Never having to be “the only”: the importance of representation in fintech
When I was younger, I grew up playing high-impact sports on men’s sports teams.
When I went to college at Duke University, I was the only woman graduate in math and computer science my year.
When I went to the University of Virginia for graduate school, I was the only woman graduate in my class of systems engineers.
After I finished my undergraduate and graduate education, this phenomenon continued in my professional life. As I moved up in the banking industry, I grew even more accustomed to being the only woman in the room.
Because of all these factors, I truly didn’t understand representation. I was used to maneuvering through my day-to-day without being around anyone who looked like me.
Up until this point, I spent so much time in life as “the only” that I hardly noticed it anymore. I worked to blend and fit in with how my male peers and coworkers were presenting themselves, not trying to make a splash or have my own voice.
When I had my daughter Kylie, my vision of what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be in the world completely shifted.
When Kylie was around eight, she started attending a computer camp. She came home from camp the first day shell-shocked as she was the only girl there. The next day before camp, she told me that she was going to learn more about football and video games to fit in and make friends. This horrified me – why should my daughter have to be anyone but herself? Then I realised that I had been doing the same things for years in my professional life.
I realised the opportunity I had to advocate for representation in my career. Kylie’s experience opened my eyes to the value of representation, and the confidence and comfort that it can bring.
The fintech opportunity
So, when I considered the possibility of shifting my career into the fintech space, I knew there was more that could be done to provide more women with financial know-how and confidence. Fintechs are nimbler, data driven and less tied to the antiquated systems utilised by financial institutions. Thus, they have an opportunity to serve people for whom the current financial system isn’t built.
We have a responsibility to do what the big banks can’t, and improve the financial experience for everyone, especially those from traditionally marginalised groups. Women, and even more so women of colour, typically make less money than men, according to 2019 data on full-time workers from the Current Population Survey, a joint venture between the Bureau of Labor Statistics and US Census Bureau.
Women also hold two-thirds of the nation’s student loan debt, according to the American Association of University Women.
However, it is simply impossible that these women and the other 100+ million people deemed “underbanked” are simply not worthy of any quality financial services, and fintechs have the opportunity to address this by leveraging data and new technology to come up with new ways to serve people.
Going the extra mile
Despite what we can do to serve customers, fintech still sits at the intersection of the finance and technology industries which are both traditionally male-dominated. Women in leadership positions and their male allies have an opportunity to be an advocate for women from a professional standpoint as well.
Representation is imperative for business success – we’ve learned time and time again that companies that embrace diverse ideas from a diverse team, whether that be gender, age, or race, will ultimately be the most successful in the end.
It doesn’t just make you a more structurally sound and innovative company when you have diverse voices in the room. Empowering women in their careers can also help your company better cater to customers. When customers can interact with people who look and think like them, as well as have similar life experiences, it results in better outcomes for all involved.
Being in the room vs. having a voice
It’s not enough to just have women in the room. We need to make sure they also have a voice and access to the mentorship and leadership opportunities that can help drive their careers forward. Now that I serve in a leadership role, I try to serve as a mentor to share my experience, be a soundboard and advisor, and most importantly, a friend to new women in the fintech world.
While the fintech industry still has strides to make towards equal representation, women serving as mentors to other women looking to start their careers in the industry is a key way to jumpstart empowerment in fintech.
To women new in the fintech field, I advise them to seek out peer-to-peer networking, mentorship, and sponsorship opportunities from the outset. Establishing relationships with other women in the industry early on can equip you with support and knowledge that will benefit you throughout your career.
I want to create a world where women like my daughter Kylie can do anything that they want to do and can be happy and comfortable while doing it. Establishing equal opportunity for women to share their voices is the key to achieving this success.