While The Fintech Times is passionate about highlighting amazing women in fintech 365 days of the year, the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day of #BreaktheBias is one worth encouraging. We’ve spoken to Sarah Touzani, chief operating officer of Creditspring, to hear her thoughts on how fintech can break the bias.
Sarah Touzani has been chief operating officer of Creditspring, a subscription loan provider, since 2019 and was previously head of operations. Before that, she spent eight years in consulting and banking operational roles including at HSBC, Actuaris, and BNP Paribas focusing on compliance, operations, and risk management.
Although there has been some improvement in recent years, the fintech and financial industries remain exceptionally male-dominated. Of course, there are many factors behind this –recruitment bias, lack of opportunities and societal pressures pushing young girls towards more ‘feminine’ subjects and careers, instead of STEM or business all play a part.
Unfortunately, many women in financial services still see limited opportunities for career progression and seeing women succeeding in senior-level positions is still all too rare. Sadly, the glass ceiling is yet to be fully smashed. This International Women’s Day, the message is clear – we need to #BreakTheBias.
I have worked in finance for over twelve years, moving from consulting and banking operational roles to being the head of operations at Creditspring. I was the first hire of the operations team and took on huge responsibility and risk in leaving a huge corporate to join an ambitious start-up and build a successful team that aligns with my belief that diversity is vital to success.
But risk-taking should be encouraged. I thoroughly believe that a willingness to take risks unlocks new opportunities and allows an individual to develop new skills. It can be daunting to adopt these attitudes, especially for women, as there remains almost a social taboo not to ‘rock the boat’. Risk-taking is even harder without a strong support network, personally and professionally. But taking risks is vital in developing and succeeding professionally – if women are more risk-averse they can find they often have to work harder to stand out. These support networks are particularly important for women starting to progress in their careers, as oftentimes it can be frustrating not receiving that support from colleagues that do not understand your point of view or respect your experience.
Previously, as a young woman of colour coming into a consulting role, I’ve had to trust my own expertise in order to battle the inevitable resistance to change from predominantly older, white men in the finance industry. Immediately demonstrating my leadership abilities, relying on my expertise and developing strategies to manage this resistance was the only option.
Throughout my time working in the finance and fintech industries it’s been clear that women are often less optimistic about their finances, this needs to change. In order to provide more support for women, financial services providers need to ensure that their workforce reflects the diversity of their customer base – especially at senior leadership levels – so decision-makers are aware of the challenges or issues their customers face.
If the financial and fintech industries are going to become gender diverse, it is crucial for individuals to see people they can relate to in the most senior positions. Diversity in all its forms needs to be fully reflected in leadership roles. Leadership should represent society and – importantly – customers to ensure the business makes decisions in the best interest of customers and considering their diverse needs.
Since 2016 we’ve seen that women are promoted to managerial positions at far lower rates than men, making it nearly impossible for companies to become as gender diverse as they need to, or hit the targets they’ve set themselves.
Additionally, women of colour continue to be underrepresented and under-hired at every step of their careers. Between the entry-level positions and the C-suites, women of colour representation drops by more than 75 per cent. Change is slow. In fact, there has been no improvement during the last three years, as the number of women of colour in senior positions remains very low.
With fewer women of colour in senior positions, the opportunities for women trying to progress in their careers also drops. Without these senior mentors, the next generation of leaders isn’t receiving the support or building the network it needs to fulfil its potential. Without diverse leaders who have experienced the same challenges you’re facing, who are you supposed to speak to or learn from?
Gender diversity within financial services may have improved over previous decades, but it still has a long way to go. Luckily there have always been trailblazing women in business – Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Starling Bank CEO Anne Boden are two of my biggest professional influences – women that we should be celebrating and holding up as examples to those earlier on in their careers. Showing others that success in a male-dominated industry is possible can hopefully inspire others on their own career paths.
This is crucial because we know gender-balanced senior leadership leads to a happier, more productive workforce, which is what we’re all aiming for. This International Women’s Day, let’s get together, #BreakTheBias, and take action to make the fintech industry diverse and inclusive for all.