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 Sophie Sanders, Claudia Stankler, Colleen Wilson, Helen Hodges, Andrea Zand and Proud Limpongpan as they share how they paved the way for others to follow.
Sophia Sanders, Distribution Lead, Chetwood Financial
“Although today more emphasis is placed on valuing differences in the workplace – whether it’s gender, sexuality, ethnicity, or socio-economic upbringing – we still live in a world where only 11 of the top roles in FTSE 100 companies (CEO, CFO and Chair) are held by individuals from ethnic minority backgrounds. Unfortunately, we know the stats aren’t wildly different when you look at gender or other minority groups.
“So, what can we do it about this? For me, it’s about how I work, interact, coach and lead every day. It’s recognising that people can excel in their career and become leaders regardless of their background, with the right coaching. It isn’t about specific initiatives, it’s understanding and identifying a person’s individual style and skillset and working with them to make the most of that.
“We also have to understand that it’s currently harder to get ahead if you don’t fit the archetypal view of what a senior leader looks like – assertive, male, dominant, competitive and white. What if your natural communication style isn’t to walk into a 1-2-1 with your boss and say “In 12 months’ time, I want to have achieved this promotion and be CEO by the time I’m 40”?
“I really enjoy spending time working with individuals to help them to figure out their longer-term career plan, what makes them tick and what they value. But often more help is needed with how to make that happen, especially if they are earlier in their career – who to speak to, what to say, how to say it in a way they feel comfortable, particularly if their natural style doesn’t fit the ‘archetype’. I guess you would call it conversation coaching.
“It’s about helping people feel comfortable with their own unique style and letting them know they are valued. If people feel good about themselves and what they have to offer, it goes a long way in helping them achieve their career goals.
“When you are creating new opportunities as leader, I would urge you to ask yourself: Do you value diversity? What does your team look like? What behaviours and communication style do you gravitate towards when working? What can you do to empower those developing in their role to bring something truly different to the team?
“By answering and acting on these questions, your team will naturally be more motivated and engaged, and ultimately, more likely to achieve success.”
Claudia Stankler, COO of Connectd
“First, I understand the challenges some women face, particularly at the start of their careers in the fintech industry. Fundamentally I believe in a diverse workforce and the benefits this can provide to a business.
“This is one of the main reasons my current venture, Connectd, exists. Our platform connects startups with investors and business mentors based on common goals and shared interests, irrespective of gender, ethnicity, or location. This is helping to break down many of the barriers that exist in the startup world, not just for women, but for great swathes of society and is one of the many reasons I am proud of the work we do. Beyond an attitudinal shift, we are helping to bring practical, tangible change to these groups. It is something that continues to drive me in my working life.
“Our ratio of women to men is much higher than the industry average across all three verticals: entrepreneurs, investors and senior business advisors. But being above the average isn’t good enough, I personally will continue to drive this forward until the figures far better reflect the population as a whole.
“As well as increasing diversity within the fintech industry, I want to ensure that women feel they are treated equally to their male counterparts. Having personally experienced imposter syndrome, I think this is important for the mental health of women. Being in an industry where you’re underrepresented and successful carving out a career for yourself, can create barriers in your own mind. I see mental health, and imposter syndrome especially, occurring out of a direct result of workplace inequalities in many cases. By not only increasing the representation of women but treating women equally in all aspects of their work will go a long way to combat some of the biggest mental health problems in the industry to date.”
Colleen Wilson is the VP of Product at MANTL
“I believe that product teams – and companies in general – should be made up of a representative sample of the market they serve. However, we also know that underrepresented groups are significantly less likely to apply for roles that they do not feel 100% qualified for. This creates a pipeline problem, and perpetuates the lack of diversity in tech, fintech and fintech product/engineering specifically.
“A common mistake when hiring is to seek out someone who has “done the exact work before” because this only perpetuates the problem and can lead to a lack of innovation. In Product, there are certain traits that are table stakes – intellectual horsepower, a hard work ethic, etc. – but there are also untrainable characteristics that make for top performance. Humility, perseverance, a balanced ego, collaboration, optimism, and conflict resolution are all valuable traits to recognise in a prospect.
“A leader must be willing to say, “I’d bet on him/her/they” and do so strategically, bearing in mind what you can support. My best hires have been people I’ve taken chances on who have drive, hunger, coachability and a willingness to learn. Maybe they were an athlete, the president of an organisation, worked four jobs in college or started a business to pay bills, etc. They have the base set of skills needed to do the job, just not the title (yet). Leaders must look past titles and instead look for the underlying competencies and capabilities needed to do the job well.
“It is important to be a matchmaker between skill, values and opportunities:
– “Match skill: does a person have the skills or capabilities needed to do a specific task? Put an emphasis on task-relevant maturity vs. role to determine how senior or experienced a person is relative to a specific project. One of our product designers is very good at using design to illustrate a future vision, and we leverage his skills to create prototypes for not yet created products to gauge interest in the market. He has never designed this specific product before – because it does not exist – but he is talented at turning stories and ideas into an illustration. –
– “Match values: do motivations and values align with our organisation’s? You can teach functional skills, but you cannot teach passion, experience and a commitment to serve a specific cause. In Product work, your passion for the problem will carry you forward. My passion for banking and financial access is one of the reasons I joined MANTL, and this often comes up in interviews with candidates.
– “Match opportunities with business needs: do career goals align with a business need? At the end of the day, my job is to solve for the needs of the customer and the goals of the business with product decisions. It is important to ensure I have the right team members to solve these problems. I can only develop a team member so much without actually seeing what they can do “on the job.” For example, if I know that someone wants to grow their leadership skills, I may offer them an opportunity to lead a larger project at MANTL. I’ll align with them about why they were selected, what this is going to teach them and how I can support them in being successful with this opportunity.”
Helen Hodges, Chief of Staff and Operations at Urban Jungle
“Helping people grow and develop can be accelerated by lots of things, but a huge element is to give people opportunities to learn on the job and try new things – whether it turns out to be a huge success or doesn’t quite go to plan. At Urban Jungle we look to hire people for potential rather than experience and encourage people to do things they have never done before. This often leads to people having a lot of autonomy early in their career and more actively thinking about the direction they want to go in professionally.
“One of our company values is “keep getting better” and we put a lot of emphasis on giving and receiving feedback, both positive reinforcement and things we can work on. This isn’t just one directional for the junior team though – we actively encourage everyone, whatever their role, to give their honest opinion about how things are working and what we should do next. This partly as we value transparency but equally as it’s a fantastic opportunity for everyone in the business to develop, as well as shape the direction we go in. One of the things we’ve done to try to make this easier is invite the whole team to senior team meetings so everyone can see how decisions are made, and ask a question or feedback in real time what they think.”
Andrea Zand, cofounder and head of client experience at FISPAN
“At FISPAN, we are consistently looking for new ways to create initiatives that build people up. As a cofounder, I spearheaded FISPAN’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) program. We’ve redesigned our organisational structure to actively increase cultural and gender diversity across the company, including 55% representation of minority groups and gender parity among leadership ranks. We also formed a Diversity Leadership team – made up of management members and senior staff – who meet biweekly to ensure qualitative and quantitative progress is continuously being made toward diversity goals.
“In addition, FISPAN’s benefits program is fundamentally shaped around equitable opportunities, offering our employees benefits including competitive salaries (determined through industry data and existing gender-income gaps), parental top-up, and 100% tuition subsidies for additional education.
“On the recruitment side, we have worked closely with external training agencies, such as Up Level People Partners, to embed more diverse hiring practices into the foundation of our talent acquisition strategy. This includes building more diverse hiring teams, implementing diversity training for existing and incoming employees, as well as connecting with underrepresented groups to ensure a range of talent is recruited.
“For example, one of FISPAN’s primary diversity goals is to increase female representation, not only in our largest department of Product and Engineering, but across our leadership team in general. Today’s fintech industry is very much a male-dominated space, and that’s why we’ve pursued a proactive recruiting strategy where we engage with women in tech associations, STEM alumni, and post-secondary groups.
“FISPAN is clear about our value of transparency, and that includes actively creating opportunities to have open conversations about diversity and inclusion at work. Concurrently, we conduct quarterly internal equity audits to evaluate our DEI progress in the eyes of our employees – highlighting our strengths and recognising areas for improvement – ultimately helping us create an actionable plan toward building and maintaining a diverse and equitable company as a whole. FISPAN was recently selected as one of 16 companies that will receive a free, provincial-funded equity audit through the government of British Columbia and Veza Global.
“Since 2016, my team’s headcount has grown from one to 20. We have also diversified our hires, expanding from purely business user experience representatives to a full client success team, product team, and implementation team. Next, we plan on doubling our headcount in 2022 and expanding laterally on concentrated areas that will have a special focus on the user experience.
“Creating new opportunities for growth and building a more equitable and inclusive organisation will always be essential pillars in my role at FISPAN.”
Proud Limpongpan, Chief Marketing Officer at Zipmex
“As one of the female leaders in the industry, I always believe that there is no better way to tackle the issues of today than through entrepreneurship to redefine business practices and create positive change for the society we live in. I aim to be a role model and pave ways for the generations to come, promoting and mentoring future leaders of tomorrow so that they know that success is not determined by our gender, but by our willingness to go beyond obstacles before us.
“At ZIPMEX, ‘diversity’, ‘equity’, and ‘inclusion’ are core values that underpin our culture. It is central to our mission as a fast-growing startup to ensure that each member of our community has an opportunity to bring fresh ideas and perspectives to challenge the boundaries of traditions and demand changes in innovative ways. As Chief Marketing Officer, I work closely with my colleagues of all genders whose abilities have truly inspired me to be a better leader. Although ZIPMEX initially started with one female C-suite, myself, one of our top priorities as an executive team is to ensure we create a more gender-balanced team. We are excited to have welcomed Mina Ip, our Chief Corporate Development Officer, to the team earlier this year. We are also committed to promoting more women to managerial roles, in fact our latest round of promotions consisted primarily of women.
“However, as an organisation, we can’t just rely on the company culture to organically drive change we want to see. As a female leader, it is my duty to ensure that women have the right support they need to excel in the workplace but also at home. I foster a family-friendly culture through family-first policies such as ‘flexible work arrangement’ so that ZIPMEX employees can fulfil parental responsibilities or providing ‘a breastfeeding room’ for female employees who wish to bring their newborn babies to work – fun fact bringing babies to work introduces a level of humanity and care into the workplace and we all need that! In addition, at ZIPMEX, we strictly apply a ‘Zero Tolerance Policy’ for sexual harassment whether it is committed internally or externally; there is nothing more important than creating a safe work environment, where all employees can thrive. It is our mission to create the future of digital banking and breakthrough barriers of traditional financial institutions, but we will also not lose sight of other societal barriers that we too can break.”