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.
We hear from Ximena Alemain, Gabi Slemer, Aparna Gupta, Sarah Clements, Jackie Ward and Tracy Monson as they share with us how they smashed the glass ceiling.
Gabi Slemer, founder at Finasana
“My dad was always a huge cheerleader for me and has encouraged me to believe that I can do whatever I put my mind to, no matter what other people say.
“When I was younger, he would constantly repeat the opening line of the Bee Movie: ‘According to all known laws of aviation, there is no way that a bee should be able to fly. Its wings are too small to get its fat little body off the ground. The bee, of course, flies anyways. Because bees don’t care what humans think is impossible.’
“So, I’ve always pictured myself as a little bee when I thought that things were impossible or out of reach for me. Also, resilience, tenacity, and never giving up played a big part, too!”
Aparna Gupta, professor in the Lally School of Management at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
“Finding one’s home in academia and creating a plan to thrive is not straightforward for anyone, much less for women in academics. Finding homes is particularly hard today when disciplines are evolving and most pressing problems, such as, trusted computing, security threats, climate change, etc. necessitate multi-disciplinary approaches to ensure robust and meaningful solutions. Dearth of women role models to chart one’s path to successes in the academic profession, where disciplinary entrenchment remains deep despite today’s challenges demanding multi-disciplinary solutions, has posed a significant challenge and hurdles in my journey.
“I am trained as a mathematician, but I was always excited by how mathematical methods and analytical thinking can be used to solve compelling problems of the day. This has meant developing inter-disciplinary collaborations, where my specific interest has been to tackle problems of the financial markets and institutions, and how risk management techniques can address issues at the interface of finance and technology. I have immensely benefited from insights and support from my inter-disciplinary collaborators, which has helped set forth the path of creating the first-ever US National Science Foundation (NSF) funded Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (IUCRC) devoted to Financial Technologies.
“The Center for Research toward Advancing Financial Technologies (CRAFT) is the culmination of many years of groundwork and extensive outreach, from building a specialised Masters program devoted to training students with strong quantitative skills needed in the financial services sector to creating the Center for Financial Studies to strengthen ties with industry. In the past three years, my focused outreach was to solicit interest to create the first-ever multi-university industry-guided research centre for financial technologies advances and challenges. This endeavour has been challenging and rewarding in unprecedented ways, as much of the work of building the community to address the pressing challenges faced by the financial services sector was done under the constraints of covid-19.
“As a leader of the NSF IUCRC CRAFT centre, we are setting out to do groundbreaking work to support the research and innovations challenges of the financial services sector. The Center’s research agenda will range from utilisation of varieties of data and AI techniques, innovations supported by blockchains and in decentralized finance, advances in quantum computing for financial services, to developing novel techniques to assess threats and vulnerabilities of the financial system. The Center will also seek to develop holistic insights on ethics, policy, and societal implications of the financial technologies advances and innovations.”
Ximena Aleman, Cofounder & Co CEO at Prometeo
“I have founded a company in a sector specially and historically dominated by men, the financial and the technological. It may sound repetitive but for women to found a company and start the entrepreneurial journey is important to understand and practice real ways to take the stress out of it. It’s key to stay focused and ignore as much as you can, all the pressure that comes from the outside.”
Sarah Clements, Chief Delivery Officer, Delio
“During my career so far, I’ve learnt two important lessons that have helped me to smash the glass ceiling and that I’d share with any ambitious women working in fintech.
“Firstly, I’ve always had clearly defined ambitions for my career. For me, this has manifested itself in various ways; for example, knowing what type of business I wanted to be part of, choosing new roles based on long-term prospects rather than short-term gain, and understanding what I get the most satisfaction from on a professional level. Knowing what I wanted to achieve and by when meant that I could hold myself accountable and not become complacent. I also clearly articulated these plans to my managers, so that they understood what I was aiming to achieve and how they could support me.
“The second lesson is to listen to advice but never let it define your approach to your career. I quickly realised that leading a team is something I really enjoy doing. However, in one of my early roles, I was told that without any technical experience, I would never get to a leadership position. I think this attitude remains a fairly common misconception within the tech industry and beyond. In my opinion, being a good leader doesn’t mean you have to be a technical expert – some highly qualified engineers have masses of experience but don’t have the skills to motivate a team to deliver success. This was when I decided to look for a company that would give me the chance to develop my knowledge and experience ‘on the job’ without necessarily becoming a developer myself.
“As I joined Delio as a business analyst, the senior management team was aware of my longer-term ambitions. They gave me opportunities to prove myself which allowed me to demonstrate my value to the business; within three years, I became Delio’s chief delivery officer.
“Having worked my way through the ranks to a senior leadership position, I would wholeheartedly emphasise that anyone can do it. However, it’s not a case of simply ‘turning up’; have your own plan, make sure others are aware of it, and make it impossible for people to ignore your achievements. Of course, you have to be part of the right organisation for everything to fall into place, but there’s a lot that you can do personally to make sure you’re ready to take advantage when they do.”
Jackie Ward, VP of Risk & Compliance, BSA and OFAC Officer, at Dwolla
“Tenacity. I’ve been around long enough to see the battle of the sexes, the push for diversity acknowledgment, I’ve argued about clothing requirements and fought for pictures on my desk. Plus I served during don’t ask/ don’t tell and never gave up, thanks to a very strong mother. She stepped up for me starting in grade school to let teachers know I didn’t have to wear a skirt and if I wanted to play soccer with the boys instead of the girls, that was ok (and was going to happen). She taught me to not give up, stand by what I believe and fight for what’s right, I have carried that through every aspect of my life and thank her for my determination to climb any and all ladders, literally or figuratively. I’ve never shied away from tough conversations at work, especially when it pushed me or others down or back in any way, shape or form.
“As for the glass ceiling, very early on I realised most people aren’t going to check all the boxes in a job description exactly as written. The key is to not let that keep you from applying and asking to have a discussion. Often there are skills that can’t be taught and if you have those skills you can learn the other areas. We all become salespeople at a certain point in our careers when it comes to selling our experience in addition to our potential. You have to make sure people understand all that you have accomplished plus all that you can accomplish. Talking about what you bring to the table is important, but don’t focus too much on why you deserve something; instead, focus on how you can help them accomplish their goals and what you bring that they may not even realise they need from that role. Don’t be intimidated once you get the opportunity for a discussion. You are there for a reason and as I learned in basic training, it is truly mind over matter in many situations. You must believe in yourself and project that confidence. Don’t be afraid to not have all the answers, but be clear that you will learn and grow so you can answer those questions and more very quickly.”
Tracy Monson, Senior Vice President, Product at Onbe
“When I consider women in Fintech, my current personal lens is motherhood and what mothers contribute to the workplace and the world. Motherhood is multi-dimensional, where wisdom, knowledge and creativity grow. It requires problem-solving, efficiency, humility, and the ability to anticipate. I had these skills before becoming a mother, but being a parent helped me identify, hone, and value them.
“When my career began, I didn’t think about the glass ceiling and was lucky to work in environments where my skills were recognised as leadership qualities. In my career, I’ve built and led teams across fintech Operations, Marketing and Product organisations at the highest levels.
“Over time, though, I began to understand the glass ceiling and its effects. I believe women can be enabled to do great work, grow their careers, and meet their financial goals when organisations:
Reward less visible work: I have formed strong relationships where our common bond was an ability to effectuate change without necessarily being formally empowered. These were (mostly) women who anticipated problems and cleared the path—critical work often overlooked and under-compensated because a clear path is less noticeable than a bumpy one. When businesses recognise, reward, and create leadership tracks for this less visible work, the glass cracks.
Recognise individual needs: After having kids, I became more aware of demands on my time, and I noticed burnout in colleagues—women and men. Fintech is fast-paced and can be thrilling, fulfilling, and financially rewarding. Yet intense careers can pull us away from meaningful relationships and experiences that make us better, smarter, happier. When businesses normalise employees having needs and competing priorities outside of work, and meet those needs in flexible, creative ways, a woman could adjust her schedule for school drop-off, and the glass cracks a little more.
Foster cooperation: I’ve seen hyper-competitive environments, where knowledge was hoarded or used for personal gain. Women are frequently pitted against each other to compete for roles and resources; while competition will always exist in a world of limits, the highest functioning teams share information freely, celebrate one another’s strengths and champion one another. When businesses create cultures of collaboration and support, the glass shatters.
“These large, systemic changes don’t happen overnight and aren’t the norm. However, I’ve seen what happens when teams and companies reward highly effective women, treat people as unique individuals and encourage cooperation. When we do these things… what glass ceiling?”