For women in fintech, sponsorship is key
A recent global survey by the research firm Catalyst found that women hold nearly half of the jobs in financial services in many countries. That sounds like good news. But the same survey found that only a small percentage of women in finance ever reach senior management positions, and are less likely to receive promotions and sponsors.
As a manager in a financial technology services company, I believe sponsors are critically important to the development and empowerment of womens’ careers. While mentors offer valuable advice and counsel, sponsors go beyond that and take direct interest in seeing that their protégé achieves career advancement.
Twenty years ago, one of my high school math teachers – a woman – inspired me to combine my love of math and science into problem solving. She mentored me and my classmates well beyond the requirements of our high school curriculum. She also went even further in helping me move onto college and career success.
While in college, I applied for a tech job at a New York advertising agency and had the chance to interview with the agency’s chief technology officer (CTO). After I was offered the position, the CTO became my mentor, helping me navigate the complexities of my first real job after college. I will forever be grateful for his mentoring.
While I was working at the agency, I became friends with a female colleague who frequently had lunch with a male friend who worked at a top-notch investment firm. My colleague would often come back from their lunches in a bad mood. I finally asked her why. It turns out it was because she found out her male friend made about five times the salary that we did!
I was thrilled to learn that there were companies out there who were willing to pay five times as much for the same type of role I currently had at the agency. So I told my colleague that instead of dwelling on this information, why don’t we ask her male friend how he got into his role at the financial firm. He ended up sharing with us how he had demonstrated his knowledge of the investment business, presented creative ideas, and asked his interviewers questions that showed he was interested in them and their organisation. Beyond this mentoring, he also went above and beyond as a “sponsor” by recommending us to his boss. Low and behold, his firm hired us with big pay increases! My friend never came back from lunch upset after that. So the lesson learned here is, look for opportunities in any situation and always strive for more.
After spending most of my career working in both sell-side and buy-side firms, I was recruited in 2014 via someone I had worked with years earlier for an incredible opportunity at Abacus Group, an IT services firm specialized in the alternative investment industry. I was one of the first women to join Abacus, which had been founded just six years earlier.
We were small but growing fast. Before my arrival, new client implementations had been handled by a crew of support techs and engineers, with limited resources. I brought extensive experience in planning and managing large scale technology projects so I was tasked at Abacus with building out the company’s first dedicated project management team and applying a process-driven methodology. I have since grown into managing a global team of nine project managers who are dispersed across all of our geographic locations within the US and the UK. During my time at Abacus, I’ve been fortunate to have several mentors who encouraged me to create a true service culture while building out our project management team.
Serving financial investment firms is demanding. The clients need 24/7 support and abhor downtime. I learned quickly how to work closely with our internal tech teams as well as the business development and sales teams to meet our clients’ needs. In the process, I formed strong working relationships with top management, and as a result they’ve become my sponsors – advocating for me in my continued career growth. I’ve also built a solid network of women in financial technology and helped recruit some of them to our fast-growing firm. Today we serve more than 500 clients and have more than 170 employees across the US and UK. I love meeting with our clients face-to-face. I get to understand their business and advise them on how best to transition onto our platform and technology.
I also love mentoring women who are new to the field of financial technology. I often counsel them that it won’t be easy and the hours may be long, but the sky’s the limit and they have the opportunity to break the mold. I tell them they need to learn the business – they may know tech, but not finance, or vice versa. They should acquire mentors as well as a sponsor – somebody who believes in and invests in their career advancement.
My other piece of advice is to not take on a project simply because nobody else wants it. Instead, raise your hand for the ones that will give you visibility and an opportunity to learn and grow. It may be a challenging project – but go for it. I’ve noticed that women sometimes offer to take on projects that nobody else wants to simply to be part of the team, but in fact these types of projects can result in pigeonholing them and preventing them from acquiring new skills that could help them advance.
For anyone thinking about a career in fintech, I say go for it. Be brave. Be Bold. Look for and take advantage of any opportunities. Find a sponsor who believes in you. Be yourself. Break the mold. Take on roles that may be out of your comfort zone. Continue your education, not just in fintech but in science, arts and humanities to broaden your perspective.
I believe my success has a lot to do with my love of problem solving, but I also believe it is due to the sponsorship of many people along my career path. Now that I am approaching mid-career, I hope to pay this forward with the next generation of women entering the fintech field.
Fintech is a fun space, but the perception is that it’s not for women. Little by little we’re moving the needle.
By Meena Jeenarain, director of project management at Abacus Group
About the author
Meena Jeenarain is director of project management at Abacus Group, a provider of IT services for alternative investment firms. Meena has successfully led the build-out of a dedicated and process-driven project management team across the firm’s locations in the US and the UK.
She has recruited a talented team of project managers as well as developed internal talent. Her team is tasked with the onboarding, communication, internal resource tracking and project management for all client implementations.
Meena joined Abacus Group in 2014, having worked earlier in her career within both sell-side and buy-side firms. Her background includes experience in planning and managing large scale technology projects.
She has a bachelor’s degree in computer science and is Project Management Professional (PMP) certified. In 2019, Meena was recognised by Waters Technology with a Women in Technology & Data Award as “Support Person of the Year (Vendor).”