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 Neha Mittal, Francesca Hodgeson, Kristy Kim, Priti Rathi Gupta, Laura Spiekerman and Colleen Wilson as they share with us how they smashed the glass ceiling.
Neha Mittal, CEO of Divido
“Whilst the glass ceiling offers occasional windows of opportunity to some, there is so much more work to be done to open up a space based on equality. But we must be careful not to lose sight of our own individuality, the positive value we as individuals bring to the workplace, as we create that space.
“For me, that learning started right at the beginning with my family, in particular my mum, herself a stay-at-home parent who encouraged me to focus on my education and my career as a means of being independent and spurning the traditional gender roles forced on so many women across the globe.
“This encouragement not only served as a driver throughout my academic career at university; earning my degree in Computer Science from the Indian Institute of Technology and achieving my MBA at Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, but also pushed me to become the resilient person I am today who is not afraid of failure but actively embraces it as a way to learn and apply to move forward.
“And as I became a mother myself, a journey that for me, personally, like so many others, was not a smooth path, I now feel like I can conquer anything in the world. Additionally, being a mother has made me a better leader, bringing out a more empathetic, efficient, and focussed side to me that I now apply to both my professional and personal lives.
“Where we come from does shape who we are, but it shouldn’t confine us to idle inertia beneath glass ceilings or to fixate on what’s beyond them. Instead, we should focus on our own strengths and dismantle the glass ceiling altogether to rebuild more open structures – after all, glass panes are easily replaced.”
Francesca Hodgson, Co-Founder and MD at Goodbox
“Well, I just ignored it! Just like if I had physically smashed a glass ceiling, I have a few scars, but the learning, journey and connections has been incredible. I’ve also learned to build up resilience from a young age and that certainly helps.”
Kristy Kim, CEO and Co-Founder, TomoCredit
“As an immigrant founder from South Korea, the ability to trust myself and have faith in my vision has allowed me to achieve my goals. When I first came to the U.S., I was alone. I had to figure things out on my own. My parents could not give me any good advice as they were not familiar with American school or work life. I had to figure it out and make decisions on my own. I was scared but also excited about the fact that I got to design my life the way I wanted and pursued my American dreams.
“However, I soon faced multiple rejections. After studying at UC Berkeley, I got a job as an investment banker in SF. I needed an apartment and a car. Unfortunately, I was rejected by landlords and also from multiple auto loans. They told me that “I am not creditworthy due to my lack of credit score” This gave me the idea for TomoCredit and increasing financial inclusion for all, but it was only the beginning of my journey hearing the word “no” many times.
“Over the past few years, I have come across naysayers and doubters. People who say there’s no way this could work to where the market is going to be. Still, I knew, deep down, that this was a product that needed to come to the marketplace, which is why TomoCredit was first to market.
“As we built and brought our card to market, people saw the need not as a theoretical idea, but as a practical solution that could help millions. Suddenly I had investors, consumers, technology companies, and fintech peers coming up to me to endorse the need for this product to exist. And the proof of this is in the most recent series A raise of $10 million announced in September.
“Looking back on this journey from having a seed of an idea, to now having a product that can help millions of people, I keep thinking about how I had faith in myself. There are so many young female founders and immigrants who undoubtedly have these ideas but don’t know where to turn. As long as you have the vision, you have supporters, and you tune out the naysayers you will find people to help you grow.
“So going back to the initial question. The way I’ve smashed the glass ceiling as a female founder is by being true to myself. Being true to my vision. Being motivated to find the support needed to keep moving, because I knew that this was an essential product for the over 40 million people who are on the outside of the credit system looking in.”
Priti Rathi Gupta, founder of LXME
“When I got married at 19, I parked my dreams at a young age, only to chase them later on. I went back to college, got to working full time, and have never looked back. I believe there is no stopping a person who wishes to aspire for greater things even later in life.
“While setting up the commodities business, I went to markets where people refused to acknowledge me and preferred to talk to my male colleague instead. Those were the challenging times that made me stronger. From making my way to the male-dominated industry forums, to now setting up LXME, I’ve come a long way in the financial services industry – an industry that has always been dominated by men.
“When I started LXME, nobody was taking up the challenge of providing the right financial education to encourage women to invest even though India has no shortage of financial advisors. Essentially advisories, they constitute nothing that helps women in end-to-end financial planning. I wanted to create something easy yet aspirational. A platform that not only makes it very easy for women to start their journey of investing but also liberate them to aspire to do what every smart woman does.
“We live in a society that perpetuates money myths such as women are not interested in how money works. However, more women than men are graduating with degrees today. More women are in full-time employment. They are earning more and have greater disposable income to spend, save, and invest. Women entrepreneurs are building new companies, creating new markets, and fast becoming prominent wealth creators.
“So the question is: to what extent do the products and services provided by the financial services industry take into account the life trajectory of women and how does the industry check for and eliminate gender bias which can have a direct impact on women’s financial returns?
“That is my driving force behind having a financial planning platform specially designed for women. With LXME I can now bridge the gap between women and finance and inspire a wave of financially fearless women actively managing their money and achieving their dreams.
“As a woman in business, I’ve had my fair share of challenges, but a good support system has helped me deal with most of them. That, and letting go of things that are not meant to be. It’s important to keep your focus on a solution rather than waste energy on thinking about what could have been or what will be. To stay rational and logical is essential during trying times.
Laura Spiekerman, co-founder and CRO at Alloy
“It’s tough to ever truly consider the glass ceiling “smashed, particularly in financial services, but I’ve been lucky enough to be able to build a company from the ground up focused on leveling the playing field from day one. If you start with more women in the business, more women want to join as you scale.
“I started my fintech career as the first employee at Kenya-based Kopo Kopo, helping the two co-founders build out their software system which enables small businesses to leverage M-PESA/mobile payments. After joining a payments startup and seeing firsthand some of the issues facing fintech firms, I helped launch Alloy in 2015 alongside our CEO Tommy Nicholas and CTO Charles Hearn. Not to downplay my own part, but I always acknowledge my co-founders for wholeheartedly supporting my vision to build an equitable financial services company. In the early days of fundraising, I certainly received less scrutiny from VCs having two white male co-founders compared to solo female founders or full female-led teams. I also have the considerable advantage that I’m white – not just having male cofounders. Women of colour have a much, much harder time raising.
“Currently servicing over 200 customers, Alloy is an API-based SaaS platform that helps financial services navigate the regulatory compliance process of identifying their customers when onboarding and monitoring their transactions to combat fraud. In six short years, Alloy has gone through extensive growth that I’ve been able to play a major role in. This past year alone, ARR more than tripled and headcount increased by 140%. Perhaps most exciting of all, this past month we raised $100M in Series C funding, bringing our valuation to $1.35B.
“Particularly in tech and even more so in fintech, there’s the dynamic of being the ‘token female’ in the room, which can lead to some great opportunities but also be an exhausting role to be put in. As the “female founder”, you’re always expected to be the one championing for equality — of course it’s a job I’ll do gladly, but it’s important to have male counterparts doing the same work, something I’m lucky to have. There is a lot that goes into this, and it’s important to never feel like the work is done, consistently acknowledge our judgments or subconscious biases and figure out how to work around them, whether that’s in recruiting, fundraising, or networking in order to allow women to rise in this ecosystem.”
Colleen Wilson, VP of Product at MANTL
“When I started my career, my goal was always to hone my craft. I wanted to be a great product leader. The “glass ceiling” was not something I fixated on early in my career and I recognise that, as an educated white woman, that stems from a place of privilege. Part of my career success can be attributed to a willingness to “go first” and embrace new first experiences at every opportunity. “Go first” has been a motto throughout my career because it’s a personal challenge: you must be willing to be what you do not yet see in an effort to get somewhere you have not gotten to before.
“As a product leader, a huge part of my job is navigating the abyss and solving problems that have not been solved before or have been solved inadequately. In these situations, going first can be scary. There is a risk in being the first to try something new and sometimes it does not always work out. But you have to keep asking new questions, proposing new solutions and learning from mistakes.
“I adopted a “go first” mindset early and learned a few significant career lessons as a result:
“Do not be afraid to ask for more. If you want more time, money, training, healthcare or policy support, flexibility, or experience in a certain area, ask for it. I started this early in my career by asking for more money but, over time, this has evolved into asking for a parental leave policy or other forms of support that I need to be successful. You can ask for anything as long as it comes from a place of thoughtfulness and respect. It is important to learn how to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations and how to advocate for yourself. Identify what support you need to be successful – because it will be different for everyone – and ask for it.
“Make problem-solving your secret weapon. In a prior role, I noticed a problem in alignment between a company’s five-year plan and a role that did not yet exist but was needed. I wrote the job description, met with the partner who oversaw the department and applied. I was originally told by a colleague “you can’t just go around creating jobs” but I did – and I have been doing so ever since. If you see a problem, create clarity around that problem, propose new paths forward, and offer to do the work. Strive to be someone who can be relied on to see around corners in a solutions-oriented way.
“Take chances. Be intentional with who you take career advice from and seek out people who have been where you want to go professionally and personally. But recognise that no one can give you all the answers and you must trust yourself. If I would have listened to everyone, I would have never taken the chances I have in my life and career, like leaving a secure job of 11 years and moving across the country, starting my business or navigating a new job. Have faith in your ability to rise to the occasion and trust yourself, your capabilities, and your ability to figure things out on your own versus following someone else’s playbook.
“Firsts are character building. They will teach you to be self-reliant, open, innovative and give others permission to be the same. This “go first” mindset has taken me incredibly far both professionally and personally. It is a mindset I will continue to embrace as I navigate my next frontier: a path to parenthood while managing a product team at one of the fastest-growing fintech companies today.