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TalentintheCloud: How to Promote Gender Diversity in Africa

Though things are slowly getting better, the issue of gender diversity in the fintech world is still prevalent even now. Too few companies have female founders or female leaders, and the sector still has a lot of work to do to make the landscape truly diverse.

Darren Franks is the Founder and CEO of TalentintheCloud. He is a thought leader in talent acquisition strategies with a specialist focus on the African fintech sector and launched TalentintheCloud in 2016 to help fintech’s accelerate their growth by acquiring and retaining key leadership talent.

Here he shares his thoughts on gender diversity and how to tackle the issue in the African fintech landscape.

Darren Franks, Founder and CEO, TalentintheCloud

Just over a year ago, we compiled the very first African fintech gender diversity report. Together with this report, we interviewed four phenomenal women in the industry about their journey and the lessons they learnt along the way. We learnt a great deal from these women about systematic struggle and overcoming considerable challenges.

In putting together the publication last year, we took the opportunity to survey our extensive database of women in fintech in Africa to gauge their experience of gender diversity. The results gave us a sense of how businesses on the continent are faring. I found the results encouraging and in line with my experience working in talent management in Africa. I have also found the vast majority of fintech organisations to be pretty forward-thinking and up to speed with why gender diversity and equality is so important in a business. This is particularly so in the product development area where there is a growing recognition that having gender balance and equality in a team contributes significantly towards the quality of the user experience, especially since women are big users of fintech.

However, in saying that, there is a tendency for some fintech founders to try and clone themselves when making new hires. That’s not ideal, given all the evidence that shows how much more a diverse team can achieve in the highly competitive fintech industry.

To avoid succumbing to the temptation of hiring more of the same type of people already in the business, we always intentionally present a diverse shortlist of potential candidates to the company. We also recommend that they are judged based on their skill set and experience, not their gender, race or cultural background.

In specific roles, there is, undoubtedly, a shortage of women candidates, an issue that certainly needs to be addressed and could be turned around through training and development at a grassroots level.

One of the biggest challenges I have come across on the continent is that women entrepreneurs find it more challenging to raise capital than men. I would like to see women have equal access to capital and hope to act as a bridge between venture capital firms in Africa and the women seeking the funding to build fintech businesses, like the inimitable Viola Llewellyn. Viola is co-founder and President of Ovamba Solutions, an innovative trade finance company serving the informal sector.

Additionally, I would like to see women take more chances when applying for jobs they think they may not be perfectly qualified to do but have all the skills and resources necessary. A well-known research result, initially quoted in Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In – Women, Work, and the Will to Lead”, finds that women won’t apply for a job unless they have 100% of the qualifications listed in a job spec. In contrast, men will apply for the job even if they only have 60% of the skill requirements. The women interviewed in this publication have got to where they are today because they had faith in their capabilities, even though they sometimes didn’t have all of the qualifications specified.

Notably, what we’ve seen at TalentintheCloud over this Covid period is a drop in our placement percentage of women. We haven’t changed our process and our access to female talent pool remains unprecedented, yet the interest from women in new roles has waned. This is likely because women tend to be more naturally risk-adverse, and during this uncertain period, moving jobs is certainly riskier than not.

Of most concern to me, however, are the unacceptable incidents that I have heard about in conversations with women in which they have been asked to compromise themselves in the pursuit of new business or career advancement. This should not be tolerated anywhere in the world. Companies need to do their utmost to prevent this from happening by keeping their ears to the ground and acting on any information they receive. They also need to ensure they have put in place rules and procedures that make it clear that this type of behaviour is not acceptable.

What I’ve seen from the results of our report and the insight given from women in leadership roles in fintech across Africa, is that there’s still some way to go in achieving our gender diversity goals. However, the industry in Africa has leapfrogged some of the challenges companies in the developed markets are still surmounting. We can be proud of that! And this challenging Covid period has put inequality even more under the spotlight, allowing us to push the mandate further, strengthen our partnerships so that we can create grassroot upskilling opportunities.

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