In traditionally male-dominated industries like fintech, initiatives targeted at elevating women pave the way for future generations of women to excel. This Women’s History Month and beyond, we want to celebrate women in fintech and recognize the work ahead for achieving gender equity.
Among the celebrations for International Women’s Day this past Monday, it’s been great to see dialogues emerge on the progress made in various industries to give women the recognition we deserve while acknowledging the structural inequalities we still face.
In an industry like ours that brings together two historically male-dominated verticals—finance and technology—this is an important conversation to have year-round. In this blog, we’ll be taking a look at how fintech fares when it comes to gender equity, sharing the experiences of some of Versapay’s own women leaders, and exploring how the industry can hope to close its gender gap.
The fintech gender gap
A 2018 survey by Lend Academy found that women only make up 37% of employees working in fintech. This gap widens the higher you move up the corporate ladder and is most pronounced at the founder level. According to a Deloitte study, women make up just 7% of the fintech founder community.
So why is the gender gap so pronounced in the fintech industry? Deloitte’s Head of UK FinTech Louise Brett describes the issue as three-fold, where women in fintech aren’t just underrepresented as general employees and at the founder and leadership levels, but in the user base too. “It starts to look like an industry founded for men, run by men, making products for men,” she writes.
With few women prominently visible in the industry, biases undoubtedly arise. Having experienced what it’s like to be one of the only women in the room in her early days as an entrepreneur in the Payments industry, this is something Jayme Moss, Executive Vice President of Payments at Versapay saw first-hand.
Having co-founded Solupay, a leading payment services provider that recently merged with Versapay, in 2004, Jayme recalls what it was like to attend industry events with her male co-founder. “Every time we would go to these large events, everybody inevitably thought we were married,” she says. “That was basically saying, there’s no chance you’re the owner of this organization.”
Although such brazen comments would be harder to find nowadays, bias is still alive and well in the fintech industry.
Another challenge women often face in career advancement is managing their return to work after having children. A survey run by LinkedIn found that although nearly half of working mothers take an extended break from work after having children, many of them face significant challenges when returning to work, among which is the perceived stigma that parenthood precludes women from being fully committed to their jobs.
It’s a long-standing struggle that leads some women to delay or simply not have children for fear of limiting their career progression. “I had this conflict in my head of being a career woman and determining when it would be okay to start a family,” says Carrie Barkes, Chief Financial Officer at Versapay.
“My husband and I were married for almost fifteen years before we had our first child. My plans for having our first baby were always delayed because I would tell myself ‘I need to do X in my career before I become a mom.’ I would tell myself that I wouldn’t have the same drive or commitment because I’d be focused on being a mom. I was incredibly mistaken. From my personal experience, my commitment and passion for my job have only elevated after becoming a mom. You can be a working mom and you can excel in your career.”
What we can learn from the women in fintech who break through
Women’s representation within fintech leadership has significant impacts for helping other women rise within the organization. Deloitte research found that for each woman added to a C-suite, the number of women in senior leadership roles increased threefold.
When we as women see ourselves represented in leadership positions, it illustrates that the same advancement is possible for us. Mentorship programs are a great way to empower women in fintech with the tools to ascend to higher levels of management—which is where the corporate career pipeline tends to be leaky. A 2019 report from McKinsey & Company found that 48% of entry-level workers were women, whereas they only made up 21% of the C-Suite. The drop-offs are even steeper for women of color, who made up 18% of entry-level workers in 2019, but only 4% of the C-suite.
Even without formal mentorship programs, women can share their knowledge and experiences with other women and inspire them with the examples they set through their leadership. “I’ve been really fortunate to have a great support system in my career,” says Carrie. “I’ve been empowered through a mentor that really paved the way for my career by providing the right guidance and opportunities for growth. She built a workplace around accountability and transparency. You knew when you were doing things really well, and you had constructive feedback when you needed it.”
Feeling comfortable tapping into these support networks and accepting guidance from others is also essential in our path to success. “I had some people along the way who gave me a chance and I took that chance and ran with it,” says Jayme. “Each decision I made led me to where I am. There were a lot of people along the way who helped me, and I was willing to accept that help.”
What fintechs can do to drive change
More companies are stating their objectives to improve diversity throughout their organization. For those goals to come to fruition, companies should start by assessing what their own unique challenges are for maintaining diverse talent and creating programs and initiatives targeted at solving them. Fintechs can start to see incremental change by:
- Creating or spotlighting peer-to-peer networks and mentorship opportunities
- Focusing on retaining women and not just recruiting them
- Recruiting women for senior positions, addressing the leaky pipeline for women moving from entry-level to leadership
- Treating diversity holistically and widening discussions beyond gender
Why we must empower women
Beyond it being the right thing to do, research shows that elevating and empowering women at work is good for business. McKinsey & Company found that in 2020, companies that performed in the top quartile for gender diversity were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies that performed in the bottom quartile.
Greater representation for women in fintech at all levels not only provides monetary benefits, but helps companies better serve their customers. “Women are needed at all levels to shape the conversations for our evolving organizations,” says Karli Vold, Senior Director of Product Marketing at Versapay. “Women are needed to reflect the voice of our market and clients. Women are needed in executive positions not just to show the value of representation, but to help us make better decisions. Women endorse and amplify each other’s ideas. They build more successful businesses, improve our societies, and make this a better world.”