Long reads

Fintech jobs: The challenges for women in the workplace

Madhvi Mavadiya

Madhvi Mavadiya

Head of Content, Finextra

Every year, the Innovate Finance Women in Fintech Powerlist shines a light on 150 women across seven categories who have made a substantial impact across the industry. A selected panel of independent judges also select the Standout 35, a group of 35 women who are making a difference over and above their day-to-day role.

While I am proud and humbled to be a part of the 2020 Standout 35 cohort, I was also given an opportunity to speak to others in this group about common misconceptions surrounding the role of women, the challenges for women in the workplace and what advice they would give women wishing to work in fintech.

These exceptional women are part of the 2020 Innovate Finance Women in Fintech Powerlist Standout 35:

Diana Paredes, CEO and Co-Founder, Suade

Sue McLean, Partner at Baker McKenzie

Leigh Smyth, Strategic Advisor to United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP FI)

Karen Elliott, Senior Lecturer/Assoc. Professor in Enterprise/Innovation (FinTech) at Newcastle University Business School

Jacqui Hatfield, Partner and Head of Fintech Regulatory in London, Orrick

Feven Woldu, Enterprise Transformation, SVP, Wells Fargo Bank

Why are Powerlists important?

Dubbed the ‘pandemic of inequality’, it is evident that Covid-19 has set women’s rights back and women bore the economic brunt, being overrepresented in sectors such as childcare, beauty, non-essential retail, travel, and tourism, rather than STEM led jobs in finance and technology.

This meant they were more likely to be furloughed and even UK chancellor Rishi Sunak thanked “mums” for taking on the role of teacher, as those who had children had to juggle childcare and work.

UN Women reports also revealed that women had been forced to increase the number of hours of unpaid work, whether they had children or not.

While Covid-19 could push many mothers out of the workplace, issues surrounding systemic bias, the gender pay gap, parental leave, child and elder care, imposter syndrome and mentorship persist.

The Standout 35 winners that I interviewed explicitly stated that these problems are a concern in the fintech industry, and if we are to ever change this, we – as individuals and as an industry – need to advocate for and prioritise building diverse organisations across all levels.

Although, powerlists such as these are a good step in the right direction to ensure that women in fintech get the recognition they deserve. As Sue McLean, Partner at Baker McKenzie stated, this is “a great way to shine a spotlight on women role models and the significant contributions women are making to this thriving sector.”

Jacqui Hatfield, Partner and Head of Fintech Regulatory in London, Orrick, echoed this sentiment and said that “it is important to have people to look up to,” but it also allows the sector to reflect on where the gaps are, as Hatfield reiterated that there are not many women on the services side.

Feven Woldu, Enterprise Transformation, SVP, Wells Fargo Bank, added: “By acknowledging the achievements of hard-working individuals, especially endorsements from a respected industry body, we're effectively elevating the standard by which we do work in this space.

“Recognition naturally motivates people, as it tends to indicate being on the right track while bringing awareness to the magnitude of your positive impact in the space,” Woldu said.

Diversity in fintech

Both financial services and technology have been well-documented to be lacking in diversity, and many of the women I spoke to highlighted that in the fintech industry, there is no change, or it almost seems to be the worst of both worlds.

While others believe that fintech is somewhat more diversified than the financial industry itself, much more can and needs to be done. Further, not only at a company level to attract and retain the right people, regardless of their background, but also by working with schools to promote STEM subjects or jobs in fintech as viable future professions.

Diana Paredes, CEO and Co-Founder of Suade said: “Diversity in fintech is as bad as in other sectors. I do not think we are the worst. There is a much more generic problem that we are facing, which is that for women, it is just tough to be in the workforce. It is not designed for women to be in the workforce and that has a lot to do with unconscious bias.”

Paredes continued to say that speaking as a working mother, “it is a reality that has a lot more to do with basic things like childcare and affordability. Women give up work because they cannot cope with the realities of motherhood and a career. That’s the elephant in the room when it comes to conversations around women in the workforce.”

Woldu took this point further and pinned this issue down to there not being a single solution to mitigate here, after all, “it is a symptom of deep-seated systemic structures and incremental improvements need to be made to counteract inherent gender or other biases. There is certainly opportunity for tactical changes, for employers to better align interests of recruiters and hiring managers with diversity goals, for one.”

A lack of diversity of thought within an organisation can also have a substantial impact on AI hiring algorithms themselves. Historical human biases shaped by often deeply embedded prejudices against certain groups can lead to their reproduction and amplification in computer models.

Karen Elliott, Senior Lecturer/Assoc. Professor in Enterprise/Innovation (Fintech) at Newcastle University Business School, uses this as an example. “From what I have seen and what I have heard reported there, 80% of programmers who get to decide what algorithms do are still male. And there is a lack of diversity within that male subset as well.”

Elliott added: “While there is some movement on the C-suite boards, there’s still a long way to go. You also do not want it to be tokenism. You want it to be done on the value that women can bring to the board and it to be seen to be authentic, not because we need a quota.”

Leigh Smyth, Strategic Advisor to the United Nations Environment Programme shared statistics from a recent TTC Toolkit report, which represented over 160,000 people working in technical roles across the UK.

“In terms of by industry, there are still big differences. By industry, non-profit rank best for gender diversity with 41% of roles held by women and finance from a purely number’s perspective is looking positive compared to others at 29%.

"Although still not reflective of the wider population demographics, representation of women and gender minorities in technical roles across our Signatories continues to outperform averages across the tech sector. According to recent analysis from BCS: the Chartered Institute of IT, in the last quarter of 2020 women made up 19% of the UK IT industry. Amongst TTC Signatories women represent 25% of the technical roles.

“However, aggregation of the data and especially BAME data is crucial as the 16% is driven mostly by workers of Indian ethnicity (7% versus a 2% baseline in the rest of the workforce). Broad categorisations mean statistics are likely to disguise nuances.

“I think it is vital to consider this question for fintech at a granular level, not just in terms of diversity numbers but the types of roles, job positions and culture within the sectors. This is a problem for the customer too, from bias in basic customer journeys but also for the rapid growth of AI.”

Common misconceptions surrounding the role of women

As Smyth explored, equality and diversity in fintech must be considered at a granular level to avoid disaggregation of data and bring nuances to the fore. Without looking at the statistics on this level or considering a woman’s needs on a case-by-case basis, misconceptions can arise.

Smyth furthered: “This issue is not just about retraining opportunities to gain the crucial IT skills but enabling an inclusive culture to foster and support a diverse range of people. Fintech must represent the people it builds the services for. It is too late to consider areas such as accessibility, biased algorithms at the end of the process – we must co design solutions from the start.”

Paredes agreed and said that “I think the role of women in shaping the fintech space, tech space or any sector is extremely important because it brings diversity of thought and it just makes for a better product, a better company and a better culture. People don't realise that fundamentally, there is a lot of joy in having a diverse workplace.”

Woldu also said: "In fintech or any other space, there are common misconceptions about women, and there are common misconceptions about women of colour, women of a different creed, those with a disability, etc. When we talk about positive changes happening for women, we need to look at what is happening with women across all of these protected categories to ensure they are accounted for in the progress being made."

When considering female entrepreneurs, Elliott explained that women are also perceived as more of a risk and that could be why only a few female founded companies receive larger sums of investment, in comparison to their male counterparts.

“It's counterintuitive because women are actually more calculated risk takers than their male counterparts who over promise, under deliver and sometimes go bust, whereas women are more cautious with growth. In essence, we are better at risk for VC investment; it's breaking that socialisation. While men are good at entrepreneurship, leading women also have a role to play.”

Sharing a similar view, McLean added: “There's still so much to do. Changing perceptions in terms of what makes a leader and the qualities you need for leadership is still a key challenge. Which is why initiatives like the Powerlist are so helpful.”

For Smyth, “explicit gender bias has reduced significantly in the workplace due to stricter legislation so for me it’s now more complex to resolve. Top of the list has to discrimination or the pay gap, and this includes the pension gap which is often larger!

“For me it is also about the double whammy and sometimes triple with respect to intersectionality, when gender and racial discrimination are combined, disability, mental health etc.”

Advice for women wishing to work in fintech

Diana Paredes, CEO and Co-Founder, Suade: “Make sure you work for an employer that understands what you want to do with your life, not just the next couple of years but long term. Whether you want to have a path to be promoted quickly, plan for a family or want flexible working. Fintech is a super exciting sector and it is growing. But do not settle, find something that will allow you to have the life that you want to have in fintech.”

Sue McLean, Partner at Baker McKenzie: “Go for it! Fintech is such a fascinating sector driving change which impacts our lives and full of interesting people.”

Leigh Smyth, Strategic Advisor to United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP FI): “If you get any obstacles, obvious or otherwise, as we say in our campaign banner at @TTC #DoITanyway. And, be a role model, just be you and please ‘nudge’ other women to join you too.”

Karen Elliott, Senior Lecturer/Assoc. Professor in Enterprise/Innovation (FinTech) at Newcastle University Business School: “Adopt a growth or agile mindset, so that you're not fixed thinking you can't do this. Remember impossible can be broken down to I am possible. Just think nobody's going to do it for you, but you can collaborate and work together to grow.”

Jacqui Hatfield, Partner and Head of Fintech Regulatory in London, Orrick: “The best thing you can do as a female lawyer is to actually be good at your job and if you're good at your job, you can ask for anything.”

Feven Woldu, Enterprise Transformation, SVP, Wells Fargo Bank: “Start being intentional and forge mutually beneficial connections. Attend industry networking events, ask questions and stay connected with others that you’ve met. Be genuine and authentic.”

Comments: (0)