Gender imbalance has been a challenge for many areas of the tech industry, including fintech. And while much has changed, there’s still a long way to go.
The tech industry and its subsectors are known for their gender imbalances. A strong spotlight has been placed on diversity for many years now and, in many areas of technology, things are beginning to improve.
One of the areas that has suffered from this gender imbalance has been the fintech industry. According to the 2018 Irish Fintech Census, 19pc of Irish fintech companies comprised all men, while only 13pc had a 50/50 ratio of men and women. Additionally, only 60pc of fintechs reported having at least one woman on their executive team.
While these figures are stark, SiliconRepublic.com heard from two women within the industry who can attest that a lot has changed, with more women claiming roles in the space.
Michelle McGuire is the CEO of Gecko Governance, an Irish data-driven platform for the financial services industry. McGuire, who is also a member of the advisory board for cross-border group The Fintech Corridor, said the industry is becoming less dominated by men.
“This is hugely helped by the industry working groups like The Fintech Corridor, who demystify the fact that you don’t need to be a coder or a tech person to work in this space,” she said.
‘It’s refreshing to have a diverse set of voices – a different lens on problem solving that can only be achieved when many different people come together’
– KAJ BANSAL
Kaj Bansal, senior technical programme manager at US financial company Capital One, has been in the financial industry for almost 16 years, with eight of those years being in tech.
She said that when she first joined the tech side of finance, she became acutely aware of sometimes being the only woman in the room, as well as the only woman of colour.
“I’ve often struggled with imposter syndrome – because I don’t have a background in software engineering or computer science like a lot of my male colleagues, I’ve often worried about not measuring up.” However, she said her team at Capital One are encouraging and never let her feel like she doesn’t belong.
“Over the years I’ve seen lots more women around me. Encouragingly, these are coming through our pipelines, for example, our grad schemes and internships. Outside of engineering and coding skills, it’s refreshing to have a diverse set of voices – a different lens on problem solving that can only be achieved when many different people come together.”
As well as her work with Gecko Governance and The Fintech Corridor, McGuire is an associate faculty member of education body PAT Fintech on its fintech risk and compliance programmes.
“The uptake by females of the courses is a huge indicator to me that women feel that this is a real career option for them,” she said.
“When I entered the industry five years ago, I had concerns about the stability and future of the sector and it took a leap of faith for me to change roles – particularly given that I had worked with a tier one investment bank, which brought a lot of stability with it.
“So, when I made my choice to change roles, I committed to myself that I would get involved in the sector as much as possible, so that it did become a real career option for employees and particularly women, which I really feel it has.”
Bansal has also seen a lot of positive changes in the sector, particularly with the level of exposure younger generations have to technology.
“I don’t ever remember being encouraged to consider technology as a career when I was younger. I’m not even sure I fully understood what coding was or what business systems were until I was much older. My 12-year-old daughter has been exposed to coding right from primary school, and I know she isn’t an isolated case.”
She added that many companies, including her own, are investing in increasing the representation of women in tech by going into schools and being present at recruitment fairs, holding coding programmes for young people and “showing the children of today that a career isn’t just limited to being a nurse or a teacher”.
While changes over the last number of years have been positive for gender diversity in the fintech sector, there are still plenty of challenges facing the industry.
“Too few fintech companies have female founders, or even female leaders. Statistics have also shown that investment in female-led companies is practically non-existent in comparison to that of their male counterparts,” said McGuire.
“Part of the problem here comes back to the challenge of getting females into STEM-related studies, which can be a provider of some of the skills needed to get going in the fintech sector.”
Bansal added that while gender diversity is one issue that has improved, this needs to be extended further. “I see many men of colour around me, but still far fewer women of colour. I believe this is because a lot of ethnic minority families haven’t been exposed to the possibilities of a career in technology, especially for women,” she said.
“My own family were hopeful of me becoming a doctor or lawyer someday, because those are careers that they understand. We need to find a way to make technology careers more accessible to minority groups without the stigma that being technical and mathematical is only allowed for men.”
Looking ahead at the work that still needs to be done, McGuire said more role models are needed in the fintech industry, and if the 2018 census figures are anything to go by, it means the women who are in leadership positions need to be highlighted more.
“To consider fintech a realistic career path, women need to see more examples of their gender achieving success across the sector,” she said.
“Championing female fintech leaders and ensuring that they are visible throughout the corporate structure can play a pivotal role in encouraging women to take their first steps into fintech, slowly but surely working away at the gender imbalance.”
Bansal said that as well as tackling the pipeline problem, companies need to rethink their approach to seeking candidates for roles in technology.
“There are a number of roles in tech that don’t necessarily require a technical background. My own career history has proven that for some technology roles, what you really need are great organisation, communication and leadership skills – and so, how do we encourage people with this skillset to feel confident enough to consider technology for their next move?”
For those thinking about making a career move into the fintech industry, McGuire advised reaching out to The Fintech Corridor or attending fintech-related events to get more familiar with the industry. “LinkedIn really is a valuable tool also, so don’t be afraid to use it!”