Championing Women in FinTech
Fintech is full of inspiring women. Strong leaders, who have had the tenacity to succeed and challenge the status quo.
We have the honour of having a number of these incredible fintech leaders on the FinTech Connect Advisory board, supporting and advising on the development of this year’s agenda.
In this article for International Women's Day, I would like to showcase three of them:
Anna Maj, FinTech Lead, PwC
Anna is responsible for developing the Fintech Strategy at the global professional services giant, PwC.
Valentina Kristensen, Director Growth & Communications, OakNorth
Valentina has been one of the driving forces in the leadership at OakNorth and has been central to it becoming the largest FinTech in Europe, both by assets and valuation.
Mariana Gómez de la Villa, Program Director, Distributed Ledger Technology, ING
Mariana is global blockchain lead at ING, commonly acknowledged as one of the most forward-thinking incumbent banks.
We asked them a selection of questions around the role women are playing in the world of fintech. Here’s what they said:
Are women breaking through the tech glass ceiling?
Yes, definitely - and even more in the blockchain landscape, there are quite a few influencers who are great examples.
There are more and more women in the leadership roles, with more corporations promoting diversity. Females are becoming more visible in the fintech scene, speaking at industry conferences, introducing new initiatives and founding innovative start-ups, but there is still a lot to be done. Single female players alone do not make a difference and, needless to say, the change takes time. We need more women and male allies, as a team we are on the rise.
Therefore, women still need a springboard that will launch us to the next level, not only in terms of the organisational structure, enable jumping over hurdles and eventually breaking the glass (ceiling) above us.
I am an advocate for the co-operation between men and women based on diversity, transparency and fairness. It builds a solid basis for attracting and retaining talent, which is one of the key challenges now for the FinTech industry.
I think good progress has been made in recent years but we still have a long way to go. In my view, the key to fixing the problem is two-fold: starting at the source - schools - to increase the pipeline, and working with the pool of talent that currently exists.
It’s crucial to being speaking to young women and girls in their early years before they decide what subjects to do at A-levels and what courses to do at university. Otherwise, by the time they enter the workforce, they either haven’t had enough exposure to the STEM industries to consider it, or don’t have the qualifications to pursue certain careers in it. I studied business at university so I don’t have a STEM qualification, but I do consider myself as a woman working in STEM - this is also key to the equation. It’s important that young women and girls can see that a career in STEM doesn’t necessarily have to be as an engineer or in a lab coat.
Once we do this, the pool of female talent in the industry will increase exponentially. That’s when additional initiatives such as mentoring schemes, blind CVs, flexible working, encouraging women to go after promotions, quotas, etc. can be hugely impactful. The challenge for so many companies is that even with initiatives such as blind CVs and quotas, the numbers still don’t improve dramatically (only marginally) as there simply isn’t enough female talent in the pipeline. So I think a two-pronged approach is the only way the glass ceiling in tech will shatter.
What advice would you give other women in the same position of you?
Keep supporting each other, because arriving to the top can only be done with the support of everyone around you.
Be prepared to take risk.
Find a sponsor, somebody who believes in your potential, supports and promotes your work, who knows your strengths and competences and will pave the way for you.
Build your network. How many people know or heard about what you are doing? Do not hide away. Stand out from the crowd. Be visible.
Take advantage of every opportunity to learn and meet new people - there are loads of free industry events that are great for doing this: the Monzo open office days, FinTech Connect, Fintech Insider After Dark Live. It’s places like these where new opportunities have presented themselves to me and where I’ve found mentors (both men and women). Make sure you subscribe to relevant podcasts as they’re a great way to get to grips with all the different parts of the industry and discover which one excites you most – some I listen to are: Fintech Insider from 11:FS, Rebank: Banking the Future, and Breaking Banks.
Don’t be afraid to have open conversations about money – I know it’s an awkward subject but it’s one of the best ways (especially when you’re starting out) to get to grips with things like how to ask for a payrise and to see if you’re earning a similar amount to your industry peers.
Don’t let yourself be the barrier - A lack of self-belief / self-confidence and an unwillingness to step up, lean in, whatever you want to call it for fear of being judged, is one of the biggest barriers I see holding many women back. I completely empathise why some might be fearful of taking advantage of certain opportunities, especially if they’ve had negative experiences in the past, but if they don’t do this, things will never change. I have recommended numerous women to speak at events who I know are brilliant, but so many decline because they’re too nervous, don’t feel they have enough to bring to the table, et cetera. Believe in yourself, and be prepared to push the boundaries.
Who is your role model?
I really like Blythe Masters, I think she is an amazing woman!
I am inspired by females who not necessarily come from the fintech or business area. Sportswomen, artists and scientists who fought with prejudice and stereotypes to eventually pursue their own successful careers, like ballet dancer Misty Copeland or one of the icons Marie Curie Sklodowska, ”have no fear of perfection. You will never reach it”.
More than role models or mentors we need sponsors, both females and males. ”Mentors help talented employees navigate the path to success. Sponsors help push them to the next level.”
My mum - she taught me through leading by example, that I don’t need to make sacrifices to pursue a career or to have a family, to never let anything hold me back, to take advantage of every opportunity, and to not be afraid to make mistakes. She raised me and my three siblings as a single parent whilst also founding a company that she still runs today. She’s the strongest person I know and continues to be an inspiration to me every day.
 “Seeing is believing: Clearing the barriers to women’s progress in financial services” PwC, 2018