The power of the collective
This year, inclusion and diversity in the workplace has moved higher up on the agenda in the wake of the unjust murders and abuse of many Black and Brown people across the world. Women are also facing a significant amount of hardship this year. Women under the age of 35 are facing a rise in domestic and financial abuse during COVID-19 lockdowns, according to recent research by the Co-operative Bank and Refuge.
Additionally, the coronavirus crisis has disproportionately affected women as they are more likely to be furloughed and face redundancies, as noted by the Trades Union Congress.
It is under this hostile environment against marginalised groups that Martha Mghendi-Fisher is creating a community – a tribe – for women in the financial services industry.
FinTech Futures sits down with Mghendi-Fisher, founder of the European Women Payments Network (EWPN), to talk about how the group is empowering women in the sector and providing a safe space to usher in real change.
But that’s not all, as Mghendi-Fisher wears a lot of hats in the financial services industry. She is a thought leader, founder, fintech & payments professional, board member, trustee, diversity & inclusion advocate, keynote speaker and philanthropist. Here, she shares her views on equality, imposter syndrome and the “Ubuntu spirit”.
You are currently the founder of the European Women in Payments Network. Is it possible to provide a brief overview on what that role entails and how it came to fruition?
EWPN is a not-for-profit pan-European community that brings together women working in fintech and payments. EWPN was born out of the need to connect with fellow women working in the same industry, on an international level. As an African, community and tribes are so crucial and important; they play such important roles in our personal and professional lives, so by creating EWPN, I was bringing the ‘’tribes’ together. We are 100% run by incredible volunteers who have the passion for bringing forth change and impact. Our main objective is to champion for inclusion and diversity in the financial sector.
How many individual and corporate members do you have currently and what are your plans for expansion – if any?
Individual membership is open to any woman working or with an interest in fintech and payments. Any woman can join for free. We also have corporate members, who want to do more for the women as a company. By being corporate members, they not only support EWPN, but also the women working in these companies.
We are pan-European, with local chapters in EU countries. We also have our sister company – African Women in Fintech & Payments (AWFP).
Our network is global, not just directly through us and our members, but mostly so, through our partner organisations. We strongly believe in the power of collaboration and the collective. That’s why we work with partners globally. That way, we help shorten the time that would otherwise take for us to reach equality individually.
What other initiatives are EWPN implementing to promote and advocate for other marginalised groups outside of gender diversity?
The biggest impact that EWPN has created is the community or feeling of belonging. Many women, regardless of how junior or senior they are, long for a “tribe”; people who can relate to the challenges and issues they face. Seeing the connections, interactions, sisterhood, partnerships and comradeship that are formed within the community is just magical. Everything starts with relationships, and that’s what we focus on enabling. So, all the different initiatives we run, all centre around the community and relationships. This is core to our existence. The “Ubuntu spirit” that I was so lucky to bring forth and see it embraced by the EWPN Tribe – “I am because we are”.
Through these relationships, we are able to tap into the power of the collective to bring forth change, visibility and champion for other marginalised groups.
Not only are you the founder of the EWPN, but I noticed that you also chair quite a lot of other foundations. Can you please run through the other roles you are juggling? Is balancing these roles challenging?
‘’If you want to go faster, go alone. If you want to go further, go with people.” This African proverb explains everything I do. There is no way I would have the time and energy to do all these things that I do if I didn’t have the tribe that surrounds me. Everything I do is connected to ‘’my people’’, ‘’my tribe’’. So, I don’t think I do, but rather “we do”. Through this extraordinary support system, I have the capability to maximise my full potential and birth other initiatives like: Dali Spaces, Beyond Innocence Foundation (BIF), African Female Founders & Innovators (AFFI), InvestFem…among others. I am also fortunate enough to sit on various boards as an advisor. Balancing is only possible because I don’t do this alone. I 100% rely on the support system from my tribe.
Women in all industries are met with the task of “breaking the glass ceiling”. A ‘Women in the Workplace’ report by McKinsey & Company last year shows that women are mainly found in entry level and mid-management positions and are not seen higher up. 48% are in entry level positions, and 38% as managerial, but it drops to 21% at C-suite level.
- Does this mean that your role at EWPN is to encourage more women in the industry or is it to try and understand why women within the industry aren’t getting comparative promotions?
It’s both. We know there is a problem, we know why there is a problem, we know what solutions can be implemented. The part that is left is for all stakeholders to play their part and implement all these solutions so we can achieve gender parity. EWPN is a movement that is driven by women who want to shorten the time to parity. The more vocal and visible women and women issues are, the quicker will the solutions be reached. It’s not a job for one organisation, it requires collective will power and tangible actions.
Sadly, the statistics for women of colour are even worse. Only 18% are in entry level roles, 12% in manager positions and only 4% in C-suite roles. How can there ever be a level playing field for women of colour?
It is very low indeed. I think the most important thing is to continue creating visibility for women of colour. Taking actions, not matter how ‘’small’ one thinks they are, to create more visibility and offer solutions. If, we women of colour become more visible, and more vocal, then change will come. That’s why the work we do at EWPN is also very personal to me. Starting EWPN as a woman of colour was very important to me so I could be that role model to other women of colour and young girls. Creating role models helps brings out more people, which in return will drive the call and champion for a levelled play field. It is a very tough job, but not an impossible one.
How important is representation in order to even try to apply for these roles?
People will look out and reach out to people they know. So, if those within their circles are homogenous, then they will continue to have homogenous work force. Representation is absolutely critical on all levels, all the way to the top; especially at the top and where decisions are being made. If there is no diversity on all levels, and especially on the top positions, then guaranteed you will not find it on lower levels.
A 2017 ‘Women in Fintech’ study by Hogan Lovells found that whilst 30% of the fintech workforce is women, only 17% of senior roles are held by women. In a recent HBR study they found that without diverse leadership, women are 20% less likely than straight white men to win endorsement for their ideas which costs their companies crucial market opportunities.
- How can our industry, which tends to pride itself on innovative thinking and diversity, actually acknowledge this gap and change it?
Good thing is that now we are seeing more and more women founded or co-founded fintechs. Women have finally had it and are starting companies based on their pains and experiences. These numbers will change very soon, very quickly. If existing fintechs don’t change their strategy and become more diverse, then guaranteed, they will be taken over but these fintechs founded by women. It’s just a matter of time.
Where does it begin?
Women control over 80% of household spending. This includes the women working in fintech. The revolution has already begun. The companies that we are seeing now, especially those founded by women, are based on their pain points. The younger generations are very vocal about equality. If this momentum continues, then we will for sure shorten the years before parity. I tell my friends and colleagues that this is the best time to be a woman.
Do companies need better corporate governance policies for addressing gender diversity issues in the workplace, or do you think it needs government/parliamentary action? If it is neither, then what is the solution?
I think both are needed. For example, The Nordic countries continue to lead the way in gender equality because their governments were involved and also the companies embraced and implemented the rules. It is a combination and collective effort. It makes no absolute sense, both economic and financial to not include a demographic that is 50% of a population. A good example can taken from Japan. While, they introduced the Sheconomy a little too late, they did realise that they were not tapping into the 50% population by not fully including women. Any sensible government or company would want to maximise and harness the uniqueness of all its people. It’s not just good for the economy, but it is a fair and ethical thing to do.
These stats mentioned above are mainly found within the US and UK workplace. But what unique issues do women face when working in the Netherlands? Do they change by sector?
There is no one-size-fits-all. While there are some similarities, each country has unique challenges. For example, maternity leave; something that highly contributes to inequality. There is no universal or EU level maternity period. In some countries, it’s just for women and not the men. This means that the woman will have to ‘’pay’’ the price and not shared equally between both parents. Working part-time or not at all creates further problems especially when these women get divorced at a later age. We see cases of pension poverty because of such cases.
As a Kenyan woman living in Britain, I’ve faced my own cultural shocks and hurdles. Are there any challenges and culture shocks you’ve faced living in the Netherlands?
Where do I start? I think the biggest cultural shock to me is the directness of the Dutch people, which many people find to be rudeness. It took me by total surprise when I first moved here. Now I am used to it, and to be honest really like it; professionally and personally. It makes things much easier and straight forward when one has an idea of what the other is thinking. It also makes conversations at work straight forward. Everyone has an equal chance to speak their mind and contribute regardless of their level.
The other thing that I love is the flat hierarchy. This makes such a massive difference when it comes to work environment. Everyone has something to bring to the table. Titles and ranks don’t mean nothing. I have embraced these two, and have total mind shift and different way of thinking, working and living. It’s liberating.
In an interview at an EWPN event in 2018, the interviewer provided a “male” perspective on his thoughts about the hurdles women face in the industry. He notes, “if there’s a job available, the males will all go ‘I can do this’ even though he’s been a complete disaster he will say I can do it. He will walk up and say, ‘I am the man’. The woman – even if she’s really qualified or really good – won’t do it. The woman will have to be convinced over five times to do it and come up with 25 reasons not to do it”.
- As blunt as the question was, it is no secret that women face self-doubt and imposter syndrome. What techniques do you highlight in the EWPN to overcome this feeling?
We all have imposter syndrome. I think most senior people do. If one doesn’t have that, then maybe they are the imposter. But on a serious note, this is something that we discuss all the time within the EWPN family. You would be surprised how many very senior women who have spoken in the past or speak, only spoke the first time at the EWPN event. Because the community offers such a safe, authentic and non-judgemental space, we encourage our members to speak even when their voices are shaking… as long as they start. In our space, they can start, learn (not fail), and start again as many times as they need to.
We also stress on equal grounds. When you join the community, you leave your title outside the door. Everyone that comes into our community is equal, regardless of their titles or career level. Once you walk into our space, you leave everything else outside and come as authentic and human ‘’you’’. This has allowed so many women, especially those are start of their careers, to have access to some very senior women that they would never have had access to. This to us is what the community is all about. We already fight for equality out there, so we see each other as equals when we come into the EWPN space. This mindset changes everything in our community, and it’s beautiful to watch. It’s magical.
In a 2019 BBC study, Brian Daniel Norton, a psychotherapist and executive coach in New York, highlights that Black women, as well as the LGBTQ community are most at risk of feelings of imposter syndrome. What can organisations do to foster a sense of empowerment for Black women and the LGBTQ community? Do you think corporate culture exacerbates the problem of imposter syndrome, particularly for Black women?
As a Black woman, I know that I am at the bottom of the food chain. I have experienced this firsthand and even now, at this point of my career, I still experience things directed to me, which aren’t directed to my fellow non-Black women. There is (un)conscious bias, prejudice and in some cases pure racial intent. If there is not enough diversity in a company, then for sure the environment will not be that good. In some cases, it’s ignorance and lack of education. What is needed is encouraging more ‘’uncomfortable’’ conversations around race, religion and diversity. Companies need to have more diverse teams on all levels, not just racial, but other types of diversity. If they start with that, naturally, mentality and environment will change as well.
Women have been hit hard with furloughs, childcare maintenance as schools are off and redundancies due to the coronavirus crisis. What long-lasting effects do you think the coronavirus crisis has on women’s careers?
It’s unimaginable. The effects will be huge, especially in the coming months. We have already seen increase of abuse cases as women without financial independence will be trapped by their partners. The interruption also means that contribution to pension is interrupted, so this will contribute to pension poverty. Single mothers will be moved further into poverty as well. It’s catastrophic.
Are there any success stories you’ve seen from corporates and individuals utilising the EWPN to better their diversity & inclusion?
So many! Business have been started and partnerships have been formed; lives changed; diverse teams recruited, and more training has been done. We have also helped some organisation set up their own internal diversity initiatives. We see the impact of the work we are doing, and this encourages us to forge forward. There is still a lot of work to do, but we are progressing.