Females in fintech: How’s fintech doing?

You’d think in an industry as future-forward as fintech, lack of gender diversity might be less of an issue, but you’d be wrong. While more women are in fintech than ever, there’s still a lot of work to be done in addressing female representation and influence across our sector.

It’s a subject close to my heart. Reflecting on my own professional experience, I could see how I — like many women — have witnessed (or been subject to) incidents that wouldn’t have happened to male coworkers. In a previous management role I was disregarded by callers who said they preferred to speak to the man in charge.

I’m pleased to say I’ve not experienced anything quite like that for a long time. But gender imbalance continues to exist. This is something that’s been brought home — literally — as a result of COVID. It’s been well reported that when schools closed and parents found themselves working from the dining room table it was women, for the most part, who had to shoulder childcare responsibilities and their jobs and their mental health suffered in the process.

But how are things looking in fintech? When I think about the women in our sector, I think about icons like Anne Boden, CEO of Starling Bank, Camilla Giesecke, Chief Financial Officer at Klarna, and Claire Calmejane, the Chief Innovation Officer at Societe Generale. It’s fantastic that women are in the driving seat at many well-known banks and fintechs. I’m sure all of these women would find it hard to disagree with Melissa Clark, Design Strategy Director at And Jump, who advises, “If you can’t get a seat at the table, build your own.”

I’m also inspired by Andrea Dunlop, Chairwoman of the Emerging Payments Association’s advisory board, with whom I had the pleasure to work directly recently, and Marqeta’s own CMO Vidya Peters, both of whom are doing great things for female representation in fintech and beyond.

However, success stories aside, research by business management specialists Oliver Wyman shows we still have a long way to go. Here’s the painful truth: Traditional banks are way ahead of fintechs on gender diversity in senior positions — women make up 23% of bank boards, but only 14% of fintech boards. Ouch.

The team at Oliver Wyman puts this down to a number of factors, including a lack of women in financial services and tech, barriers to funding, and a toxic frat house culture. According to Oliver Wyman, gender balance improves diversity of thought, which will increase stability in times of crisis.

Deloitte suggests that fintech has a bigger gender problem than it realises, labelling it an industry founded for men, run by men, and making products for men. According to Deloitte, fintech brings together two industries, finance and technology, in which gender diversity is seriously lacking.

Oliver Wyman proposes that fintechs prioritize diversity, change their cultures, and innovate with their customers in mind if they want to improve their gender balance. Deloitte says that improving gender diversity will safeguard the industry.

One part of the solution is to bring more female students into STEM studies. Currently, only 35% of college-level STEM students in the U.K. are women. STEM Women says convincing more school-age girls to study and graduate from STEM programs, and guiding them into tech careers is one way to improve the gender balance in fintech companies. Many women’s associations championing this change have also identified this as a vital area to tackle, and have started actively engaging with schools and colleges. On the topic of women in STEM, Louise Trayhurn, Executive Director at Legis Finance, states, “Get comfortable getting uncomfortable,” and “If you strive merely to equal a man you are lacking ambition.”

Unfortunately, awareness of the benefits of gender diversity is lacking in the customer journey too. According to consumer insight specialist Kantar, financial institutions are failing to consider different approaches to banking between genders, and in doing so missing a significant opportunity to deliver better, more tailored services and products.

These entrenched issues make it all the more important to get larger numbers of women on to fintech boards and into senior positions and get girls interested in tech careers. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wisely noted, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.” I couldn’t agree more. The more women are represented in our sector, the better-equipped fintech will be to meet modern consumer needs.

In addition to taking more leadership roles, fintechs (and other companies) must ensure that women’s salaries are on par with those of their male counterparts. The gender pay gap for U.K. workers was 17.3%, and in France, women can expect to wait a millennium — yes, a millennium — for pay equality.

So, while there are women at the helm of tremendously successful businesses — and who are being encouraged and supported by fantastic male allies and advocates — there is still much more to do. Organizations such as the European Women in Payments Network, EWPM, STEM Women, and Women in Payments are working to increase women’s roles in fintech.

In part two of my females in fintech series, I talk to women who’ve had success in fintech in a bid to understand what their journey has entailed, covering the challenges encountered, opportunities seized, and lessons learned along the way.