Tuesday 8 March 2016 4:59 am

Women in fintech: Four ways to close the gender gap

Fintech has gone from strength to strength over the past couple of years. With greater investment from venture capital and institutions, the rise of new technologies and solutions, as well as increased attention from policy-makers, legislators and regulators, fintech has become a magnet for talent, innovation and entrepreneurship in the UK and around the world.

But for all this success, I often get asked why there are not more women leaders in fintech. In turn, I often answer with a question: why are there not more women leaders in business? Today, women hold less than 5 per cent of top executive roles in Europe’s top 50 fintech firms, with only one female chief executive. According to the Fortune 1,000 list, only 51 women are chief executives of major corporations.

Within the Innovate Finance community of 200 members, only 21 out of 165 startups, around 8 per cent, are founded or headed up by women. Of our 35 institutional members, there is only one female chief executive. I am fully aware of the urgency to do more to attract and retain the diverse talent we need to create a financial sector that reflects the world we live in.

But how can we improve these numbers? The solution starts at the grassroots and continues all the way up to the boardroom. For a start, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) skills should be prioritised throughout first and secondary schools by making these subjects and finance compulsory for all students. Women currently make up 47 per cent of the UK workforce but only 14.4 per cent of all people working in STEM occupations. The consequences of this can be seen in the numbers setting up, investing and leading successful fintech startups. We simply need more female talent to join us. There is also an increasing argument for integrating arts into this mix – what we call STEAM skills – to ensure that young people are learning the creative and innovative design skills that are valuable to this technical foundation.

Second, we must develop more after school and mentoring programmes to encourage women to become entrepreneurs. These initiatives should start at school age to inspire a new generation of finance and technology leaders and to teach the practical benefits of learning through early failures and successes. Workplaces should offer mentorships for existing employees so that women feel comfortable expanding their horizons and getting the skills they need to enhance their careers.

Third, legislating flexible working practices for businesses will help to attract and retain skilled women in the workforce, but must be extended to men as well so that everyone can have the right work-life balance. For the first five years of my daughter’s life, I worked in an environment where I shared nursery drop off and pick up duties with my wife, and was home most nights for dinner. I am fortunate to have what Charles Handy calls a portfolio career, but the profound impact this daily routine had on me in creating the relationship with my daughter and family has transformed me into a work-life balance advocate.

We should all have the freedom to choose more flexibility without feeling stigmatised for making accommodations for our kids. Nobody should be compromised by being denied a work-life balance, especially where children are involved, and especially when we are working to motivate and support them in STEAM subjects.

Finally, encouraging investors to back female talent and attracting more women to work in the VC community will help to support tomorrow’s female entrepreneurs. Women often engage in different ways to men, and see opportunities and risks from a different angle. This female perspective can help to better balance investment decisions, so we must get more women to consider careers in investment.

While we aim to support more female founders and chief executives in fintech, we should not overlook the vital contributions that women are already making in our ecosystem. Many organisations that support fintech companies, including financial and government institutions, professional services firms, design companies, and marketing and communications agencies, are headed by or have women leaders. Together, they are helping to drive fintech forward and are creating one of the world’s most successful new business sectors.

Innovate Finance is shining a spotlight on this talent with our Women in Fintech initiative on International Women’s Day by asking women to nominate themselves and their peers for a spot in this year’s Innovate Finance Women in Fintech power list.

Closing the gender gap and promoting greater diversity and inclusion are priorities for Innovate Finance. Female leaders have a vital role in creating better financial services for our communities. Let’s do more to make sure they are visible and play their part in building our future.