An In-Depth Conversation With Fannie Mae’s New Chief D&I Officer

Economic inclusion and racial equity are among Sharifa Anderson’s top priorities. Here’s more on her long-term plans.

Sharifa Anderson, Senior Vice President & Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Fannie Mae. Image courtesy of Fannie Mae

This Women’s History Month, in celebration of female leaders in the multifamily industry, Multi-Housing News is sharing the voice of several women with stand-out achievements in their field.

Fannie Mae is strengthening its commitment to grow a more inclusive housing sector. The government-sponsored enterprise recently appointed Sharifa Anderson as senior vice president, and the entity’s new chief diversity and inclusion officer.

Previously, Anderson had the same position at Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh, but earlier in her career, she worked at Fannie Mae as a senior business manager, focusing on affordable housing and community development matters. She then took on a different role, serving as an attorney with different organizations, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In late February, she returned to Fannie Mae in the newly created role, bringing years of experience in fair lending, public policy and financial services.

To find out what her priorities are and how she intends to contribute to building a more diverse and inclusive industry, MHN asked Anderson to reveal her immediate plans, but also her long-term vision for creating a more equitable housing system.

READ ALSO: Meredith Marshall on the Need for Housing to Reflect Society

What motivated you to return to Fannie Mae?

Anderson: After completing a master’s in public policy early in my career, I joined Fannie Mae as an affordable housing and community development fellow, planning to stay for the two-year fellowship term and then head to law school. Yet, I was so energized by the work I was doing in support of Fannie Mae’s mission, I ended up staying for an additional two years in progressively larger roles, inadvertently starting my career path in housing access, housing finance and fair lending.

I’m honored to return to Fannie Mae with a broader set of experiences in a diversity and inclusion leadership role, especially given the incredible amount of passion and commitment to diversity and inclusion that is evident at all levels of the company and board of directors. I’m also especially motivated by the opportunity to advance housing access and economic inclusion through all of the business and activities of the enterprise, and to deepen Fannie Mae’s focus on communities that have been historically underrepresented and underserved by the housing sector.

What are your priorities as Fannie Mae’s new chief diversity and inclusion officer?

Anderson: My initial priorities are to listen to internal and external stakeholders to better understand current practices, opportunities and trends, as well as ensure our overarching strategies are comprehensive and data driven. I am also looking forward to exploring new thinking on how we measure impact and truly embed diversity and inclusion into all of our business decisions and activities.

Long term, my goal is to focus on the sustainability of Fannie Mae’s diversity and inclusion strategy and overall contributions to advancing collective industry solutions and actions with a focus on measurable outcomes, greater accountability and more transparency.

READ ALSO: Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac Lead the Fight for Affordable Housing

Do you have any specific diversity and inclusion initiatives that you’d like to implement at Fannie Mae in the next couple of years?

Anderson: I am excited about opportunities to advance partnerships that drive measurable outcomes, both within Fannie Mae and across the industry, and better support the communities and households that we serve. Internally, I look forward to partnering with Fannie Mae leadership to embed diversity and inclusion across talent lifecycles in all of our business units. Externally, I want to support greater diversity among industry leadership, especially as a lack of diversity in the overall housing workforce directly impacts our industry’s ability to understand and serve our customers.

Economic inclusion and racial equity are also top priorities for me—specifically the minority homeownership gap—as Fannie Mae continues to take steps to knock down barriers to homeownership and address inequalities in the housing finance system. My aspiration is that through our diversity and inclusion work, we will positively impact housing access, family stability, and wealth and life outcomes for the communities and households that are most vulnerable.

Why is diversity and inclusion a business imperative today?

Anderson: Companies are better equipped to solve problems when there are a range of perspectives and backgrounds involved in the decision-making process. There is an abundance of research to support the business case for diversity and inclusion, which has also been confirmed by my own lived experiences navigating a variety of professional spaces. There is also an increasing expectation of diversity and social responsibility among today’s workforce, especially for younger generations. Demographics are changing, requiring us to change the way we do business. Status quo diversity initiatives are not enough. Workplace inclusion is a critical ingredient to enabling companies to harness the full power of diversity—and the creativity and innovation that come with it.

In your opinion, is the housing industry moving in the right direction when it comes to fostering a greater representation of people of color and women throughout the industry?

Image courtesy of Fannie Mae

Anderson: We collectively need to do more measured work across all areas of housing that shifts outcomes in a positive way. In 2018, Fannie Mae started the Future Housing Leaders program, which connects college students to opportunities for paid internships and entry-level jobs with top industry employers committed to diversity and inclusion. More than 600 students participated in the 2021 summer cohort, and we plan to continue to grow that number.

Fannie Mae is also fostering diversity in the appraiser workforce through the Appraiser Diversity Initiative, which is designed to attract new entrants to the residential appraisal field and overcome barriers to entry, such as education, training and experience requirements. ADI provides scholarships to cover the education courses necessary to become a trainee appraiser, as well as connects scholarship recipients with active appraisers, including many employed by Fannie Mae, to help guide their careers.

We are still early in our journey but incredibly optimistic about current and future initiatives that will help people of color and women navigate and advance in spaces that haven’t always been welcoming.

You recently mentioned in a prepared statement that this is a “pivotal time in the housing industry.” Could you please expand on this? 

Anderson: Today, housing prices have increased and housing stock is low, making it especially difficult for first-time homebuyers. Quality, affordable rental housing is in high demand and the most vulnerable families are still struggling to pay rent due to COVID-19 and other financial hardships. In addition, the minority homeownership gap has grown. Yet, at the same time, there is an increased focus on racial equity and a greater understanding of the barriers to homeownership, including credit score requirements, appraisal bias and generational wealth.

And innovative measures are being taken to address these barriers in both the single-family and multifamily markets, such as incorporating positive rent payments into credit evaluations, expanding homeownership education through our recently launched HomeView, and providing a reliable source of capital for affordable rental housing in underserved markets. While there is always more work to be done across all areas of the housing sector, we’re having these difficult conversations and identifying the necessary steps to combat a legacy of discriminatory housing policies and promote a more equitable housing system.

When you look back, what is most satisfying for you as a female professional working in a male-dominated sector?

Anderson: Supporting other women on their career journeys has been exceptionally satisfying, especially as I’ve been fortunate to have a strong bench of both women and men who have sponsored, coached and mentored me throughout my education and career. When I entered the housing industry nearly 20 years ago, it was so valuable to me to see women—particularly women of color—in high-profile positions. It was also valuable to observe parents and caregivers navigating leadership roles, as I was entering the profession while also serving as the guardian of my younger sister.

Now, decades later, as I’m further along in my career and have two young sons, it’s important to me to model the possibility of having a meaningful career while also putting family first. It’s not easy to balance and I don’t always get it right, but I hope my journey encourages others in some small way.

MHN is proud to celebrate Women’s History Month by highlighting the stories of strong female leaders. What is your message for all women working in the multifamily industry today?

Anderson: We need you. We see you. We are inspired by you. I’m so grateful for the many women who came before me to make my existence and career in this industry possible. And I am deeply committed to creating space for and lifting up future generations of housing leaders, including women, women of color, mothers and caregivers.

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