In a discussion I had a couple of weeks ago, I asked my friends the following simple question: “When you hear the word fintech, what type of person comes to your mind?”
Most of them answered along the lines of high tech computer lovers, who also wanted to make a difference in banking. Others answered rebels who want to disrupt banking for what it is. Οne even mentioned Elon Musk. Yet no one mentioned women who are involved in this sector. Everyone pictured either your stereotypical man that according to their appearance society has dubbed as a geek, or – once again – men wearing suits and ties.
This did not come as a surprise, especially since this is something that I, myself knew beforehand when going into this sector. And there’s plenty of data to prove it. A study conducted in 2017 revealed that less than 30% of the UK's fintech workforce was female.
Furthermore, research from Deloitte showed that women accounted for just under 22% of leadership roles in traditional banks and credit unions in 2019.
This is something I have experienced twice so far in my life. The first time I came across this gender gap was while I was a freshman student in university. You see, I chose to study Computer Science, which is a predominantly male dominated field. Or at least it was, when I decided to study it, back in 2014.
I will never forget going into the auditorium for my very first class ever. I was a couple of minutes late for the very first lecture, and the auditorium was already filled with people, or men to be more accurate. As soon as I entered, I stopped at the door and scoured the entire room for another female presence. I was glad to actually find some, at a row, at the very back of the room. 8 women sitting one next to the other, and a single seat left for me.
Do not get me wrong, I have no problem being around men. Yet when you find yourself feeling like a minority, the human survival element in you pushes you to group with your a-likes.
This pattern followed me in fintech as well. Most of the meetings I had, most discussions and email exchanges were with men. And it is at this point where I am going to stop moping around about the gender gap and start bringing you the silver lining in this situation.
There have been huge highlights in my career so far, one of which is meeting women working in C-level positions. These have been highlights not because these women are working in C-level positions. Rather because I got to meet great team leaders and inspiring women that had wonderful ideas and worked hard to see them flourish and make a change in digital banking and fintech. This brought immense inspiration in my eyes.
Another highlight has been my involvement in MoneyNext’s Gender Diversity and Inclusion in Financial Services panel, where I got to listen to incredible opinions from brilliant women. We talked about the current gender inclusion in fintech, the promising signs that the gender disparity is changing and to push this momentum to new heights and drive real change.
As Melanie Seymour says in Women in Banking:
“...Clients are driving diversity. Clients want you to have diversity in your workforce, they expect you to bring a diverse panel when you go to pitch, they expect to see diversity in everything you do.”
This is just one of the many highlights of this wonderful discussion.
This blog would be incomplete without a mention of Anne Boden. She has been an inspiration to many women across the globe, been so successful as CEO of Starling.
Her book – Banking on it – is a must for any reader, the ones who want to get a glimpse in the financial sector as well as those who are actively involved and an important part of the industry. But most importantly, it is a must for women who may feel intimidated to take a high position in anyt company they wish to.
Anne unravels her story, and in the process empowers women, by showing them the harsh reality of today while also encouraging them and sharing her hope that this is a changing industry.
In an interview with BBC, Anne Boden was asked:
And what advice would you give to anyone looking for a career in finance?
If you’re prepared to work twice as hard and are twice as ambitious, you’ll get as far as men do. You will have to be brighter than the competition and have more energy and work harder. You’ll get on if you do all these things. It’s about tenacity. Until decision-makers are unbiased, it will always be harder. There’s a huge amount of bias in men and women. You have to fight harder, longer. Find your role models and mentors, build your support network. They’ll make the fight more bearable.
All this led me to write this blog about 3 ways we can all empower brilliant women in fintech to raise their voices.
I am sure all these “recommendations” have been heard before. I am certain that I did not invent a new way to solve this problem. Yet I do want to stress some ways on how we can “Represent the gap. Until it is no longer there.” like Leda Glyptis, Chief Client Officer at 10x Future Technologies and someone with vast experience in fintech, wonderfully put it in her Girl boss article.
Breach the gap into the hiring process
One of the reasons why this gender gap exists is because the hiring process more often than not is being conducted by higher level managers. These are most likely men who have carried the same notion through the years that banking is a male business.
We need to make the hiring processes as a more diverse environment, where the applicants, of any gender will feel welcome to apply. They should not be discouraged because they might feel like a minority.
A highly interesting initiative for the removal of gender discrimination was introduced from Unilever Japan. As of 2020, the company requires that the CVs not include gender characteristics, no photos or first names. This allows them to have a more focused and critical view on a candidate’s skill, not being affected at all by their appearance or gender.
“...Everyone of us wants to bring their authentic self to the workplace and I believe that only in a workplace that fully embraces diversity and inclusion can give you that feeling, no matter your ethnicity of gender, it’s really about bringing your authentic self to work.”
Melanie Maier, Enterekt, MoneyNext’s Gender Diversity and Inclusion
This will also help the application process from the applicants perspective. When a candidate does land the job, they will be certain that it was because of their skills, experience or educational background.
It is these initiatives that eliminate all bias, when looking to enhance your teams with highly skilled leaders.
Help them raise their voice
Something that helped me tremendously in this world of fintech, is reading and listening to the powerful words of women. Yet this is not always the case.
It is during these last few years that we have seen the voices of these women being raised to state their opinion into banking matters. And it is with the help of their coworkers that these articles, podcasts and panel discussions that these words circulated around the offices of many countries.
We need to promote women in banking to become involved in these discussions. Most importantly we need men to promote more women inclusivity into these discussions and boost their opinions.
I am glad to say that I am part of a working environment who believes in thoughts and opinions of people no matter their gender or background, and gives equal opportunities to all.
Spread the word
In our panel discussion on MoneyNext, I mentioned that one of the most important factors in building a healthy and diverse environment is to be vocal about it in the community of university students. Or in general people that are actively looking into getting involved into this industry but might be a bit hesitant about it. The reason why comes from experience. When I was a freshly graduated student, but also throughout my years of studying, I hardly ever encountered anyone talking about diversity in the financial sector. There were no words of encouragement to take the leap into a field that might be of high interest to me, but the hesitation of feeling like an outcast, surpassed the excitement of exploring it.
Now times have changed. Companies are more involved in discussions with university students, letting them know all about the positions that one can be part of, what that looks like, expectations and growth.
Think about it as a parent. Would you want your son or daughter to come up to you and say “Hey, I would really love to become involved into X field but its a mans’/womens’ world”
I don’t know how you would feel, but in my case, I would feel disappointed in myself, in my contribution to this society.
We have to think about the fact that everything we are all working on right now, to make fintech a more diverse ecosystem, we are not just doing for ourselves, but also for the ones to come after.
Writing about women in fintech, I think it would be unfair to not include the words and thoughts of Leda Glyptis. She has been a very strong and powerful voice, and her penmanship never ceases to amaze me.
Here are her thoughts on this matter:
"Diversity of thought, perspective and lived experience makes teams smarter. Diverse teams perform better. Diverse organisations yield better results across all hard metrics – and all human vectors too.
"That we still have to defend diversity is not only offensive to those who have come before us and proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that you don’t need to be a middle-class, white man to do any professional job, it is also downright foolish: because it leaves heaps of value on the table.
"By leaving vast chunks of the population outside our teams and our organisations we deprive them of opportunity but we also deprive ourselves and our businesses and our industry of all their creative energies, dedication and effort. We rob ourselves of their ideas and enterprise and grit. Opening the doors to those not normally represented in our industry is not a concession to them, it is a belated self-preservation move for the tech and finance sector.
"Nobody ever achieved greatness by treading the same old paths in the same old ways.
Fintech represents change in ways of working, tech, business models. It is time we represent change in who we are and how we act. And how we hire. Because it is the right thing to do. And because it’s the smart thing to do."
International Women’s day is dedicated to celebrating women, but it’s a day when everyone should be involved. Speak your mind. Don’t be afraid to go into a room full of opposites. Think of it as the change you wish to make into the world!