A business’s main purpose is to make money, but profits should not be its only concern. Consumers, investors, and employees alike all expect companies to care about more than just revenue.
Employees, in particular, want to work for companies that are eco-friendly and want to give back to their communities. People want to work for employers that go above and beyond the legal requirements, and genuinely have a positive impact on the world.
Companies are getting on board with this, and they are showing the sincerity of their commitments by setting environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals.
One employer that is leading the way around ESG is the US Federal National Mortgage Association, which is colloquially known as Fannie Mae.
Theisen shares: “My last conference was UNLEASH World in 2019. I am excited that I can start off where I left off” at UNLEASH America 2022, “my first conference since the world pressed pause” due to the pandemic.
Inside Fannie Mae’s ESG commitments
Theisen sees Fannie Mae as a “purpose-driven for-profit” organization.
As a major source of mortgage financing in the US, “we are working together to ensure everybody in the US, no matter their economic status, has access to both home ownership and affordable rental housing”.
Central to this mission and Fannie Mae’s company goals is its commitment to ESG, which Theisen describes as “really expansive”.
Talking about the environmental aspect of ESG, Fannie Mae’s core issues are “climate risk, climate resiliency, sustainability, and green homes”. The association provides green bonds, which can be “used by companies, governments or banks to enable investment for new and existing [sustainable] projects”.
This links in with the social aspect of ESG – “We’re able to…design initiatives for lenders to provide financing for programs that can improve the environment [as well as] provide an affordable form of housing”, according to Theisen.
Fannie Mae doesn’t just have green bonds – it also provides social bonds. “They encourage our lenders to provide rent-restricting housing subsidies for [individuals] whose income falls become certain levels.”
“Being socially responsible is part of our charter and our purpose. We take it really seriously”, notes Theisen.
This explains why eliminating “historical racial inequality” plaguing the US housing market; the Great Depression in the 1930s accelerated a two-tier approach to housing, and residential segregation persisted throughout the 20th century with Black Americans struggling to qualify for mortgages.
The final part of ESG is governance, and this is a really important piece to Fannie Mae. “We are currently in conservatorship” – the association’s conservator is the Federal Housing Finance Agency. The regulator ensures “everything that Fannie Mae is doing is governed appropriately and audited properly”.
This helps to guarantee “stability in the US mortgage finance market”, and “by extension” for homeowners across the country, Theisen explains.
Diversity as part of ESG
Clearly, ESG is crucial to Fannie Mae’s business model, but how does the employer ensure its HR strategies echo that?
For Theisen, Fannie Mae does this by ensuring “our mission is lived out for employees wherever they work” is achieved by “designing employee benefit programs that embrace those ESG goals”.
In doing this, Theisen and her total rewards team are always asking themselves “do [our benefits] embrace our diversity goals?”
Beyond diversity, Fannie Mae also wants to ensure it is an inclusive and equitable workplace where employees can be their true selves.
This is why it launched its Courageous Conversations initiative in 2016; it is a forum for employees to talk freely about challenges they are facing in their personal and professional lives.
The employer dialed this up during COVID-19 because leadership “realized that employees were really struggling”, so leaders started modeling “authenticity and vulnerability” and having “very honest conversations” with employees.
This created a sense of “psychological safety” to show that leaders and managers trust their teams and want them to speak up when they are struggling. The HR team taught managers “how to be authentic and human, and [how to lead] with empathy and grace in a time of fear”.
Fannie Mae’s employee resource groups also provide safe spaces for discussion. It has multiple groups for business leaders with African ancestry, Asian workers, veterans, those early in their careers, and LGBTQ+ employees.
Theisen is very proud that Fannie Mae has been recognized by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation for the eighth year in a row for its LGBTQ+ inclusion; the foundation also named the mortgage association as one of the best places to work for LGBTQ+ equality.
While Fannie Mae’s “dedication to diversity, equity and inclusion starts with expanding opportunities for our diverse employees”, it goes one step further by committing to only working with diverse and inclusive vendors, suppliers, and business partners.
It also wants to inspire the rest of the mortgage industry to do better around diversity and inclusion. Fannie Mae is primarily doing this through its Future Housing Leaders’ program; “we connect college students from diverse backgrounds [with] paid internships and entry-level jobs with top employers…committed to diversity and inclusion in our sector”.
“We’ve had a lot of success with the program. We’re recruiting more students from universities across the country and are connecting more employers with applicants from diverse backgrounds”, notes Theisen.
ESG and the ‘Great Resignation’
Given that employees want to work for socially responsible businesses – and are prepared to quit their jobs for companies that align better with their values – UNLEASH was curious to find out how Fannie Mae was faring in the ‘Great Resignation’.
Theisen is very clear that Fannie Mae isn’t just committed to ESG, diversity and inclusion, because of the competitive war for talent.
Instead, the mortgage association wants to be a diverse, inclusive, and socially responsible “because it is the right thing to do”.
“If it happens to benefit us [around talent acquisition and retention], that should be an aside”, notes Theisen.
She continues that Fannie Mae is always updating its benefits “to ensure we’re competitive and we’re creative” around attraction and retention.
“It would be naïve to say that just by adding these benefits we are going to retain our employees. But I do think if we are putting our money where our mouth is, and [employees] see that we’re serious about [ESG], [that] can definitely have an impact”, adds Theisen.
Hybrid work and financial wellbeing at Fannie Mae
Being genuine to drive talent attraction and retention applies beyond Fannie Mae’s ESG and diversity initiatives, and also to its broader workplace perks and rewards.
One new offering that has had the biggest impact on employees is the new hybrid working model. As a financial services company, “before COVID-19, we were all primarily in the office”, but now Fannie Mae has a model “in which employees can choose where to work”.
There are no set days that employees have to be in the office, and managers are not allowed to demand workers come into the office unless there is a clear reason or purpose.
Linked to this, “it is now required that every single meeting has to have a virtual option”, and Fannie Mae has invested in technology in its conference rooms to make this possible. This means that everyone is equal during meetings – this may be a small change, “but it makes a real difference”, according to Theisen.
This “flexibility in itself has been rated really highly…[in] our engagement surveys. We’ve realized that it needs to remain for us to be able to attract employees”, notes Theisen.
Other standout offerings at Fannie Mae are its financial benefits – “we’re part of the mortgage industry, so its important that we promote home ownership for our employees”.
The employer also helps “employees to become, and stay, financially healthy”, but Theisen also wants to help employees plan for the future and look at “what it takes to grow and develop their career to earn more money”.
Want to learn more about Fannie Mae’s extensive perks and benefits? Carrie Theisen will be speaking at our UNLEASH America event in Las Vegas (25-26 May).
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