The necessity of diversity and inclusion within fintech has become a core element of the industry and is just as integral to the success of its leading players as any other form of innovation. In recognition of its increasing status in the recipe for success, this month, The Fintech Times will pioneer the topic through a month-long investigation into how equality is really being delivered.
The Fintech Times is dedicating the month of April to showcase the fintech industry’s brightest and boldest initiatives aimed at championing equality, diversity and inclusion for all.
The task of achieving measurable diversity isn’t an easy one. Although the topic remains a priority across the board, as the range of experts joining us here will understand, actionable direction within the realms of D&I isn’t all that easy to come by.
Here, in the most dynamic chapter of this series to date, experts from across the globe share their slices of advice for companies seeking a more inclusive future in their workplace.
Forces for change with Panzura
Leading our conversation here is Jill Stelfox, the executive chairwoman and CEO of the data storage company Panzura; a post she has championed since 2020.
Stelfox and her leadership team and a gender-balanced board have brought about a ‘phoenix rising from the ashes’ story in turning around the Panzura in a complete overhaul to become the market leader in hybrid, multi-cloud data management within the short space of three years.
At the heart of driving real change was Stelfox’s vision to build an equitable environment that values performance, innovation and compassion. She very intentionally sought to create a culture that attracts the best, starting with concrete measures that deliver equity in the workplace and drive performance, reimagining how to attract and care for employees as a cornerstone of Panzura’s success.
She retains a strong belief that with this vision, Panzura’s employees are empowered to unleash their brilliance and drive innovation.
‘Bring your weird’
Explaining her unique approach to delivering diversity, Stelfox recognises how a lot of businesses think that diversity and inclusion are “about ‘balancing the books’ and hitting quotas.”
“While that certainly plays a role in levelling the playing field, issues of diversity and inclusion are far more cultural and philosophical in nature,” she explains. “It’s a case of who you are as a business and the talent you want to attract.”
When asked about what advice she’d give to companies looking to follow in the same footsteps, Stelfox comments: “At Panzura, we have a saying – ‘bring your weird’ – which basically means we encourage everybody in the business to be their genuine selves when they come to work or log on for the day.
“There’s this old-school expectation in business that everyone must conform to an office-based stereotype, but if diversity is to be truly celebrated, people need to be allowed to express themselves.
“This fosters a culture of empathy and inclusion and also leads to gains in morale, productivity and focus.”
Diversity from the bottom up
Being a tech-focussed company, Stelfox, in her position as executive chairwoman and CEO of a data storage company, recognises how technology companies specifically have “a unique challenge in that the industry is traditionally dominated by males.”
“But if companies can encourage diversity and openness from the bottom up, they’ll quickly see their managerial teams and boardrooms looking very different – and that has a knock-on effect,” she continues. “If women, for instance, see more women in authoritative roles, they’re far more likely to apply for those roles themselves.”
With this, she affirms that there’s certainly a generational shift underway.
“Things are getting better in tech when it comes to diversity and inclusion, primarily because younger people tend to be more open-minded and less concerned about who people are or where they’re from,” Stelfox comments.
“Frankly, most young people were raised by strong working women and simply expect inclusion. Businesses need to embrace this mindset and work harder to train their teams and have what we call ‘critical conversations’ to close the gender gap and eliminate prejudice,” she continues.
“It’s also vital to be as agnostic as possible at the recruitment level when it comes to people’s backgrounds, which is something artificial intelligence (AI) is starting to really help with in terms of routing out bias. There’s a stat from McKinsey which says companies in the top quartile for diversity were likely to achieve 15 per cent higher financial returns, so diversity isn’t just an ethical or moral imperative, but a business one too.”
The biggest challenge to diversity
Out of all the industries, Stelfox ascertains that the technology sector has the highest barriers to overcome when delivering on diversity.
“Talent is in short supply,” she explains, “so businesses do themselves no favours by narrowing that talent pool further due to a lack of diversity.”
“Before people even apply for challenging roles in tech, they need to visualise themselves in those roles and that’s difficult if they have no representation within the organisation. Simply put, if businesses get their diversity and inclusivity initiatives right, they will attract the best talent and find the hiring process much easier,” Stelfox continues.
“Tech companies should really consider this when promoting from within as well as hiring new candidates. By promoting diversity, you’re making your company more attractive to others from diverse backgrounds who might otherwise not consider applying if your company is male-dominated or comes across as non-inclusive.”
Although the sector is slightly behind the curve when it comes to diversity and inclusion, from her view, Stelfox confirms that the situation is “getting better year by year.”
“As mentioned above, the best thing companies can do is ensure their diversity initiatives run deeper than box-ticking and meeting quotas,” she adds.
“Celebrate differences, encourage individuality, and make time for teams to bond and get to know one another. By fostering a culture of empathy and acceptance, the diversity dial will start moving and the doors will naturally open for more talent to step through.
“For me, I’d say one of the biggest overlooked groups in the tech sector is women. It’s only in the last decade or two we’ve seen more women step into the world of tech, whether it’s learning how to code or taking an interest in data science.
“These women that have broken through the glass ceiling are pioneers in many ways, and they’re making it easier for other women to follow in their footsteps and break even more barriers,” concludes Stelfox.
A plan of action
The Rise Journey is a fully bootstrapped, women-owned, fast-growing HR strategy and organisational culture consultancy. Since 2018, the company has developed a team of expert advisors that span regions, nationalities, races, ethnicity, disability, socioeconomic status, immigrant background and other areas of diversity.
The Rise Journey regularly administers surveys to reveal where it is at and where it can improve in this respect.
The consultancy’s co-founder and diversity, equity, inclusion belonging and accessibility (DEIBA) specialist, Jes Osrow, works with growth and mid-size companies to operationalise DEIBA in order to build empowering organisational cultures from the ground up.
“I am intentional and take pride in championing diversity in our workplace and empowering other workplace leaders to do the same,” comments Osrow.
The power of humble beginnings
“What I have learned is to start small,” Osrow explains. “Don’t try to tackle everything at once. Take on one initiative at a time and think about where you can tie these efforts in with business initiates.”
Her advice is to consider implementing mentorship programmes or if your company has business resource groups (BRGs) or employee resource groups (ERGs), Osrow recommends hosting events that cultivate culture and community and then grow into other areas.
“Take a bite-sized approach rather than trying to boil the ocean,” she adds, saying that this bite-sized approach starts with three simple steps.
The first, she explains, is to “figure out your budget,” followed by the second step of “figuring out who your executive sponsors are.”
This process should then be concluded by “figuring out what initiatives your employees are interested in.”
“Whether you are focusing on employee development or workplace culture, start by implementing one initiative a month or one initiative a quarter and go from there,” continues Osrow.
“Oftentimes launching a DEI Committee comes first then launching ERGs but having some kind of budget is vital. Without a budget, there is going to be frustration.
“This is where you need to think about the cost of retention vs. recruitment and look at the metrics in order to determine where your budget is best allocated,” she concludes.
The Rise Journey recently launched Rise with OPHR, a self-service resource centre built with the one-person HR teams in mind. It offers over 200 HR and DEI resources, many can be accessed for free, to help guide organisations’ missions and objectives into alignment with best practices and culturally shifting HR and DEI initiatives.
Step-by-step diversity advice
Brooke Stovall, senior manager of diversity and belonging at Jack Henry & Associates, Inc., an American technology company and payment processing service for the financial services industry, concludes our conversation with a diverse range of recommendations for those looking to action diversity and inclusion.
Her first piece of advice falls on executive-level leadership support, which she describes as “essential for DEIB efforts” as it “sets the tone and direction for an organisation’s culture, values and forward progression.”
“Their commitment and support provide the vision, resources, accountability and influence from the top down to create and sustain an environment focused on DEIB,” adds Stovall.
Secondly, like her predecessors, Stovall also recommends establishing an effective plan for DEIB.
This, she explains, includes creating “a comprehensive, strategic DEIB plan that outlines specific goals, objectives and strategies for promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace.”
“This plan should be regularly reviewed and updated to ensure that it remains relevant and effective,” she continues. “It’s important to share this plan with your employees and also folks outside your company so everyone knows your plans.”
Stovell also highly recommends that companies prioritise hiring diverse talent: “Companies should actively seek out and recruit diverse talent to ensure that your workforce reflects the diversity of the communities they serve,” she says.
“This can be achieved by using diverse recruitment sources, adopting inclusive language in job postings, and taking steps to eliminate bias in the process with both your recruitment and hiring teams.”
‘Ensure that your workforce reflects the diversity of the communities they serve’
This should also be accompanied by providing DEIB training, where companies should offer DEIB training to all employees to help them understand the importance of concepts like unconscious bias, cultural competency and inclusive communication.
These steps outlined by Stovell are a surefire way to ensure the successful fostering of a culture of inclusion: “Create a culture of inclusion where employees feel valued, respected, and empowered to contribute their unique perspectives and ideas,” she comments.
“This can be achieved by promoting open communication, providing opportunities for employee feedback, and celebrating diverse cultures and backgrounds.”
Above all, companies must focus on offering equitable opportunities for career advancement. “You must ensure that all employees have equitable opportunities for career advancement, regardless of their race, gender, or other personal characteristics,” Stovell explains.
“This can be achieved by implementing fair performance reviews and offering development and mentoring programmes,” she concludes.