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 Ashley Usher, Ornit Dweck-Maizel, Tracy Monson, Colleen Crist, Marion Leslie and Chermaine Hu as they share how they paved the way for others to follow.
Ashley Usher, Chief Integration and Innovation Officer at Fortis
“When I reflect on my career, I think fondly of the women in fintech leadership who paved the way for me to grow in leadership responsibility step by step. Now more than ever, I find it’s incumbent on me to provide a similar path of opportunity for those coming behind me.
“It was my first role as a vice president in a global company where I began to see the immense opportunity that is afforded as a leader to mentor those around me. Diversity of thought, opinion and solutions allowed us the breeding ground to ideate a better product and a more collaborative team. My mentees and I learned to trust each other, to stay curious and not be afraid to say, “I don’t know how to do this. Can you help?” Different continents and time zones were represented, but we wouldn’t miss a chance to connect each month. There is nothing greater than spending time mentoring women and watching them flourish in their roles.
“Leading as a woman in the workplace during COVID has shown me how important it is to relate on a human level to those I have a chance to impact. Women face more pressure than ever in juggling work, life and a myriad of unforeseen challenges in the workplace. You are not alone if you’re struggling. During this season, I’ve focused on providing opportunities for those around me to connect regularly. This has taken different forms for me – from practical help in facilitating career growth discussion groups for minorities in the workplace, providing introductions and networking opportunities across my network in fintech, mentoring women in college who are pursuing technology as a career and needed encouragement to keep going and hosting Zoom calls to connect on a personal level with women regarding the change and challenges as leaders encountered during COVID. It was a true joy to watch as someone I had a chance to mentor took a massive leap into a completely new career path during COVID.
“We are better together. There is space for all of us here as we grow. It’s my hope that the investment I make with each individual I have a chance to mentor provides a small stepping stone to give them the courage to take the next step with boldness. Do for one what you wish you could do for many. It ultimately becomes the legacy we leave behind.”
Ornit Maizel, Co-founder and CTO of Sunbit
“It’s no secret that women continue to be underrepresented in traditionally male-dominated sectors, like tech, and, in particular, software and engineering departments. One report shows that “women currently remain highly underrepresented in software engineering (14% of the total workforce) and computer science-related jobs (25% of the total workforce).
“I recognise the unique situation I am in, as a woman—and mother—in a leadership role in the fintech industry. I’ve been lucky to learn from other driven mothers and women while holding leadership positions in operations, marketing and product strategy. I’ve also had mentors from non-traditional backgrounds who’ve challenged my perspective and disrupted my ways of thinking.
These experiences have taught me the importance of having non-traditional voices at the table. In my teams, I’ve focused on diversity and inclusion by hiring from non-traditional backgrounds (e.g., non-college-educated employees or women who have paused or revamped their career paths when they’ve started families). I’ve also put an emphasis on flexible policies that encourage self-management and foster cooperation rather than competition.
After having kids, I became more aware of demands on my time, inside and outside of the office, and I began to recognise when colleagues were trying too hard to burn the candle at both ends. In my leadership, I seek to normalise the idea that employees have needs and competing priorities outside of work, and I work with them to design flexible policies that put the emphasis on self-managing to results. For example, a parent might choose to do school drop-off in the morning and work after kids are in bed to meet deadlines. This employee might have the same (or better!) output as their colleague clocking traditional work hours. When all employees are encouraged to design reasonable but unique approaches to their responsibilities, this clears the path for people who don’t necessarily have access to the same support structures, systems and levels of predictability that their colleagues might enjoy and take for granted.
“Believe it or not, there usually is enough to go around, if you focus on creating an environment where partnering with each other is valued, rewarded and modeled. My formula for fostering cooperation is to start with high expectations and align the team toward clear goals. Then, I identify and play to the strengths of the contributors. Lastly, I practice vulnerability as a leader, doing my best to show up authentically and encouraging others to do the same.
“I am where I am today because of those amazing women, mothers and colleagues who mentored and supported me during my own “nontraditional” seasons. So it’s only natural that I do the same.”
Colleen Crist, Vice President of Business Development, Paymerang
“Working for a startup and holding a leadership role has been the most rewarding experience of my career. Each day I am given the chance to make a difference and help others along the way.
“Being a woman and holding a leadership role in the tech industry is empowering. It has truly been a journey, full of learning experiences and challenges, but I am grateful for it all. I hope my experience shows that it is possible to break down barriers and change the landscape of the industry. My hope is that as a woman in a leadership role, I can be an example to other women and help empower them to find their own success.”
“Paymerang adheres to an elevated standard when it comes to empowering minority groups in the workplace because they’re willing to have conversations and help team members find a path forward. They believe you’re responsible for your future and encourage you to advocate but they work alongside you to find ways to help you in your career.
“Paymerang has given me the opportunity to take control of my career path and that has been extremely rewarding. They’re willing to try something new and constantly evolving, which has not only contributed to my success but has also helped the company succeed.
“My advice to women trying to find their own path to a leadership role is to grow through what you go through and keep showing up. Be intentional. Consistently show up, work hard, fail, get back up, face it again, do a little better, and keep working towards your goals. The tech industry can be intimidating, but you have something unique to offer and if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and get to work you can make a difference.”
Marion Leslie, Head of Financial Information at SIX
“HR does not make rope ladders – real change happens when the business leader consciously leads through diversity, equity and inclusion. So I do it through my everyday job. I am constantly observing my team and looking at who is leading, engaged, involved and heard. For example at staff townhalls: who are the presenters and the moderators, who is asking questions, what is the gender split? For projects: who leads, who presents the results, who attends the leadership team meeting to provide an update? It’s important to keep an eye on equality and inclusion in meetings, in events, on stage, in photos, in training sessions, on long lists, in agendas, in conversation, in teams, etc. That’s a crucial part of creating the rope ladder – by making it a natural part of everyday business and using the opportunities to create balance right in front of our eyes.
“Of course, mentoring, sponsorship, supporting employee resource groups and enabling personal development plans is critical. Lastly, you have to make your own success real – there is no magic to it and you do not have to be superhuman. Talk about your own struggles and failures, as well as the jobs you did not get. I was a reluctant role model at first, but now I celebrate the opportunity I have as a leader to drive change.”
Chermaine Hu, CFO and Co-founder at Episode Six
“I’m a big believer in leading by example. I want team members at all levels to realise how important their contributions are. As a team leader, I will never ask someone to do something that I am not prepared to do. No task is too small and consistently delegating grunt work to junior team members is not how I operate. A good leader is a guiding figure and I believe we can all jump in and help each other as needed since we’re a team focused on the best outcome for the business
“At Episode Six, my team sits in one large room with the same desks and the same tools where hierarchy and titles are far from spotlighted. Consistently, we are finding ourselves combining our expertise to create the best solutions, resulting in empowered employees and a welcoming environment where team members are encouraged to unleash their passion, realise their potential, and achieve growth.
“On a daily basis, communication, collaboration, and creative freedom go a long way. I never ask someone to do something unless they know why they are doing it. If they don’t know the ‘why’ behind the importance of the task, no matter how big or small, they may not be as passionate about delivering a great work product. Rather than handing out tasks and giving a step by step explanation, I also challenge team members to think creatively about problem-solving and encourage them to come to their own conclusions. I set team members up with the challenge at hand, explain why solving it is important, and from there I see people really apply themselves to find a solution.
“On an organisational level, I have helped implement specific programs at Episode Six around mentorship, leadership and professional development. All team members must feel they can make meaningful contributions, that their voices are being heard and their work is making a difference regardless of experience and background, and – it should go without saying – gender.”