How women can lead the diversity movement in the fintech/payments industry
Choices. Empowerment. Leadership. Seat at the table.
These concepts are regularly discussed by many females in the professional world these days.
Any woman who has worked hard to establish a career in fintech knows that it can be a challenge. Doubt that? Think about the boardroom and who you typically see seated at the table.
Growing up in Poland, I was heavily influenced by the lack of choices and opportunities for career mobility that women faced. That reality turned me into a person who desires to empower other people, especially women, to seek possibilities for growth. But while women have made considerable progress in the last few decades, we need more overall effort to make it to the top.
Best estimates put the percentage of women working in computing-related occupations at a measly 26%, according National Centre for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) – and this despite the fact that women make up more than half of the US workforce.
The numbers in fintech are only marginally better. While the payment industry has been transformed by the introduction of innovative services and delivery channels, the makeup of our major financial institutions has remained relatively insulated from such disruption. A 2018 survey conducted by Lend Academy reveals that only 37% of employees in fintech are women.
Most telling, however, is that 83% of the companies who responded to Lend Academy’s questionnaire have adopted formal gender equality policies. How are we to account for this disconnect between our industry’s stated intentions and its actual achievements in regards to nurturing female talent and promoting equal representation? I’d like to help close this gap by sharing some personal insights and advice and contribute to the global dialog on gender equality.
Study after study shows that women in male-dominated industries are often expected to exhibit certain behaviors. These stereotypes can cling tenaciously to even the most accomplished and innovative of female professionals. Learning that none of what you do will make a difference if you are not authentic, however, can be a hard lesson when you are measuring yourself according to others’ expectations.
Flipping this script is the best way to activate your own unique superpower. Women in the workplace simply have more at stake in believing – as I do – that we don’t have to fit in a box with everyone else. Each of us always has something valuable to contribute.
Being yourself and having the courage to stand up for what matters to you are components of living a true life. And bringing your whole self to work is a big factor in creating a healthy and rewarding work environment. If you truly love what you do, there’s no reason to settle for less.
So, speak up for yourself and your ideas. Own your expertise and your success. Don’t fill your communications with apologies and equivocations. If your inner critic isn’t offering constructive feedback, silence it. If you want something you feel you’ve earned, ask for it. All in all, trust that what you do is meaningful and creates value.
Find your tribe
You may be a superhero, but you can’t always do it alone.
Find a strong, empathetic support group who can help you cope with the inevitable frustrations and challenges that come with managing any career. When considering your next move, don’t just focus on locating that “dream job.” Seek out your “dream team” – one that will inspire you to deliver your best. That’s the foundation for your success.
Form strategic business partnerships. Collaborate with other technology solution providers, vendors, and clients to create synergies that leverage each other’s capabilities. Invest in each other’s successes, and don’t forget to celebrate those together.
Finally, don’t neglect your rising female leaders. Know that they could use your support as well. For example, even if you don’t feel comfortable serving as a mentor or role model, you can draw attention to the women who have been your North Stars.
Prioritise retention as much as recruitment
Hiring women, especially to fill senior positions, is one way to promote gender equality. But recruitment is only one way to make progress toward this goal. Retention – itself a prerequisite for professional development and advancement – is just as critical.
As of 2018, only 33 Fortune 500 CEOs were women. The fact that this is an all-time high shows we are making progress in recent years. But we can clearly see we’re not doing enough to support women’s ongoing development, to encourage them to stay in fintech and rise to the executive level. According to the World Economic Forum, 46% of employees in financial services are women – but less than 15% are executives. At the same time, startup funding disproportionately favours men, with female founders scoring a paltry 2.3% of venture capital. It’s no wonder the number of women at the boardroom level is rising so slowly.
How do we convince more women to stay in fintech? We show them what’s possible if they do. If an organisation has many inspiring women in leadership positions, it naturally encourages other women to aspire to reach the top. It creates a ripple effect.
I can speak firsthand to the ways in which representation can fuel aspiration. At daVinci Payments, I am surrounded by highly accomplished women. Every day, we live and work passionately to honour our female co-founders, Nancy Gensburg and Carol Jacobsohn, who started our company during their golden years. To encourage more women to remain in fintech professions, we need to make sure that stories such as Nancy’s and Carol’s remain in circulation. That means telling and celebrating those stories again and again.
Meanwhile, businesses can prioritise the retention of female talent by reviewing their corporate infrastructures. Equal pay, more generous maternity and paternity leave allowances, expanded childcare benefits, and other policies that acknowledge how women have been historically underserved in the workplace are a great start. These are big shifts with plenty of complexities, but the right ones to pursue in order to support our businesses and workplace communities as much as possible.
Don’t limit the diversity discussion to gender.
Diversity is the proverbial rising tide that lifts all boats. The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) recently conducted a study involving over 1,500 companies spanning eight developed (e.g. the US) and developing (e.g. Brazil, India) countries. The findings are worth quoting:
“Companies with above-average total diversity, measured as the average of six dimensions of diversity (migration, industry, career path, gender, education, age), had both 19 percentage points higher innovation revenues and nine percentage points higher EBIT margins, on average.”
In short, diversity is good business. This is especially true in our industry. To thrive in a globalised economy, businesses must adopt a global perspective. There’s simply no other way to navigate the complexity associated with regulations and variations in payment standards, especially across international borders. For fintech to deliver on its promises, we must bridge cultural divides and establish common interests despite the many differences that define us.
Even though organisations appreciate the case to be made for it, diversity can still be something leadership can have a hard time getting its arms around. That’s because diversity is intersectional; it has to be interpreted, and its connotations will shift from stakeholder to stakeholder.
Yet women in fintech are in an ideal position to advocate for taking a holistic, proactive approach to diversity. They know what it means to fight for representation, and they can speak directly to how a lack of equality can throttle opportunity. By making the phenomenon concrete and personal using the example of gender, female professionals can help their companies understand that they’ve already begun to embrace diversity.
Take diversity to the next level – in fintech, business, and beyond
The next step? Widen the inner circle and secure more inclusion.
Businesses need talent that reflects the diversity of their customers, and women have a lot to bring to the table. I believe there are still misconceptions related to our industry. Many women perceive this area as one that requires a strong financial or technical background. Even though there is high demand for those skillsets, not having them doesn’t mean someone is unable to contribute to this quickly evolving and thriving industry. When people with a variety of perspectives work together in a collaborative manner, innovation and creative solutions emerge which lead to positive results: growth and prosperity.
Having a networkof supportive women and a continuing discussion of actionable items to bring more gender balance to our workplaces is critical.
Increasing diversity applies not only to fintech, of course, but across all sectors.
Creating inclusion must happen beyond the organisations we work for. To influence greater change in our world, we must think bigger and broader and find ways for more women and all persons to rise to leadership positions in all aspects of society. If our future is as bright as I believe it is, then it is one in which there’s plenty of opportunity across the demographic spectrum. We can make the world a better place for both men and women over the long term.
By Maggie O’Toole, senior director, partner operations, daVinci Payments