This October at The Fintech Times we are championing the fantastic females in the fintech industry. Around 30% of the fintech workforce are women, and we want to spotlight those who have not only made it to the top, but those who have overcome hurdles, bulldozing a path for the women to follow.
Here we hear from Elma Saric, Louisa Murray, Shail Deep, Marieke Flament, Elisabeth Beller, and Aliya Sadeque as they share their advice on managing financial goals and personal expectations.
Elma Saric, Strategic Partnerships and Ecosystems Manager, Raiffeisen Bank International
“Working in a traditionally male-dominated industry such as banking unfortunately sometimes provides obstacles for young women. When I first started working, it was a threatening experience trying to compete with my older male colleagues for an opportunity to share my views and opinions. However, I was always, as I am also now, very lucky to have amazing mentors to guide me and push me to grow. I strongly believe mentorship and establishing relationships is the key to overcoming initial fears and difficulties in any surroundings. Once, early on in my banking career, my colleague and I were preparing for a very important report. One of my female superiors blocked her calendar for couple of hours to just sit down with us and talk about our challenges and what we aimed to achieve. Inspirational connections in the workplace provided by mentors helped me manage my personal expectations and achieve set goals. They bring so much value to employees and distinguish true leaders and mentors.
“Another very important thing for was to search for an employer that nurtures a culture of giving women equal opportunities and a chance to grow – a place where I would receive the above-mentioned guidance and professional support. I am very happy to be working for Raiffeisen Bank International (RBI), a company which is committed to supporting and advancing equality and diversity. In my role at the Strategic Partnerships and Ecosystems Department, working closely with startups and fintechs is the core of my everyday business. Connecting with the community means not only establishing professional partnerships, but also listening to – and understanding – each other’s needs and challenges to facilitate mutual growth and ensure that both parties are performing at their best.
“Many other women interviewed in this series have already brought up the statistics around the disparity between the number of men and women working in the technology industry. I won’t repeat them, but this is one of the points that needs to be improved – something that resonates with the startups I’ve spoken to. Bringing the issue to the head of my department very quickly resulted in us hosting the Startup Revolution: Women Transforming the Industries event in October, where the key goal was to give space to female professionals from both the startup industry and the corporate field to focus on their expertise and to exchange views on current trends and topics”
Louisa Murray, Chief Operating Officer (UK and Europe), Railsbank
“We have just moved into a new office which, during covid, has its own challenges, but as I sit down writing this piece, one thing which I note with a sense of happiness, is how many of my colleagues are women, and in senior roles.
“Railsbank was only created in 2016 and the founders were determined that the male/female mix was to be equal and by and large we have achieved this. Our Head of People, a woman, genuinely does look at the candidate for any position as whether they can fulfil the role, whether they will add something to the team and whether they can work within the company’s ethos. It’s certainly not what school they might have attended, or who they know, or what gender they are.
“We don’t get it right every time, who does, but I genuinely believe we offer a fair employment opportunity which disregards gender, race or any other bias.
“And this is so important for me, because when I started out, in the 1980s, things were very different. My ambition was to be a financial trader in the City of London, but I was actively discouraged from applying, because the trading floor was considered a male dominated environment unsuitable for women. The chest beating, testosterone flowing trading floors were considered jungles for alpha males who knew how to make money and lose it. Quite why it was decided that only men could make decent traders is beyond my comprehension, but that was what we women had to face – a climate of antipathy and unfortunately, some plain hostility.
“But being told I couldn’t do something is like a red rag to a bull for me – I persevered, had some great mentors and became one of the first female traders at CIBC and, subsequently, Barclays. And surprise, surprise, civilisation didn’t crumble and life continued as before. And, for the most part, my male colleagues didn’t break down, or run for the hills – we all got along just fine and competition came down to who could do the best deals, regardless of our gender.
“Not that I am complacent now though. As let’s be honest, it is still a male-dominated industry, which is why I get asked a lot (including from my own daughter on the cusp of leaving University), how would I go about applying for a job now. I think three main things stand out for me. Firstly, be yourself. You have to believe that what you offer is a sound proposition for that particular company, both in terms of your skill sets and your approach to life. Once you start to try and be someone else, people can see through that quite quickly. You spend a lot of time with your colleagues, so it has to be a good fit. Secondly, do some research on the companies you wish to work for. Have a look at their social media, their press releases, their websites. You can learn so much from what a company is letting out into the market. Employment is a two-way street, you are checking them out, in the same way they are looking at you.
“Lastly, it’s called a career path for a reason, it can wind around, go up and go down, but you should appreciate that sometimes you need to gain experience to discover what you don’t want to do before you actually make a decision with regards to what you want to do!”
Shail Deep, chief product officer at TransUnion in the UK
“I think one of the greatest challenges is the lack of women role models in the industry and that’s something I noticed from an early age when I began specialising in STEM subjects, in particular engineering. In my own experience, less than 5% of the students were female at the Indian Institute of Technology, the engineering school I attended, and only a small percentage of our professors were female. And when studying for my MBA at the Indian Institute of Management I witnessed the same issue in terms of gender imbalance. With my career in finance and technology, it’s a challenge I have often faced, as I am sure many women do in such industries. Now I think it is our responsibility to help other women fulfil their potential by sponsoring and mentoring them, similar to what I have had the privilege of in my own career. And I’m fortunate to work for a company that recognises the importance of this issue.
“I’m very proud at TransUnion to be part of a UK executive leadership team that is 40% female and I’m part of the company’s global Gender Equity Committee which has pledged to achieve gender parity in senior leadership across all the countries TransUnion operates in by 2030.
“I’m also the executive sponsor of our Women @ TU network group, which is open to all employees passionate about promoting women’s growth. It spans across networking, education, personal development, social impact, mentoring and supporting working parents, and creates an opportunity for women to come together to effect positive change.
“At TransUnion, we have two schemes that are encouraging women to pursue a career in the technology field, as by working with schools and colleges, we can help to encourage more women into the field and to try and improve things for the workforce of tomorrow, whilst also aiming to support and encourage women working in the industry today to aim high and to fulfil their potential.
“Our Girls Into Tech programme is run in conjunction with local schools and aims to give girls aged 15 and above insight into what a career in technology is all about. Following an initial classroom session, a number of participants take part in an intensive week-long scheme learning about different areas within a technology company. To date, nearly 500 students have taken part and we’ve seen some inspirational results.
“We also have female mentors supporting computer science students at Leeds University Technical College. The mentors delve into their own personal journey with the students and help them understand more about how to use their technical skills in the workplace.
“I strongly believe that every person owns her or his career. And as the lines between personal life and work are blurring, it is even more important to have the balance between the two and be realistic about what can be achieved, while being aspirational at the same time.
“Given fair opportunities, women do not need to choose between raising a family and being successful professionally. Fair opportunity needs to be provided from both work as well as on personal front. It is really important to have a support structure of family, friends and colleagues. With the right support structure, set the goals for yourself and seek mentors and sponsors that will help you achieve those goals.
“These are themes we discussed on our recent TransUnion podcast, where I was joined by female guests from HSBC and Google as we discussed navigating traditionally male-dominated environments, supporting women in their careers and balancing family alongside career progression.”
Marieke Flament, Mettle, CEO
“We need to learn to believe in our value, negotiate and ask for what we are worth.
“As women we are not very good at negotiating or talking about money. I’ve learned the hard way – what being paid 25% less than my male peer means. Earlier in my career, I helped a classmate join an organisation I was at. Towards the end of his recruitment process, he told me how much the company was going to pay him – asking if that was a fair offer. I was shocked when he revealed a number that was 25% higher than what I was on – for a same level role. To this day, I remember going home and being crushed by what I had learned. Thankfully, my husband encouraged me to go back and ask for the pay raise I deserved.
“Paying for help is a good investment – you’ll save time, allow yourself to grow and keep happy and balanced. I once attended an event where a leading woman (I unfortunately forgot who it was) gave one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard – ‘invest in getting help’. Get help with cleaning, get help with childcare, get help and simplify your life so you can focus on developing yourself, building value and spending quality time on what matters. One of her examples was, ‘if you take a taxi for £25, you might think it’s a waste of money, except if you think that it saves you time and you can work in the cab and then have a quieter evening with your family’.
“The way I look at getting help or buying services is how much it helps me save time and be a better, more effective and balanced person. I value getting help much more than any material goods.
“Continuously train and retrain and invest in yourself. I am an avid learner. My background is in computer science but I realised long ago that it was only going to get me so far. So I decided to retrain, and did an MBA (paid from my own pocket). Well actually, both my husband and I did our MBA together, self-funded. To our friends and family, this looked crazy, but it was by far the best money we’ve invested. We would not be where we are today and have the opportunities we have without that training.”
Elisabeth Beller, Senior Vice President of Client Services at 3Pillar Global
“As the senior vice president of client services at 3Pillar Global, a corporation that has worked with a multitude of companies implementing innovative digital solutions for their business, I have the pleasure of working with diverse teams and women in leadership roles at every level of the company.
“As many have observed, men and women tend to see opportunities differently. Women see a job description and think they need to have accomplished everything on it in order to apply for a job. Men read the same job description and think they only need to meet a fraction of the criteria in order to apply. I fell into this mindset early on in my career. When a headhunter contacted me about a job I was extremely interested in, I doubted myself. What if I didn’t check all the boxes? I decided to take the call with the recruiter anyway, and I discovered I was not only capable of the job, but the best person for it. Remember to believe in yourself and always take the call.
“Through my role at 3Pillar, I’ve been able to oversee a variety of engagements with many different types of companies. One important piece of financial advice I tell my clients is to identify your expected outcome and measure your progress early on. For example, we recently helped a client develop an estimated ROI for a new product. The projected ROI was so strong that it made the decision to proceed with the product a no-brainer. The client received funding for an initial release of the product. If the ROI projections prove out, they will have a “self-funding” product that we’ll be able to continue iterating on indefinitely, all because they created and tracked the financial goal for their project early.
“I think the same for personal finances. If you have a savings goal I always recommend contributing to a 401K early– you’ll never even miss that money, and compound interest is your friend! The best advice I could give to women who are navigating financial goals and personal expectations is to define your goal clearly, decide how you’ll measure it, and then believe in yourself enough to actually go out and achieve it!”
Aliya Sadeque, Senior Director CRM Ecosystems at Zafin
“When I began my first job after high school, I didn’t feel like I could spare much for my future self, so I started with pre-authorised payments off every paycheck. Initially, I had these in managed portfolios, but eventually wanted to be more thoughtful about what I was investing in. Of course, I wanted to see sustained long term growth, but I also wanted to be socially and environmentally conscious about what I was supporting with my investments. I consulted with a friend, who specialised in green and ethical portfolios. Through his advice, I was able to invest in very customised portfolios and became a pro at self-directed investing.”