This International Women’s Day, The Fintech Times is championing great women within the sector. It’s more important than ever to decrease the gender gap and promote a diverse group of talent within fintech, and what better day to look into how this can be achieved than March 8th!
Here prominent fintech leaders share their thoughts on their own journeys within the industry, as well as how an increase in diversity would be a benefit for all.
Sonya Iovieno, Head of Venture & Growth at Silicon Valley Bank UK said that to help fintech diversity, women need to have more role models in the sector.
She said: “Representation is still a big challenge and issue in fintech, especially in senior roles. We now have some notable female founders and investors leading the way but we need to ensure the opportunities are created for talented females to continue to innovate, lead and invest. The past 20 years has seen some great progress although we still have a long way to go. Everyone has a part to play in improving female representation and wider diversity, equity and inclusion. We need to empower people to take responsibility and drive diversity in whatever capacity in their day job. It’s important to keep the conversation going as the problems are stickier than the solutions. We need to create an ongoing dialogue with the space for two-way conversations that put words into actions. For more women to be attracted to founding and leading fintech businesses, they need to see more female role models.
“The notion that fintech is just a development and engineering industry filled with male professionals is not the reality I know and work in. Some preconceptions and barriers may still exist, but fintech encompasses all business departments and roles, from sales, marketing, product development, design, management, credit, banking, customer service etc. Fintech is an industry title. What we are really talking about is 21st-century financial services that are being built and created in a digital-first approach. There are a broad range of exciting careers for women in fintech and recruiters are increasingly seeking them out.”
In terms of how to aid in female fintech representation, she added: “Building a diverse team of strong talent requires reaching the widest possible pool of candidates. Partnering with diversity-focused organisations can also help you reach out to people from diverse backgrounds. In order to eliminate barriers and bias from the recruiting process and attract premium talent, get your house in order then let people know about it. Look internally to understand fully your company culture and if it supports the diversity you aim to achieve and communicate that externally. Businesses do need to be very purposeful about being more diverse, putting measurable goals and targets in place and having these targets embedded with their leadership teams. What gets measured gets done. Talented women want to work with other talented women, so bringing women into leadership positions can be a real catalyst to attract more female talent.
“From my experience, fintech is a really exciting sector in which to build your career. There are many fantastic companies that are doing great things to empower their female employees and putting DEI at the heart of their business. I think it’s inspiring for young women to see notable female founders, CEOs and investors as it showcases that fintech has no glass ceilings.”
Sahar Salama, CEO and Founder, TPAY MOBILE, a Middle Eastern mobile payments platform, shares a similar view and said that the legacy of female success laid the groundwork for her own.
“It is common knowledge that women are underrepresented at senior levels in fintech – women make up just 7% of all fintech founders globally. This disparity is not limited to leadership positions either.
“So, how do we actively change this and effectively address such imbalances? In my experience, by not only focusing on attracting talent, but on retention strategies for diverse backgrounds. This includes promoting an inclusive work culture, ensuring there are equal promotion opportunities for both men and women, and offering mentoring and professional development.
“I come from Egypt, which has a large proportion of women working in tech and startups and many female leaders. Their legacy of success laid the groundwork for me and made me feel like I belonged in the sector. It was not until I started working with partners and investors across the globe that I became aware of how underrepresented women are in this industry. I’m thankful that my formative experiences did not open my eyes to the gender imbalances in fintech globally, as this meant that when I did come to understand the scale of the issue and how it might affect me, I already had a strong drive to succeed that was unaffected by others’ perceptions. Our collective aim for the future should be for every young woman to grow up with that drive and self-belief.”
Diversity in Artificial Intelligence
Prema Varadhan, Chief Architect and Head of AI at Temenos, providers of banking software solutions, said that the Covid-19 situation and the larger emphasis on work from home has been beneficial to women who have risen to the challenge.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought huge change and disruption, impacting everyone’s lives,” she said. “In the past, women have had to be more flexible and adapt their lives around work, but with today’s challenges, work has had to become adaptable to life. There have been pressure points of course – from home-schooling to caring for ill relatives. Women have risen to the challenge of this new environment, and their ability to juggle and multitask has proven invaluable.
“Without the need to be in an office from 9 to 5, we now have the ability to choose working hours that fit our needs. If I choose to spend an hour or so away from my desk during the week, I can make up that time when it’s more convenient to me. This freedom to control how we set a balance that best suits us is one of the positives that will change the way we work in the post-COVID-19 future. As this way of working becomes normalised it will provide an environment that will enable women to thrive, giving them more control in how they manage their time.
“There has been a shift within organisations too, not just individuals. The qualities women can bring to leadership are being seen as valuable more and more, and that’s reflected in news like KPMG’s recent appointment of two women leaders. Employees want leaders who are empathetic, who are sensitive to personal situations, and these are qualities that are cultivated in women from a young age, based on social norms. At Temenos, our executive committee has more women members now than ever before, a trend that I hope will soon be reflected by the industry as a whole.”
Shawn Tan, CEO of Skymind, an open-source enterprise deep-learning software company, thinks AI needs women to help mould the industry to a better one for all.
He said: “International Women’s Day is not only a time to celebrate half the world’s population – but also to reflect on how we can advance women’s contributions in all aspects of life – especially the AI sector. As the fourth industrial revolution continues to shape the way we live and work, we must do more to encourage women to pursue careers in artificial intelligence so we can shape a better outcome across all industries. This is particularly important in financial services, which is one of the biggest adopters of AI advancements.
“At Skymind, we are actively working to attract and nurture female talent. We recently announced our first cohort of startup investments from our $800 million fund – and two of the firms are spearheaded by women. The first startup, CertifAI, is an AI education offering with the aim to empower society with practical AI capabilities. Its training modules will play an important role in developing the AI ecosystem by training up AI-ready talent to support the industry’s rapid growth.
“We want to see more of these kinds of female-led companies come through our doors, and boost the number of women entering the AI workforce and give the tools to shine, thrive and lead businesses and organisations that are shaping our digital economy.
“Artificial Intelligence has a long way to go before it closes the gender gap, but the growing debate is creating a movement that will help shape an AI future that is reflective of our society and focused on making the world a better place.”