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Walking The Talk For Change: DE&I in Fintech

Lots of people talk about the importance of DE&I (diversity, equity and inclusion) yet there is still poor representation of women in the financial services industry.

Nadia Edwards-Dashti co-founded the Harrington Starr Group in 2010; a financial technology recruitment firm with offices in London, New York and Belfast.

As well as helping more than 2,000 people find jobs, she runs the podcast series FinTech with Nadia: The DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) Discussions to share the challenges and successes of those driving equitable change in the industry. She’s also the author of ‘Fintech Women Walk the Talk’.

As part of our January focus on moving fintech forward, Edwards-Dashti shares with us insights on inclusion in the workplace as well as some lessons from her podcast series.

Nadia Edwards-Dashti
Nadia Edwards-Dashti

As a recruiter in the financial services and technology space, I am uniquely positioned to recognise the debilitating problem a vast majority of workplaces face: our people, how we invest in them, how we support them in their career growth and how we build environment that truly include the diversity we see in people. Very rarely do we see a gender balance. Very rarely do we see a sharing of ideas from all sorts of perspectives. And very rarely we see diversity of people coexisting to co create and succeed.

This lack of perspectives and opinions holds us back. We have become accustomed to a select demographic of society making business decisions; and subsequently the same select group building products that are supposed to be reflective of the masses. This often happens without considering what the masses want or even who the masses are. Not that we actively acknowledge this. Instead inclusion in the workplace is often just a citation on an agenda, a lonely social media post or a passive afterthought.

A better workplace

I am going to share my learns from certain areas of the financial technology sector as a case study for how we can better drive inclusion everywhere. It is a sector that has revolutionised our understanding and relationship with money and therefore it is has the unique opportunity to also transform our understanding of DE&I, and lead a cross-industry commitment to building a better workplace for all.

My personal work for DE&I in fintech can be captured under the phrase: Walk The Talk. But this isn’t a concept or actionable process solely applicable to fintech. Walking the talk is for all people and all organisations wanting to embed their commitment to being more authentically inclusive. It’s about listening, then acting, ending the notion of a silent witness, and heightening awareness of the real barriers that prevent DE&I from being commonplace.

Walk the Talk has driven the conversations I have on my podcast series, The DEI Discussions; and I would like to take inspiration from the exceptional voices featured on the show to share actions adoptable by all, no matter where we stand in our career journey:

  • It begins with attraction and retention

The average tenure in the fintech space is 13 months. And often when firms try to address this, they don’t ask the right questions, shifting the blame to those leaving the company, or even industry. We say they didn’t click, weren’t the right cultural fit, or didn’t progress at the rate we projected. Are these statements fair or accurate?

Our understanding of retention needs to change. Staff retention cannot only be about keeping someone in their job, it needs to be about moving them into the job they want through education, challenge, stretch, training, progression and promotion. What can your firm be doing to cover this even at interview stage? Are you attracting the right people, the ones who can do the job or the ones who are excited to do the job and learn to do more? And when they join your firm, what do they expect from you? How can you deliver on your talk?

  • Acknowledge fair pay, fair recognition and fair promotion

Following nearly 300 podcasts I can confidently say the systematic issues we face in financial technology revolve around fair pay, fair recognition and fair promotion. The winners in this are the business’s that are fully transparent with their pay erasing any pay gap between demographics. Naturally with this comes better promotion criteria and fairer evidence based decision making around the choice to promote, with better promotion criteria and a focus on appropriately recognising work done. The loudest person in the team isn’t always the right person to attribute all the credit to no matter how our brains are wired to believe so.

  • Be agile with your hybrid working policy

Rather than begrudgingly adhering to a few days working from home, the best business are building trust between their managers and staff to allow this model to thrive. These organisations are training their managers to lead better without having to sit next to their staff five days a week. Learning how to better recognise work done and invest in training while remote has made huge steps for productivity.

  • Consistent communication bolsters support and confidence

Creating a communicative environment where you can celebrate, understand, listen and grow is central to elevating your people. Accurately understanding the problems people are facing, or the exciting heights people have reached, creates an open community that is able to learn beyond their immediate experiences.

  • Recognise that there is a problem.

For years, companies have denied a problem exists. And when it is addressed, it is displayed as empty policy that is not authentically and effectively actioned. The challenge actually begins with all of us, once we deem this problem a problem, that we decide we should all be solving it. Rather than putting the onus on the marginalised and believing that they will be able to reduce the gender pay gap, the ethnicity gap, the leadership gap, the social mobility gap, and the promotion gap, the winner invest in drawing everyone into the solution.

The winners don’t just mentor, they also advocate. They open doors for their mentees, they put their name forward, they have their back. Every single person has a unique desire for their own success, what that means to them and what environment that will support that success. Those who ask what that looks like with interest and a desire to make things better, do just that.

For me, walking the talk is far more than a slogan. It is a call to action, a way to own the real issue and inspire positive change through clear steps. While firms are introducing DE&I committees, ambassadors and policies, they are limited without tangible actions everyone feels they can be part of.

After all, inclusion does include everyone. My call to action: give everyone in your organisation a stake in bettering the standing of DE&I. Once we acknowledge this is everyone’s responsibility, real change can start to happen.

Read The Fintech Times review of ‘FinTech Women Walk the Talk’.


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