Diversity of socks is our future
Before you wonder out loud why we are talking about socks in a fintech column, hear me out.
Think back to the last time you attended a fintech conference. Chances are there were more men on stage compared to women, regardless of how many women leaders you might have seen in the audience. Chances are there were a few panels filled with men only, and a few more others where there would be one sole woman (typically as the moderator) in a sea of men. And chances are there were few people of colour on the speaker list.
While you might not see much diversity in wardrobe choices among the sea of suits, chances are you came across a good variety of sock colours.
Voilà. Our future rests with the diversity of socks.
I hear the drumbeat of criticism already.
“Look, we have an event honouring women leaders in our industry!” we, as an industry, say while giving each other high-fives.
Fair enough. But why on a weekend?
“We even have a special panel talking about diversity in our industry! We are paying attention. Trust us, we are trying.”
But why are we talking amongst ourselves on challenges that we already know, when the other half of the room should have been here too so we can solve the problem and create change – together? Are we really trying or are we just checking the box because that’s the thing to do?
“You don’t understand. We can’t find women speakers with high enough caliber to speak at such an important event.”
Except, what happened to that room of women leaders that you just honoured in that special event? Are they not good enough?
And so it goes. And that’s the crux of our problem.
“Because we, as an industry, are systematically excluding those that don’t look like us.” I wrote this in an article back in 2019. “Creating an illusion of inclusion and diversity to deflect criticisms of bias is tokenism,” I added.
That was 2019. It was true then. It is still true now. Maybe we have become more aware? I surely do hope so. But awareness does not always translate into action, unfortunately.
It’s intention that we need. It’s also metrics and yardsticks, and commitment to change. And we need accountability when change doesn’t happen.
Anything less is nothing more than empty promises and PR, left to the whims of flavor du jour.
Look at the recent layoffs, for example. Companies including Meta, Amazon, Twitter, and Snap have together cut over 97,000 jobs in 2022, according to Reuters, citing a report from employment firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. But women are overrepresented in the layoffs, representing over 46% of the tech layoffs from September to December 2022, while making up 39% of the labour force in the industry. This is despite the industry’s prior commitment to improve diversity. For example, back in 2019, Meta had committed to doubling the number of Black and Hispanic employees in its US offices and doubling the number of women in its global workforce by 2024.
This reminds me of a story I read about a giraffe and an elephant who are friends. One day, the giraffe invites the elephant to his house, which is built with high ceilings and tall but narrow hallways, designed to meet the needs of tall and slender giraffes. Needless to say, the elephant encounters much trouble getting through the doorway and moving around the house. The giraffe suggests that the elephant should take aerobics and ballet classes to slim down to fit into the house. Meanwhile, the elephant thinks the house is the problem.
And there’s the moral of the story.
Organisations are built for a group of people who think and act in similar ways, and more often than not, from the same culture and demographics. Whereas for others who are different – the elephants in this case – while they can get their foot partially in the door, they may not be able to fully get in. And while the giraffes will recognise the difficulty that their friends are encountering, they might not necessarily understand the need to make changes to the house. For any DEI efforts to work and take root, that is precisely what needs to happen.
So, my dear readers, are we ready for renovation?
About the author
Theodora (Theo) Lau is the founder of Unconventional Ventures. She is the co-author of Beyond Good and co-host of One Vision, a podcast on fintech and innovation.
She is also a regular contributor for top industry events and publications, including Harvard Business Review and Nikkei Asian Review.