Why fintech needs more mentors
When it comes to gender diversity, fintech – like many industries – has some work to do. A recent Deloitte study estimated that just 30% of our workforce is female, and that women make up only 17% of our senior leaders. At the same time, the switch to working from home during the pandemic has dealt a blow to our visibility, now essentially a function of the Zooms we are or aren’t invited to.
We need to improve female representation in fintech – not just getting more women into the industry; but getting them seen, so that they can progress to roles at all levels. A big part of achieving this is mentorship.
Recently, I chaired a webinar on this topic for Women in Risk and Control, the diversity initiative I founded to increase the number of women in risk management. I was joined by leading risk professionals including JP Morgan’s Mary Ericson, and Bank of America’s Kanwardeep Ahluwalia. We discussed how we can harness mentorship to build fruitful relationships that benefit women and the industry as a whole.
Why is mentorship valuable?
At its heart, mentorship is about nurturing talent, and providing professionals at all levels with the skills, insights and sensitivities to build fulfilling careers and better environments.
For those just starting out, mentors are both a source of guidance and people to aspire to. For mentors themselves, these relationships are an opportunity to learn about the individuals at different levels of the organisation, their experiences, and how the company works on the ground.
Crucially, though, there’s a big-picture impact. These relationships break down barriers – between senior management and young talent, between men and women. This creates an open environment, where there is more room for everyone to contribute, be heard and to thrive. Ultimately, this leads to more opportunities for women to lead alongside men. And for men to be effective allies for women, supporting and promoting gender equality
Building successful relationships
Finding a mentor can feel daunting at first thought. However, a recent DDI study showed that the majority of women in leadership are open to mentoring and supporting young professionals – it’s a matter of simply putting yourself out there and asking.
But first, any aspiring mentee needs to do their homework. This first requires the integrity to recognise where you’re lacking, and the humility to ask for help addressing it. It also means coming prepared, with a clear idea of what you want to achieve and accepting that the words you’re met with may not always be those you want to hear.
And as we grow, we should help our mentor to do the same. Like any sustainable relationship, it has to be a two-way street. Offering your mentor insights, new perspectives or whatever else they may find useful will ensure the relationship is rewarding for both of you, and all the more effective for it.
Making room for mentorship
So where to start? Some major fintech organisations, such as the 30% Club, already offer formal mentorship opportunities specifically focused on women.
Equally, many large companies run internal mentorship schemes for employees. These are fantastic initiatives but it’s important to remember there’s no one-size-fits-all here, and the right thing for you may be to take the informal route and simply approach someone you look up to.
The beauty of mentorship is that you can be creative.
I’ve been exploring collaborative mentoring, which is an exciting option for those looking to learn from people outside of their organisation, with different backgrounds, genders and levels of seniority. Here, the group works together to provide mutual guidance on a focused topic, instead of placing the burden on one individual, thereby supercharging the learning opportunities of everyone involved.
How we make it work
Mentorship, in its many forms, is a powerful force. It can not only nurture female talent and empower women to rise up the ranks, but it can make this a more widespread reality.
What we need is not just women mentoring women, but men mentoring women too – bringing these initiatives from a box-ticking exercise to that vital point where both genders are actively championing gender diversity in a constructive way.
This means abandoning quotas and instead focusing on giving the job to truly the best person. On the occasions where that means choosing a man over a woman, going back and coaching those who didn’t initially succeed on where they need to improve would be a valuable start to developing a mentoring relationship or even just getting some quick tips on sharpening one’s skillset.
To achieve better female representation in fintech, we can’t just paper over it with targets and platitudes; we must tackle the issue at its root. Mentorship may just be the best way to do that.