Yesterday it was International Women’s Day. It was billed as ‘the chance’ to celebrate and uplift women. But for us, the message should be the same every day, which is why we’ve chosen today to put the spotlight on how we can ensure greater representation of women and other diverse groups in financial and technology roles.
Over the last few days, we’ve asked female leaders across the industry who have found success in technology for their thoughts on how more progress can be made.
Let’s embrace tangible equity
For Lauren Hoehlein Joseph, chief people officer at B2B payment fintech Mondu, it’s about putting aside performative social media and, instead, embracing a power push to close stagnant wage gaps.
“To be blunt, I’d like to see #embraceequity shift the #IWD narrative as we know it,” she say. “Let’s hold the venture community accountable for embracing a true commitment to inclusive investment. Speaking of investment, let’s embrace tangible equity and ensure that women are granted participation in stock and profit-sharing programmes at an equitable rate to foster vehicles for long-term wealth creation.
“Let’s acknowledge the privilege layered in this dialogue and embrace a far broader spectrum of voices highlighting the brilliant diversity, and individually unique challenges, in our collective experience.
“At Mondu, I am one of several C-level women, joined by many women across leadership. (Not bad for a one-year-old fintech!) Let me say it was refreshing to join an early-stage team already patterning the change I’d like to see. So shall we accept a day in exchange for a year? No. But let’s use #IWD as a motivator to extend representation, impact, and, ultimately, our capacity to champion each other.”
Ensure technology works for all
Fiona Davies, head of gaming at ID verification firm OCR Labs Global, suggests the industry can be more inclusive by creating tech that “works for everyone”.
“Inclusion, diversity and equity are not just concerns for chief people officers but for chief product officers too. One way the industry can embrace equity and be more inclusive is to ensure that the technology products we build can work for everyone.
“At OCR Labs Global, we’ve established a Zero Bias Code of Ethics for systems development that includes a commitment to building technology that strives to achieve inclusion and fairness. This is followed by all members of the development team, including data scientists, programmers, and other stakeholders.
“Machines can make decisions that are free from human biases, but only if we design, develop, and use them ethically, transparently, and accountably.”
Hire the best talent to innovate
In an industry dominated by men, it’s crucial companies look beyond to truly innovate says Daniella Rhodes, head of strategy and innovation at fintech-as-a-service platform Toqio.
She said: “Technology evolves at an amazing pace and we have to keep up with new technologies constantly, this implies hiring the best talent out there and having diversity top of mind when doing it.
“The fintech sector has been dominated by men and there has to be some strong efforts to change this because innovation — a pivotal piece of this industry — only happens when you have a mix of people with different backgrounds, races and genders working together.
“According to the World Economic Forum, by 2050, 75 per cent of jobs will be related to STEM areas. Yet today, women hold just 22 per cent of positions in AI, to name just one. Bringing women into technology results in more creative solutions and has greater potential for innovations that meet the wider public’s needs and promote gender equality.”
Encourage more women into STEM
Although women have made major contributions to science and technology – we are still majorly underrepresented in these sectors, says Rina Shainski is the co-founder and chairwoman of Duality, a provider of privacy-enhancing technologies.
“Only 18 per cent of computer science undergraduate degrees go to women in the US and only 27 per cent of women work in STEM occupations,” says Shainski.
“We must keep raising the participation of women in science and technology and emphasise the need for change. Achieving gender equality will lead to better science, workforce, and educated generations.
“Embracing equity can improve the welfare of all of society. Diversity should be key to every organisation, and we should foster the ambition of girls and women who seek to pursue careers within technology.
“Regulators should also be conscious of emerging technologies such as AI – which can perpetuate social bias patterns in various sectors including Fintech, when narrow historical data is used. This doesn’t just negatively impact women and other diverse groups but also businesses and economies.”
Tackle the gender savings gap
Sam Compton, director of operations at SmartSave Bank, a Chetwood Financial company: “Today, there is no good reason why men should have more money than women. However, the gender savings gap remains as stark as ever – recent research has uncovered that women in the UK are still saving over a third less than men. This ultimately hinders their financial freedom, limiting their ability to save for important life goals and even fund their retirement.
“Lower disposable income is the primary reason for this, while some women may lack the confidence to invest their money, or choose to take a career break to start a family. In the current economic climate, the high cost of living is likely to be contributing to even greater wealth inequity.
“Tackling these issues at the source is imperative, but most banking services today are too generic to help level the playing field. Creating more targeted savings products – products that take women’s lived experiences into account and make their lives easier – and empowering women through financial education are the keys to championing real gender equity.”
Showcase impressive women
The best way to succeed is by lifting others up, says Nadine Pichelot, senior vice president, finance at business planning software company Anaplan.
“Both the financial services and technology sectors are still heavily male-dominated. As a first step, action needs to be taken to attract women to these sectors. Equality starts with representation, so to challenge current norms, we must showcase the impressive role women are playing in the business world, especially at the top of an organisation.
“For instance, female business leaders can visit schools to talk about their careers and their experiences – from what they studied to how they’ve navigated adversity. If young women see examples of female business leaders, they will feel more confident in their own ability to reach those types of leadership positions.
“As well as encouraging young women to pursue leadership opportunities when they grow up, we also must support women in the workplace today, to instil confidence in their abilities and skills and help open the door to new opportunities. Women are commonly seen struggling with imposter syndrome in the workplace, partly due to the lack of representation, and partly because of the enduring feeling of inferiority.
“Having an internal mentoring programme can be extremely helpful in this respect. This is the kind of mutual support and allyship women need to fight enduring stigma and achieve equality. I am confident that the best way to succeed is by lifting others up. This is the key to collaboration and unlocking a more equal, respectful, empathetic world.”
Think about how we help people
“Every year when IWD comes around, I feel a little sad,” says Amanda Lieu, director of brand, product marketing and growth at fraud prevention company SEON. “Because truthfully, it’s 2023, and compared to the progress we have made as a collective in technology, innovation, and business, we are lagging way behind in closing the gap on equality.
“I look at the despairing stats shared by UN Women. These stats do not reflect that every organisation, from the government to the private sector, has made enough effort to bring parity and equality for everyone.
“This year, regardless of what themes different organisations champion, a simple pause to reflect is needed. What are we as individuals doing today to help shape our shared destiny when it comes to parity and equality? This I feel can give us much food for thought. For fathers and mothers, is this the unbiased environment you see your sons and daughters succeeding in? Are we each leaving a respectable legacy in creating a fair world for the current generation, never mind the next?
“We start to make an impact with simple actions and intentions from each of us. By allowing every person space to have a voice, by elevating talent rightfully, and by empowering potential intentionally. Simple gestures resonate and escalate wider to create a healthier, progressive collective of humanity. Empathy and compassion from each person are what make an inclusive environment.”
We need to learn from mistakes
There’s simply no excuse for a lack of inclusivity across fintech, says Lili Metodieva, managing director at end-to-end payment ecosystem provider Monneo.
“A few months ago, I was disappointed to read that while women make up one-third of all board positions in the FTSE100 only 15 per cent of finance directors in these companies are women. It reminded me of another report I had read a few years earlier, which found that female representation on executive committees in major UK financial services firms was only 20 per cent.
“It’s a similarly sad story in tech, with women equating for only 21 per cent of IT professionals and 12.5 per cent of engineers. Further illuminating this issue are the findings of the Tech Talent Charter, who recently revealed that gender diversity is six prevent lower in senior tech roles than tech roles overall. Clearly, both fields still have much work to do to solve this pernicious problem. When read together, these studies paint a worrying picture for fintech, which sits at the intersection of these two industries.
“However, rather than resigning ourselves to following this same, depressing path, it’s essential that we do our best to learn from the mistakes of both industries, and to ensure that we don’t end up in the same position years down the line. That means moving beyond words, and instead working to build a sector where honest dialogues around diversity can happen freely, and where proper accountability is demanded from businesses who fail to do their bit. There’s simply no excuse for a lack of inclusivity across fintech, and frankly we must be more resolute in standing up to the problem.”
Better outcomes are achieved by diverse teams
It’s the right time to discuss equity says Regina Lau, chief financial officer at Weavr, which offers businesses plug-and-play embedded finance solutions.
“I’ve worked in the fintech and payments industry for over 20 years, and the landscape for female business professionals in the sector has been changing markedly and for the better – initially it was unwelcoming.
“Fortunately, within the past couple of years, there has been much more awareness around the issue of equity and inclusion, highlighting the huge contributions that women bring to businesses in the finance and payments space and also understanding of the issues driving inequity.
“However, this awareness and understanding means very little if it isn’t acted upon in an authentic way. Thankfully, customers, employees and regulations are pushing VCs, investors, and general businesses to think more broadly about hiring and funding decisions, encouraging companies to invest their energies into ESG initiatives and diverse recruitment grounded in the knowledge that better outcomes are achieved by diverse teams.
“At the same time, no one wants to be hired or funded as part of a ‘check box exercise’, which can sometimes be the case for women. So, there’s never been a better time to discuss equity and access into the industry – I’d love to see more women in the space.”
Encourage more women to join the industry
As co-founder and CEO of Ledgy, the equity management platform for scaling companies, Yoko Spirig is one of the six per cent of female CEOs in the fintech space.
She says: “I’m proud that Ledgy has been able to maintain an equal gender balance in the company as we have grown, but it is a shame that this is still a rarity in tech. The industry as a whole needs to encourage fintechs to implement coherent diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) strategies. Ledgy benefits hugely from the work of our DEI Committee, which runs exercises and steers our policies tackling challenges like unconscious bias.
“But I think there are now more positive role models for women in tech than ever before. Founders and CEOs like one of our angel investors Mathilde Collin at Front really inspire me in my own work, for instance.
“We’ve seen for ourselves at Ledgy that traineeship programs can be a great way to ensure greater representation of women and other diverse groups in the fintech industry. We have been running our software development traineeships, designed for people who come from backgrounds outside computer science, for a couple of years now. These programs can encourage people of different backgrounds to explore careers in web development, engineering, and other professions where women are still underrepresented.”