International Women’s Day: Progress made and work still to be done in financial services
Banking And Financial Messaging
A friend was having lunch recently with a colleague who was coaching his daughters on entering the workforce. I’m paraphrasing here, but as they discussed the current state of women getting fair and equitable treatment as they start their careers, he said: “That’s not a thing anymore, is it?”
Yes. It is. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we applaud progress, mentorship, and collaboration in keeping with the theme of “embrace equity.” across As the founder of Women of Fintech, a global advocacy group that started in 2017, I’ve seen that progress firsthand. But make no mistake about it. Anecdotally, we see many companies work actively to create opportunities for women. However, the numbers show a lot of progress is still required to achieve an equitable and inclusive work environment. According to Eurostat, women hold only 17% of major technology jobs, and statistics quoted by Deloitte revealed that just 30% of the fintech workforce is female, with only 10% holding senior executive roles. That said, although the shares of women in finance, technical and leadership roles have tended to lag the overall proportion of men by 8‒10 percentage points, they are steadily increasing, which is encouraging.
But to make real and consistent progress in fintech, we need to empower women to have confidence in themselves. To get that first job, gain the expertise they need to get that promotion, and then finetune their collaboration skills to enter the C-suite. It starts with women knowing their worth, which is hard when history hasn’t advocated that, and we’re not seeing enough women in executive roles in this industry. Even if women might lack the skill set or ambition to reach the C-suite, they need to understand their current value and how to get there. Women need to feel comfortable promoting themselves and putting themselves forward. That’s an excellent place to start.
And the next step is to use that sense of empowerment to remove biases and start to affect societal change. For me, this is personal, not only because of my experience coming up in this industry but because of my daughter’s experience. She started at a coding club after school but quickly dropped out because she was the only girl. So, we need to make those societal shifts and remove those delineations of gender appropriateness quite early on regarding STEM programs (educating students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). There’s no need to adhere to the old adage “teach arts and crafts to girls and woodworking to boys.” But it's still happening, just differently, and we must try to make that as equal as possible. I’ve seen some fantastic things underway in that respect, from going into schools and teaching them how to code to being exposed to inspirational leader stories. I know there was a famous quote from Mark Zuckerberg about interacting with a mother who told her daughter to ‘look pretty so she could marry someone rich and famous like him. He said, “no, go to school so you can become the rich and famous person like me - you can do tech as well.”
The Zuckerberg story is an excellent example of walking the walk. We can’t think as a business that we can just hire a few women, promote them, tick the boxes, and call your workplace inclusive. That’s why storytelling is so powerful in a situation like inclusive workplaces. We need to hear about inclusivity, and then we can achieve it. We will find people coming from more and more diverse education and cultural backgrounds. As an industry, we've become global very quickly. So, you can’t be genuinely inclusive unless you keep listening to and acknowledging those backgrounds. I think the most inclusive workplaces are those that listen and constantly question themselves. Do we have this right?
From a personal perspective, there are other angles to consider. I recently chatted with my good friend, Layla White, recently about the ever-present “imposter syndrome.” As CEO and co-founder of TechPassport, she has come up through the ranks in the industry and is quite active in Women of Fintech. She certainly doesn’t suffer from imposter syndrome currently, but she has in the past and has seen it with colleagues. What is it? Let’s go to Psychology Today: “People who struggle with imposter syndrome believe that they are undeserving of their achievements and the high esteem in which they are, in fact, generally held. They feel that they aren’t as competent or intelligent as others might think.”
“From a woman’s perspective, I think the best way to overcome imposter syndrome is surrounding yourself is positive influences, positive people,” she told me. “Personally, I look for people who will be honest with me and not just raise me up and tell me all the wonderful things I want to hear. I want to hear about how I can improve.”
As the founder of TechPassport, Layla connects traditional financial services companies with fintechs. It gives her a unique perspective on women in business. I asked her how she would counsel a woman who wanted to start a company in this climate.
“First of all, it's about picking a sector you know will offer you opportunities to earn a stable income and plan a career. Fintech and the financial sector are definitely one of those,” she said. “Education is critical, and I’m not talking about getting a degree and saying, ‘I’m done.’ It’s about taking advantage of continual learning. Ask for workplace opportunities, whether through educational courses or self-learning. Don't think that you won't be able to do it. Step outside your comfort zone and push yourself a bit further because you'll be surprised at what you can achieve.”
The Bottomline: For me, Women of Fintech and International Women’s Day are inclusive of men. We’re in it together. It’s not an ‘us versus them’ scenario by any means. There are a lot of men who support gender equality. Beyond championing your own diversity or challenges, remember to keep championing the same for others. I understand diversity and want to shout about it, so others understand and act on it. I dedicate myself to learning about somebody else's diversity and doing all I can to help them champion themselves and progress. So, when you see the phrase or hashtag for #embraceequity, yes let’s celebrate women and the goal of creating a world “free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.” But let’s remember that equity is an inclusive concept.