This month, the world celebrates International Women’s Day 2023. And it's easy to wonder what all the fuss is about. After all, women are a force to be reckoned with – not only as prominent political leaders, but as scientists, astronauts, professors, and captains of industry, too…
Well, if only it were that simple. According to recent studies, despite the numerous opportunities offered to women over the past five decades, which have wrought huge changes, both in society and the business world, we don’t quite have the same established seat at the table as our male counterparts.
Things aren’t as diverse as we think they are
Indeed, a new report by The Reykjavik Index found that as many as 1 in 10 respondents felt uncomfortable about having a female CEO.
Similarly, Trachet – a female-led business advisory consultancy – commissioned a landmark study of the UK business market, which found that 28% of women in Britain believe investors won't consider them as a viable investment opportunity simply due to their gender.
Women account for 1 in 3 entrepreneurs in Britain, yet data shows that only 16% of all equity finance is raised by female business owners. Furthermore, the Reykjavik Index for Leadership (which surveys all G7 nations) found that in the current climate, trust for women in positions of power has actually decreased.
Trachet’s data suggested a staggering 52% of Brits share the sentiment that women must work twice as hard or be twice as qualified as men to reach the same objectives in business – an issue that is further exacerbated when it comes to female-founded companies.
Female leaders in the fintech space
As far as pan-industry results go, it’s not a pretty picture. So, how do prominent women working in the fintech industry see their positions and the future shaping up?
Maria Campbell, COO of Griffin, has pioneered inclusive, people-led strategies for tech unicorns such as Snyk, GoCardless, and Monzo. Her career sweet-spot is helping startups establish the right cultural and operational environment to scale successfully. Recently, she was recognised as one of the Top 25 Women Leaders in Financial Technology in Europe by The Financial Technology Report and as one of London’s ‘20 Most Impressive & Successful Banking VPs by Best Startups (2022)’.
She says: “Fintech is at the intersection of two industries that are both historically dominated by white, middle-class, cishet men. There’s still a long way to go, but we’ve seen some progress this past year; interestingly, I think this is due to changes in investor sentiment. Changes in the macroeconomic environment have led to hyperscale tech companies pulling back – especially those with products that are considered 'nice-to-haves', or who’ve focused on growth over sustainability. They’re no longer getting attention from investors, leading to large layoffs. In contrast, fintechs have remained more resilient, as they’re solving real-world problems and remain relevant.”
Campbell says this has resulted in fintech companies having a larger talent pool to hire from – one that consists of more people from demographics that are typically underrepresented in tech companies. “More diversity in the candidate pool has been proven to result in increased diversity in companies, which is what we’re slowly seeing happen.”
New trends driving a more diverse workforce in fintech
Meanwhile, a greater authenticity when it comes to diverse practices has also been brewing in the space. Rather like the phenomenon of ‘greenwashing’ in the past, some companies have hired more women merely to check boxes, rather than actually adopt better diversity practices.
Ben Aier, VP of Product at Yapily, leads a diverse team exploring new ideas and building new products within the fintech company. She has worked her way from a software developer to an Executive Director at investment bank J.P. Morgan, where she led Global M&A technology strategy and execution, before joining Yapily just over 12 months ago.
“The growing acknowledgment that diversity is not just a buzzword or checkbox exercise – and that having more female fintech leaders could increase a company’s ROI and culture – has made diversity the top agenda for the industry,” Aier states.
“There is growing accountability for companies that are not currently taking the necessary steps to build richly diverse workforces.”
Aier says it’s not enough to lament the fact that only 19% of tech workers are women and that companies do not get enough female applicants for job openings as excuses for this lack of diversity. Instead, companies have to question why fewer women want to work for them and take the necessary steps to build better hiring practices, foster transparent cultures, and fight harder for female talent.
“This year, the focus has to be on building this talent up: nurturing them, advocating for them, and mentoring them. But this responsibility can’t just fall to our female leaders, although I believe we have to be part of the solution. I haven’t always had mentors who looked like me or had the same background as mine, but they still had a huge impact on my career. Good mentors are the ones that listen and show up.”
Flexible working and the post covid era
Other trends that have driven greater diversity in the workplaces of fintech and insurtech industries are hybrid work patterns and flexible working practices, which were implemented as a result of the pandemic and have left their mark on today’s work environments.
Romi Savova is the dynamic Founder and CEO of PensionBee, the UK’s leading online pension provider. She launched the business in 2014 in a bid to simplify pension savings in the UK, following a harrowing transfer experience of her own. Before launching her own startup, Savova held key positions at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, while also possessing an MBA from the prestigious Harvard Business School.
Savova says: “Many employers have retained the flexible working policies first implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic, and this has really helped challenge the perception that, in certain roles, working from home or working flexible hours wasn’t possible.”
Savova explains that with a quarter of women stating that they previously had to take a career break due to a lack of flexibility at work, the adoption of remote working has helped facilitate greater participation for those who may not have previously been able to commit to working full-time, such as women with caring responsibilities and disabled workers.
However, change has not gone far enough. Savova would like to see much more done to encourage more women to join the fintech industry – including better access to affordable childcare and equal pay opportunities that are, she says, still a problem, even in the UK.
“With women only representing around 30% of the fintech workforce, more needs to be done to open up roles to those with diverse backgrounds to ensure a wider range of transferable skills and experiences in our sector.
“Offering flexible, inclusive working and offering equal pay for equal work is fundamental to hiring more women to work in fintech. One of the biggest obstacles to working women is access to affordable childcare, and we know this is one of the main reasons women take a career gap after having a child. As women are more likely to cut down on paid working hours to take on a larger share of unpaid caregiving or housework, they subsequently earn less than their male counterparts and find it harder to re-enter the workforce at the same level.”
Diversity starts with better education
But all the perks in the world are not going to drive change if fewer women than men are applying for opportunities in the fintech industry. The fact is that fewer women are entering into these types of careers because, even from a young age, they see jobs in the financial sector as primarily better suited to men.
Krista Grigg’s, Head of Financial Services & Insurance at Fujitsu, says more needs to be done from the ground up to promote the idea of careers in STEM to girls in schools. She says companies can play an active role in helping that to happen.
“Harmful stereotypes continue to persist in certain parts of the industry, and it is important to work towards creating a culture of equity. This will require more female role models and male allies to shift the culture.
“As we move into 2023, it is essential to ‘embrace equity’ and support one another by lifting each other up and celebrating our accomplishments.”
Griggs explains that industry cultures persist – and this is unhelpful. “In the past, the financial and insurance industries often saw women in leadership positions as ‘firsts’ or ‘onlys’. To remove this ‘othering’ connotation, industries must shift the narrative by elevating the profile of women in senior positions and positioning them as leaders on par with their male counterparts.”
“For younger people seeking meaning in their careers, it is particularly important to highlight the significant initiatives of female leaders in the tech sector,” she continues.
“Women in leadership positions can promote the social benefits that technology brings to society and motivate the next generation of female technologists. At Fujitsu, we host ‘Our Girls’ Days to promote STEM activities for children aged 7 to 11 and introduce them to females in STEM.”
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