Leading Women in FinTech

By Nicole Miskelly | 20 November 2015

There have been many reports highlighting the stark gender gap in fintech, however, SWIFT Innotribe’s ‘Power Women in FinTech’ whitepaper published earlier this year, which lists over 400 successful women in FinTech, shows that despite the odds, women are breaking the gender barriers and are building successful careers within in the financial services and technology industries.

bobsguide Editor Nicole Miskelly asks four leading women in fintech about their gender-related experiences on their way to the top and what they believe women should be doing to achieve success in the fintech sector.

Q. What do you think are the biggest issues for women in the workplace?

Edwina Johnson (COO, Startupbootcamp London): FinTech is a niche crossover between an unrepresented Finance sector and an unrepresented tech sector - there aren't many of us in this space so it can be hard not to feel out of place.
Clare Flynn Levy (CEO and founder, Essentia Analytics): The biggest issue is the lack of women-led companies, in my opinion. Once we have a greater proportion of businesses with women CEOs, a lot will change for the better in the workplace - for women and for men.  I don’t mean women on boards, although I am a big supporter of that, but women in C-level roles.
Devie Mohan (Global Marketing of Services, Financial & Risk, Thomson Reuters): There are three core areas of challenges women tend to face at the workplace – with the dimensions varying greatly from firm to firm:
(a) An environment suited to multitasking: Women tend to be superhuman multitaskers and they are able to handle various tasks in the same one hour window but are sometimes termed slackers rather than applauded for this unique skill.
(b) An environment that offers flexibility: Women’s priorities change dramatically year to year (for example, pre- and post- child birth) or day to day (for example, when a child or pet is sick) and most firms struggle to have the in-built capability to incorporate these changing priorities.
(c) Leaning in: Women’s confidence to “lean in” and ask for a promotion, an interesting project or even more flexibility, has improved a lot in the past few years but it is still an area of concern.
Julia Streets (Founder & Director, Streets Consulting): It’s a critical topic and can be highly charged so I turn to the data that speaks for itself.   The ‘Power Women in FinTech’ paper revealed that there are 28 female CFO’s in the Fortune 500 (11.6%), and only 4.95% of top female executives in the leading 50 EU FinTech companies (11 out of 222).  In global banking 33% of executive committees are all male, with a mere 4% of women obtaining CEO positions. That said, this year the Centre for Entrepreneurs and Barclays published a survey entitled ‘Shattering Stereotypes’. Polling more than 500 C-suite executives and entrepreneurs from UK businesses, it showed that female entrepreneurs earn twice as much as men. A fascinating reversal of the pay gap that I believe offers great opportunity for women in FinTech.

Q. Why do you think women remain underrepresented at the top of corporations globally?

Edwina: Because it takes a long time to change previously socially accepted norms and behaviours, however, I have hope that we will get there soon!
Clare: I think these things take a generational shift - and that is slow going. From what I have observed, the mindset of people who are in their 20s and 30s today is different enough that there’s a good chance that the numbers of women leading corporations will start to shift properly in the next 10 years. 
Devie: I don’t necessarily think it's a problem for women. They may choose to focus on other priorities rather than climbing to the top, which is perfectly fine. However, firms surely miss out on interesting, alternate points of view at the leadership level due to this under-representation. If you look at the ‘Power Women in FinTech’ index, what do you see? Most of the women on the list are Founder CEOs of their own firms. What are they not able to do in their old firms that they have to start an exceptional firm of their own? It takes a lot of effort for firms to encourage really talented and ambitious women to reach the top quickly and to encourage them to stay there.
Julia: I think it is combination of factors that include ambition, opportunity, support, corporate structure, mentorship and leadership.

Q. What does your company do to encourage gender equality?

Clare: Gender equality is baked in, at Essentia. We have very strong cultural values around respect and authenticity, and people are encouraged to be who they are. If who they are includes not being respectful of their teammates, their clients and their suppliers, they don’t last long with us. We’re not making a conscious effort to hit a certain target around gender, but we’re naturally at about 1/3 women.
Devie: Thomson Reuters does a lot of gender equality encouragement without actively worrying about it. It is ingrained in the culture. There are so many inspiring women in the leadership team that it encourages all young women to aspire to reach the top. It also runs several proactive programmes such as “Be the CEO of your career” which helps employees chart their own path, and helps them understand there are different paths to reach your career goals. There is also a Women’s Advisory Taskforce chaired by the CEO and several women empowerment programmes run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Thomson Reuters also recently organised a women-only FinTech event, inviting women leaders from banks to talk to women FinTech leaders. And no, none of us were talking babies or shopping – Blockchain was the topic du jour!
Julia: We are an entirely virtual business model, designed to engage the services of experienced and talented consultants and eliminate a significant chunk of corporate overhead. Over the years, I’ve met a wide range of talented women and men with the self-discipline required to work remotely. The model naturally attracts many consultants who have responsibility for childcare which I believe is one of the biggest drivers of employment dropout for women. 

Q. Have you faced any gender-related challenges in your career and how did you overcome these?

Edwina: Yes, on too many occasions. The best way to deal with it in my opinion is to call people out on their behaviour and let them know that it's no longer acceptable. 
Clare: Early in my career, I was definitely (and perhaps overly) conscious of being taken less seriously than my male colleagues. At this point, that’s not a concern I have, but I still face gender-related challenges, albeit subtler ones. I overcome them by not taking it personally and by trying to understand how to get around the obstacle in question.  
Devie: To be honest, no. I took a 3 year break from work when I had my child, so I never had to juggle work and care of a very young child. It is tough being a gender minority as well as an ethnic minority in the workplace, but I have always had supportive managers who believed my ideas were different, and thus good for the company.
Julia: I haven’t personally, but hear all too frequently of those who have - ranging from unconscious exclusion to determined bullying.

Q. What do you think has been the key to your success?

Edwina: Taking chances and working hard.
Clare: Authenticity - what you see is what you get with me.  And a genuine interest in other people - I have been fortunate enough to build great relationships with colleagues and peers over the years, largely because I am interested in them.
Devie: Hope you have heard that women tend to be their own harshest critics! I don’t think I am quite there on the success map yet.
Julia: Hard work, seeking an understanding of the higher objective and project context and an obsession for quality.  Having a sense of humour and positive attitude definitely helps because ultimately people do business with people they like.

Q. How do you think women should be attempting to break the barriers and rise to the challenge themselves?

Clare: This isn’t advice that is solely for women, but given that women tend to be more reticent about shouting about themselves, I recommend learning how to have difficult conversations. To me, the key is speaking clearly and directly, but with care and compassion. If you can do that, you don’t need to shout or brag - you can earn people’s respect, even when you’re delivering bad news, and those people will have your back later on.
Devie: Here is some practical advice:
1. Never say no when someone offers an interesting new project or a better role
2. Make it known that you are happy to spend time with people outside of work (clients, partners, leaders within the organisation, etc)
3. Don’t be apologetic about leaving office earlier than your male colleagues in order to spend time with family
4. Actively find the manager or team that encourages you to grow within the organisation
5. Find women who inspire you within the organisation or industry and imitate their successful habits
Julia: It sounds a little trite but dare yourself and scare yourself. Take on tough projects and do them really well. Challenge yourself to find another way, instead of instinctively following the herd. Never engage in office gossip.

Q. Do you have any role models/mentors and how important do you think it is for women to have these?

Devie: Growing up, my role models were all entrepreneurs – Ray Kroc, Richard Branson, Walt Disney and I never associated gender with my plans for the future. I pursued a computer engineering degree because I was inspired by Bill Gates’ success and never complained it was a field under-represented by women. As you move up the ladder, though, your ethnicity and gender start becoming challenges and you need to find mentors and role models who can help you navigate that very complicated rise to the top. 
Clare: I’d recommend a woman have at least 1 female role model and at least 1 male mentor - even better if the female role model can be a mentor, too. To me, female role models are very important to women succeeding in business. When I started out as a trainee fund manager, I was working for a business led by a woman, which I think had a significant impact on my beliefs about whether I could ever be a corporate leader, myself.
Julia: Mentoring and role models are incredibly important. I have had a few mentors, one of whom is an amazing man who is literally a rocket scientist. He is patient, challenging, supportive and super bright and he pushed me to be a better version of myself.
Edwina: I've been lucky to meet and work with some really inspirational people, both men and women, and more so than ever whilst at Startupbootcamp. This has definitely given me more confidence to do what I enjoy and not to fear risk of failure.

Q. What advice would you give to women trying to rise through the ranks in fintech?

Julia: I would encourage women to look out for support and leadership from others in the industry, and there are very practical ways of doing that. There are number of women’s networks and a stand out one for me is ‘We are the City’. Its mantra is all about feeding the female pipeline and working with organisations to improve the success rates by offering practical support and rising star initiatives. Also, when you need to fight your case, make sure it hangs around a commercial argument.
Clare: I’d advise doing something where you have strong domain experience that no one can question. And if you are working for a start-up, be versatile, proactive and dedicated. I’d say the same thing to a man, but these are qualities that I think women often have in spades, which are worth emphasising.
Devie: The fintech industry is great for women because they are wired to think differently, and to be efficient in innovation. It is global, fast-moving, creative and challenging: the perfect place for women who want to make a difference.
Edwina: Find something you're passionate about as this will help motivate you when things get tough - plus there's no point wasting your life don't something you don't enjoy!

Q. What do you think will be the next big trend in fintech?

Devie: In the near term, there will be emergence of newer technologies and wider adoption of existing technologies like mobile payments and blockchain. In the next 2-3 years, I think you will see a wave of consolidation in the industry. The creation of an ecosystem between banks, fintech firms, government bodies and investors is already happening globally and this will drive the next round of innovation.
Julia: I think in the short term, regulatory technology and risk technology will be focused on most. The biggest challenge to banks is to align a siloed patchwork of hardware, software, policies and processes without compromising their stress testing, regulatory and risk requirements. For banks, regulation tech and risk tech are the ones to watch in the short term and insurance tech offers a huge wave of new opportunity. 
Edwina: Blockchain becoming part of the method and not just the solution.
Clare: I think the gloss will start to come off of B2C fintech - and when the hype dies down a bit, people will start focusing on enterprise fintech companies. After all, someone still has to make the software that makes the markets go round. 

More about our Leading Women in FinTech:

 

Devie Mohan, Global marketing of Services, Financial & Risk, Thomson Reuters

Devie Mohan a marketing strategy professional with experience in the fintech, banking and telecom industries. Currently at Thomson Reuters, she has worked at SunTec, Ericsson, IBM and Goldman Sachs. Devie is active in the fintech community as mentor, advisor and digital banking columnist and is listed in Innotribe’s Power Women in Fintech Index 2015.

 

Julia Streets, Founder & Director, Streets Consulting

Julia Streets is CEO of Streets Consulting, the business development, marketing and communications fintech consultancy. In 2013, Brummell Magazine named Julia one of their 30 Inspirational Women on Boards and in 2014 one of their 30 Inspirational Women Entrepreneurs. This year, Innovate Finance listed Julia one of their 100 Women in FinTech.   

 

Clare Flynn Levy, CEO and Founder, Essentia Analytics

Clare Flynn Levy is Founder & CEO of Essentia Analytics, a financial software company that uses behavioural data analytics to help professional investors do more of what they're good at and less of what they're not.  Prior to founding Essentia, Clare spent 10 years as a fund manager, both active equity (running over $1bn of pension funds for Deutsche Asset Management) and hedge.
 

Edwina Johnson, COO, Startupbootcamp London

This year Innovate Finance listed Edwina as one of their Top 100 Women in FinTech in the UK. Her background is a mixture of startups, digital marketing and operations. Prior to Startupbootcamp she worked at the digital agency 360i within operational roles and prior to 360i she was a Consultant at Blue Latitude.

 

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