Black Lives Matter may have dominated media coverage in recent months but how has it created a dialogue for BAME workers in fintech and AI? Recent coverage by The Fintech Times showed that while boards were keen to grow their ethnic diversity, little progress had been made by the top firms.
Gina Clarke spoke with industry voices to reflect on their experiences and to find out what more can be done.
James Omisakin is the Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer at Compare Ethics – a data-driven startup using machine learning to verify sustainable products, establishing trust and transparency between consumers and retailers.
He was named one of 30 Under 30 in the Ecommerce and Retail space by Forbes this year and is passionate about the use of tech for good.
Lavinia Osbourne is the founder and host of the award-winning platform Women in Blockchain Talks; a networking and educational platform promoting gender diversity and inclusion in this new and innovative tech space.
Susan Falola started her first company in Edtech to deliver more diversity and inclusion, she has now developed a software solution called JUUBIX, launching shortly.
JUUBIX is an inclusive SaaS Fintech that connects start-ups to cross-functional expertise and investment anonymously, calculating the overall liquidity of the network.
Experiencing restrictions in the industry
James: I’ve never felt personally victimised. But the general lack of diversity in tech is a problem. There have been scenarios where I’ve felt overlooked while networking or in certain spaces and you notice when, being black, you’re the minority rather than the most represented in the room.
Lavinia: Unconscious basis is racism from a systematic point of view. Meaning that ALL of us in a patriarchal and white society are conditioned to see the world in a certain way and thus ourselves. As a woman of colour, I have the double whammy of being both a woman and black, and so I have had to fight against those conditionings that “this” western society perpetrates. That I am less influential, capable and/or qualified than a man/white woman; that I should be grateful for any opportunity given to me; that I am “pretty FOR a black girl” but not pretty enough to represent the company, unless they want to promote diversity and inclusion. That only certain roles are available to me.
Susan: I grew up in Islington where my friends were predominately white and my narrative would be that it is less about racism and more about ‘unconscious bias’ and ‘labelling’.
I remember attending an event at Innovate Finance and pitching my business only to be asked who is the CEO and who came up with the idea.
Treatment of BAME workers
James: In my industry and as a Founder I find it jarring that 48% of black and minority-owned businesses don’t expect to qualify for financial support from government programs and accelerators, and just 0.9% of European Founders are black.
We’re seeing more action to promote diversity since BLM but previously, what we’ve seen is pledges to achieve diversity in tech but, based on those statistics, little evidence in action.
There’s much work to be done. More than just lip service. The numbers are still very low: black people still aren’t getting the promotions, the seats at the table, the opportunities. The numbers speak for themselves.
Lavinia: There is a lot of BAME representation in fintech, but not in the capacity of them being funded and getting the support that non-white and generally their male counterparts receive. Fintech is still very corporate, with ex-executives of Corporates starting their own fintech start-ups with all the contacts they need to promote what they are doing and ultimately, get paid. Blockchain, on the other hand, seems to be and “feels” more inclusive with the opportunity to be rewarded for innovation and initiation via peer to peer crowdsourcing.
With all the regulation coming into the space, however, and yes, it is required, it is again pricing out those who cannot afford to invest in all the necessary documentation required, which takes us back to being funded by VCs who are generally white and male.
Susan: I believe my previous treatment has stemmed from a combination of three different biases, being a female, a black woman and my age.
James: Quite simply, there needs to be diversity on boards to be able to pass down focus from the top. Without that, you’ll see lip service with no discernible action – because action doesn’t benefit the decision makers directly.
The communities that we serve with our business don’t look like boardrooms, and that’s the way it should be. Your leadership should reflect your community, your customer, your values and the people you’re serving. This is the way we’ve built Compare Ethics.
If Reddit’s Co-Founder can step down to make space for top-level representatives who better reflect the platform’s communities, it can be done. And it should be done. Businesses of all sizes and scales are accountable and have the power to make intelligent changes that will ultimately benefit the industry.
Lavinia: I will give myself as an example, I am one of a handful of women of colour/black women (I personally know) in Blockchain in the UK. I stand out from the crowd because I am a woman, I am black as well as because I am good at what I do. I am generally the only person in the room who looks like me or the only female in the room that looks like me, unless it is a BAME event.
Susan: Most recently at a business negotiation meeting for a potential partnership, I was practically bullied into potentially giving away 30% of JUUBIX away.
James: BAME people have to believe that they can succeed in this industry, that they can be Founders, that they have a network of role models, mentors and peers to relate to and grow with. We need to create environments where BAME people feel capable and like they can access what’s needed. Accelerators and coaching programs like the one just launched by Google are what’s needed.
Black entrepreneurs need access to finance and to opportunities within the tech sector. Equal access to key conversations on policy, product, sustainability and innovation and equal access to the rooms in which decisions are made is essential.
The AI products being built are disproportionately created by humans with internal biases. We’ll not be able to move forward if our machine learning is already biased. Empathy is a vital stepping stone to inclusion. If you don’t understand that, it’s going to be difficult to move forward. But these are not new issues. They’ve simply been reframed in the context of technology. We’ve been having these conversations for a long time.
Lavinia: What can be done to change this? Funding to create outreach programs to different demographic groups and PR, but not just simply based on me or others being a woman or person of colour etc. As well as funding to help with support in running our platforms/monetizing our skills and value.
It is tiring people expecting “us” to work for free simply because they think they are doing “us” a favour by collaborating with “us” in order for them (a company/corporate) to look all-inclusive and diverse.
I also think more of us are willing to raise our voices more in regards to racist micro-aggressions many of us suffer on a regular, if not daily, basis.
Susan: Confidence definitely helps to overcome these above scenarios and also the possibility of anonymity to do away with bias. This is why I created the JUUBIX solution with its ‘anonymous’ connectivity to potential stakeholders.