The booming fintech industry across the globe raised $13.4 billion in the first quarter of 2021, as Covid-19 propelled fintech adoption. And as the sector thrives, swathes of women are coming forward as leaders, but they are still hugely underrepresented.
However, in Latin America, where I co-founded an open banking platform, there are five times as many female-founded fintechs as the global average. Women have been an integral part of this region’s fintech success. When 70 percent of the region’s population is without a bank account, the opportunity to create disruptive change seems to be attracting many of these female fintech leaders.
The global fintech industry has huge growth potential, especially with women leading the way to financial inclusion. However, these female leaders still face many challenges, such as fewer funding opportunities, gender bias, and male-dominated board rooms. Here are three challenges faced and how to overcome them.
Gender bias as a daily occurrence
Women working in the fintech space are often asked questions such as: Do you feel guilty about not spending time with your kids? Juggling family care while running a business can be tough – but it is harder to face everyday sexism.
Women can face double punishment; they don’t get the rewards at work like a pay rise or promotion, and at home, they are perceived as absent. And there are the classic stereotypes and misconceptions that women can’t make financial choices to begin with anyway. Despite the huge cultural movement to shift this perspective and make women feel they belong in workspaces, women are still culturally prepared to care for others.
So, this is how I would approach eliminating gender bias in tech. Firstly, women need to concentrate on their self-esteem and self-care and understand their value in fintech. For example, women have long been overlooked for leadership positions in the space, yet only now is it becoming clear that a large segment of the population is not being catered for in terms of financial services – women.
Then, top female leaders should search for companies and employers with more inclusive environments that spell out clear, incremental gender inclusivity targets. In LATAM, for example, business culture is usually very conservative, and some companies are simply not prepared to accompany a woman during their career path and family life. On the other hand, the tech landscape seems much more sensitive to the gender gap, and many startup tech companies, coincidentally with female co-founders, are trying to get women on their teams. In fact, those companies with at least one woman founder hire 2.5 times more women, leading to a more inclusive, creative, and resilient workforce.
Being the only woman in a room full of male leaders
Being the only woman in a room of eight men is a regular occurrence for women working in the fintech space, and it can be intimidating. But when mixing the technology and financial sectors – which are still male-dominated domains – it is expected. Some female fintech leaders, like Kahina van Dyke, one of the leading women in the fintech sector, have already pointed out that the female experience and femininity are unique qualities and strengths that women must value when in challenging situations like these.
The way to overcome and approach these situations is a change in mindset. First and foremost, these women should feel proud of themselves. Think: The first fintech solutions disputing the financial space worldwide, and more recently in LATAM, have all been male-led. Therefore, I often feel happy when I am the only woman in a room. That’s because I sit there contemplating: At least there is one of us. And if it wasn’t me, could it be another man?
I am changing the dynamics of the industry, and this is just the start. In LATAM, with the demand from the unbanked population for financial support, it is only natural to see women jumping in the space to seize the opportunity. There is a lot of room for women to jump into fintech, especially due to the continuous growth of accessible, affordable digital services that offer a new baseline for social and economic inclusion.
Plus, governments, donors, and financial insitutions will soon recognize the need to intervene to boost financial literacy, improve product design, and address specific constraints for women – and they’ll need female leaders at the forefront to offer new perspectives regarding financial education and tools for women and children to manage their money.
Less funding and resources
Female-led startups often have less access to funding, lower valuations, and smaller size checks, which directly impacts the resources they need to grow. What’s more, the investment gap only widened in response to Covid-19, with female founders disproportionately affected, which isn’t surprising either.
Many women-led fintech companies are still not as large as, or getting the same amount of attention as, other non-female-led fintech solutions. If we want women to impact and evolve the fintech startup scene in a short time period, we have to give them the resources they need to create that change. This could be as simple as access to accelerator programs, mentorship sessions, coaching, and networking with female investors.
For example, when a woman becomes a fintech entrepreneur, they are automatically a fintech enthusiast and an entrepreneur. It is vital to share the tools and mindset that they develop with other fellow female founders to support them to grow. Mentorship for women is vital as it allows them to connect with industry leaders, mentors, or role models for unbiased guidance and advice on the go.
Fintech women in leadership positions need to be supported to create the fintech solutions their customer segment needs and those which today’s consumers yearn. Women building fintech products and solutions for women and focussing on new customer segments is a significant economic opportunity that will change the financial world as we know it.