Q: How can women find mentors?
A: I think a work setting is the perfect place to find mentors. While some larger companies offer mentorship programs, even the smallest companies can provide opportunities for mentorship. For example, someone new to the workforce or recently graduated may find a mentor in their direct supervisor or manager – someone they work with every day. I’d also recommend professional organizations and clubs, or like-minded circles of friends and colleagues of various ages. Being surrounded by people with similar interests, career goals, and fields of work is a great spot for someone to find a mentor.
Q: What can you attribute to the success you’ve had so far in your career?
A: I think my internal drive has been a key proponent of my success. While I’m a pretty low-key person, I set a high bar for myself. Many times, especially early in my career when I’ve started a new job or moved into a new position, I’ve thought of it as taking a leap. I’d think to myself, “This might be a little bit over my head, but I feel like I can do it – so I am going to go for it.” Having this mindset and self-confidence is key, especially when it comes to fighting off self-doubt. Having the confidence to put yourself out there and then take the next step to get to where you want to go will put you on a path to success.
Q: Do you believe you’ve achieved everything that you want to?
A: Absolutely not! There is always more to achieve both personally and professionally. And I look forward to all the possibilities.
Q: What advice do you wish you could go back and give to your 20-year-old self?
A: First of all, be good to yourself. Also, be confident in yourself and your abilities. And take time to smell the roses. Life isn’t all work, so you’ve got to have some time to relax and have fun. But get some rest because you’re going to be busy for the rest of your life!
Thank you, Laura for sharing your wisdom and for all you do every day!
About International Women’s Day
Since 1911, International Women’s Day has been celebrated across the globe. A day to recognize the cultural, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women, International Women’s Day is observed annually on March 8th. This year’s theme is #BreakTheBias, with a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.
Want to learn more? For additional resources and information, visit internationalwomensday.com.