Fintech can’t tackle financial services without tackling its diversity problem
It’s been two months since I started as head of commercial at Snoop: a small milestone that’s prompted reflection amidst the whirlwind of a new job.
Adjusting to fintech life has been strange. My last employer was a giant. While the brand and legacy of being with a big bank felt too big to be manageable and burdensome at times, the upside to its size and history was that it had a huge scope for impact because of the number of people it employed and served.
Now, my team fits into one room; all that we are as a company sits between those walls. Not yet proven, still breakable, still self-defining: we are early enough for our narrative to still belong to us.
Yet even in relative infancy, fintechs like ours, neobanks and next-gen payment companies, are playing an outsized role in defining the future of financial services, despite only accounting for 7% of UK employment in the sector. With this increasing influence, the importance of understanding the voices who are – or are not – having a say in forging that future is mounting rapidly.
In that vein, last month also marked International Women’s Day, and two months since I became a ‘Woman in Fintech’. We make up less than a third of our industry and only 17% of its executives. If calculations were limited to early-stage companies I’m sure the numbers would be smaller still. When I set my sights on working in an early fintech company, I knew this was a sector at the nexus of two industries fraught with diversity problems. Still, I underestimated how long I’d spend scrolling through photos of t-shirted men on team pages.
Not only was the gender homogeneity disheartening, it’s also a serious problem, reaching far beyond the well-documented positive commercial impact of gender diversity. It’s archaic – unfair, even – to expect a narrow demographic to be the best-placed to create a new generation of products that address needs across the population, as banking services must. While many fintechs claim to be ‘democratising’ financial services, representation starts with decision-makers, and simplifying process does not equal fair access. I worry that products are not being designed to best meet the needs of different groups because their advocates are not at the table. As a result, fintech employees who come from broader demographics face the imperative to step up and make sure their voices, while fewer, are clear.
But if it’s our responsibility to talk, it’s the responsibility of fintech decision-makers to listen: to be deliberate in hearing opinions they may not instinctively empathise with. I’m sure many fintechs would consider themselves supportive of diversity, but evidently that’s not been enough to drive greater representation in the sector. To achieve diversity, companies must ask for it and seek it out – to make time for it despite the rush of birthing a company.
When interviewing, everyone I spoke to was nice, but many hiring managers seemed to be weeding out candidates who weren’t like them, as opposed to embracing diversity as job specs suggested. It’s understandable – every hire at that early stage is critical, and risk is minimised by leveraging networks and commonalities. I don’t think it was conscious, but when I was asked which exact software was my favourite (with one right answer expected), what skill I was “the best at, compared to all other people”, whether I was really capable of being an ‘operator’ and the riskiest move I’d ever made, it just felt… male. Bro-like. I don’t think like that and know few women who do. I was worried I’d feel like an outsider, and soon gave up aiming for early-stage companies.
When applying to Snoop, I saw another team of mainly white men and feared the same outcome. But they surprised me and made me feel seen. What was different? They openly brought up their diversity challenges and spoke to how they’re addressing them, volunteered flexible working policies, and asked open questions: it never felt like there was one right answer. They were encouraging, not coy about wanting me to join them, yet patient while I deliberated other offers. They didn’t make salary negotiations uncomfortable by trying to low-ball. If fintechs are serious about inclusive hiring, they provide a strong example.
But while I feel lucky, I’m still conflicted: our team has been built mostly from an initial group of established colleagues and consequently, I have more co-workers called Paul than ones who identify as female. Yet I’m constantly asked my perspective, invited to challenge and thanked for doing so. In fact, it’s the only workplace where I’ve never felt that being a woman is a disadvantage. I think we have the right attitude, we’re making a conscious effort at it, but we still struggle with more diverse hiring (particularly for technical roles). The lack of diversity is taken seriously, but that doesn’t make it easy to fix.
Two months in and there’s a lot to consider. In the meantime, I’ll continue with the steep fintech learning curve, appreciating the dog-friendly office space and celebrating the incredible women I have the pleasure to work with.