The pursuit for equality
Emerging from university as a fresh-faced graduate, I was at a loss. I had no idea where to even begin my career, let alone how to progress and climb the proverbial ladder.
Fintech was an industry that I had never considered, but fortunately, it is now the space that I occupy and the space that continues to captivate me. Looking back, it’s clear that my experience was not a unique one – countless friends, colleagues, and acquaintances have found themselves at a juncture, just as I had, more than seven years ago.
Whether at the beginning of a career, or many years down the line, most of us will find ourselves at a crossroads, re-evaluating where we are heading, and what we want to achieve professionally and personally. It can be an intimidating and overwhelming situation. However, being able to recognise our strengths and values can be invaluable in providing a sense of direction – and with this, confidence follows.
Knowing that we are not alone on the journey can also help. There is always someone either ahead of you or beside you, from whom you can learn. That’s why I find so much value in mentoring and coaching – it is through relationships like these that we can support, equip and uplift others to meet, and exceed, their potential.
Fintech: a man’s world
Whenever individuals are not fairly represented and their voices not heard, mentoring is even more critical. And unfortunately, this is the case in the fintech world, an intersection of finance and tech, where if you are not white or male, it can be a very unwelcoming space.
When I first began my career in fintech, I was thrown into a completely male-dominated environment, and was subjected to sexist comments and behaviour from colleagues as well as bosses. Back then, I didn’t think I had the authority to speak out against such conduct, nor did I have the confidence.
Naively, I chose to laugh and shake it off instead. Fortunately, I gained more experience and confidence. I reached a turning point and decided that enough was enough. It was not ‘cool’ to be the only woman in the room, and as I dug deeper into the matter, I became acutely aware that gender inequality pervaded the whole industry. To remedy this situation, I decided I wanted to play a part in empowering women and other underrepresented individuals to find their own voice and take a seat at the table.
Towards greater diversity and gender equality
My first step in establishing greater diversity and gender equality was to join the Professional Women Network (PWN) Munich, which had been founded by a former colleague. The first meeting was electrifying – the room buzzed with brilliant women from all professions who had come together to learn, grow and support one another. That day, I left beaming and inspired. It was in one of these meetings that I was introduced to a formal mentoring scheme.
Somewhat ironically, my first mentor was male, and we continue to stay in touch. He was, and continues to be, someone I can depend on to be in my corner, and offer advice as well as perspective. I think this example serves as a reminder that seeking equality is not about pointing fingers. Equality is achieved through collaboration. Since then, I have become a mentor myself, and as much as I impart my own knowledge and guidance, I am also constantly learning from by my mentees. In many ways, mentoring schemes not only help to support individuals, but they also facilitate difficult conversations so that we can work together to resolve issues head on.
In fact, PWN Munich has since changed its name to PN Munich to reflect this; intentionally dropping women to open up the conversation beyond just women. Today, the Network boasts a number of male members, and the overall experience has only improved. As with any and all meaningful change, it takes a village – it is not enough for only the under-represented to gather and discuss in isolation.
These mentoring schemes also offer a priceless opportunity for under-represented groups to build strong networks. Throughout history, men have leveraged and benefitted from their own networks – or ‘boy’s clubs’ – which have worked to promote the professional development of their members. It is crucial that we break down these barriers that serve the advantaged, purposefully excluding those who don’t fit the ‘profile’.
Choosing to address issues of inequality within my industry specifically, I am now a part of the European Women Payments Network (EWPN). Representing the association as country ambassador for Germany, I am responsible for organising meetups and providing a platform from which women within the payments industry can connect. While working at Entersekt, I have also co-founded a women’s network within the company.
A lot more work left to do
After seven years in the industry, I am proud of the positive steps that have been taken towards raising awareness and creating opportunities for women in fintech. However, there is still much work to do as a collective to achieve true equality.
A May 2020 study from McKinsey, shows that diversity within companies and in leadership teams is fundamental in creating an environment that can deliver innovative ideas, more astute decisions and better overall performance. However, despite the clear and significant benefits of diversity, white men continue to make up the majority of the payments technology and cybersecurity workforce.
The industry desperately needs more diverse role models. We also need more men to stand up and change the trajectory of company cultures as well as that of the industry as a whole. Taking part in a formal mentoring scheme, whether as a mentor or mentee, is an important stepping stone in making this happen.
And in case we needed more proof, the Black Lives Matter movement starkly showed that there is a lot more work to be done in all areas of inequality. Staying silent and doing nothing are no longer options for me. I am believe wholeheartedly in supporting women, as well as learning about my own privileges to help amplify the voice of others.