Oxford University professor: ‘There is a real threat that fintech will set gender diversity back’

Oxford University professor: ‘There is a real threat that fintech will set gender diversity back’

One of Sibos’ first panel sessions for 2021, ‘Make 2021 the year to improve your bank’s diversity’, saw panellists raise concern over the lack of diverse representation in financial services, particularly fintech.

Referring to his paper co-authored by co-panellist Kristina Kämpfer, DPhil (PhD) candidate, University of Oxford, Professor Dariusz Wójcik, professor of economic geography, University of Oxford warns: “There is a real threat that fintech will set us back particularly in terms of gender diversity.”

He continues that the development seen in the fintech sector should be viewed as a mixed blessing: “On the one hand we have improved diversity in terms of accessibility of financial products, on the other, fintech is a male dominated culture and women face a number of barriers across STEM.”

Wójcik explains that banks seem to be ahead of other areas of the financial industry such as insurance and asset management. In London, he furthers, it is the US banks which are particularly ahead in terms of gender.

“We think this may be related to the problems banks face in terms of reputation and the regulation which affects banks. They’ve faced a regulatory storm and have consequently embarked on internal change.”

Their thesis also explores how finance is changing and how this could impact diversity and representation into the future. Geographical and technological influences are key drivers toward improved diversity and part of the thesis tackles the importance of diversity as part of company culture, Kämpfer adds.

“It’s not only about gender diversity. You can’t only focus on one part of the diversity story, either you commit to supporting a diverse culture that then openly welcomes everyone, or you will always be singling out individuals and not being inclusive. This need to be ingrained in company culture.”

Panellist Kirsten Oppenländer, COO central, international private bank, Deutsche Bank, feels that while there are clear diversity challenges in the fintech industry, she argues that the issues are also prevalent across the startup environment, monitored closely by Deutsche Bank.

“Women founders are less often seen than male founders. In fintech, there is the technology component where stereotype and numbers-wise we don’t see as many female tech specialists or female founders. We need to start fostering women very early on (at school, university) and when hiring so that we get the right talent mix at the junior stage.”

When it comes to this question of exposure, Chanel Bean, USD clearing product manager, global banking and markets, Bank of America, says that this can be done at both the institutional and the individual level. Ensuring that minorities (be they racial, gender-based or otherwise) have a mentor throughout their early years within an organisation is vital to ensuring that they are supported at each stage. Further, it allows minorities to be better prepared to become mentors themselves and form in effect a virtuous circle of progress.

Bean argues that it is essential to consider and pay attention to the unconscious biases many hold which can affect employees, particularly in the ‘middle aged white male’ financial industry.

Kämpfer furthered the challenge of racial diversity following the attention garnered by the Black Lives Matter movement during 2020. “The BLM protests shone a spotlight on racial diversity. Speaking particularly for both the German and British sectors, racial diversity is even worse than gender diversity and it isn’t really being talked about as openly as it is in the US.”

Kämpfer explains that the challenge is complex due to different regulatory and legal settings between Europe and the US which should be considered. Also, she notes that there is much more to diversity than just gender: “if we don’t look at the problem holistically, we will end up tokenising one group after another.”

Another key challenge which prevents programs from achieving their potential is ensuring that the culture of firms is supportive.

“While our research shows that the preconditions across the industry are there for gender diversity, this isn’t the case for socio-economic and racial diversity,” Kämpfer comments.

“Also, we’ve found that no matter how fantastic a program within an organisation may be, if the culture of the organisation is not supportive toward the program, people don’t take them seriously. Changing culture is also very difficult, like an onion, organisations’ culture have many layers and we found that the biggest lever toward changing this complex aspect is senior management. Linking culture and senior management is very important.”

Moderator Siri Chilazi, research fellow, Harvard Kennedy School questioned panellists what exactly organisations can do to instil the same sense of opportunity and confidence in every employee.

The recruitment process is naturally a fundamental step where organisations can instil diversity, and Bean reaffirms Kämpfer’s concerns about the culture of organisations when it comes to ensuring that the hiring process is approached with diversity in mind.

“In addition to the role that HR tend to play, it’s very much about the culture of the firm. Most of our leaders at the top have the understanding that diversity is powerful. Where you really get a shift is when questioning the culture of the firm by asking whether its practices truly exhibit a prioritisation of diversity in combination with ensuring that a healthy, diverse culture, leadership and management which embrace the importance of HR.”

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