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Avoiding the ‘nice to have’ mentality on fintech diversity and inclusion

Diversity needs to be embedded as a priority across fintech in order for the industry to change, writes Kate Laidlow, group people director at Solaris

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Awareness of women’s experiences reached a boiling point in 2018 when the phrase #MeToo was tweeted an average of 55,319 times a day. This gave rise to a wider conversation about the smaller, everyday indignities that can accompany being a woman at work, like being spoken over in a meeting.

While these conversations are often difficult and depressing, they are essential. Organisations need to continue to prioritise diversity, even as the business environment has become more challenging and macroeconomics fills the headlines. Unless organisations take steps to embed diversity as a priority, there is potential for it to be viewed as a ‘nice to have’.

Understanding the fintech challenge

The fintech sector faces its own set of distinct challenges. EY research shows that across financial services as a whole in the UK, women account for 39 per cent of board directors. The figure for fintech is just 17 per cent.

To foster progress, there must be a steadfast commitment to diversity at the board level and throughout the organisation. Relying solely on HR departments to champion diversity often results in neglect during challenging times.

Employee-driven bodies can play a significant role in keeping diversity on the agenda. These bodies provide a platform for employees to share their experiences, raise concerns, and propose initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion within the organisation.

By involving employees from various backgrounds and levels in these bodies, diversity-related issues become an embedded part of company culture. This helps ensure the voices and perspectives of different underrepresented groups, including women, are heard and taken into consideration while making decisions.

Compounding the issue for fintech is the fact that finance firms with sizable budgets are fishing in the same talent pool. These behemoths tend to have enormous budgets which they deploy into diversity initiatives and selective hiring. This is really laudable, and we should all celebrate the fact that high finance is becoming more diverse.

At the same time, we shouldn’t ignore the challenge this poses for fintechs who often need the same skills but may have more modest budgets. Offering flexible work arrangements, such as remote work or flexible hours, is a cost-effective option that can help attract and retain talent by accommodating the diverse needs and preferences of employees.

The fintech industry's requirement for niche skills also limits the available talent pool, posing a challenge when seeking diverse candidates. Additionally, regulatory influences, which vary by jurisdiction, do not always align with diversity and inclusion efforts.

While some regulations support diversity, others inadvertently impede progress through strict qualification requirements. To counteract this, fintech firms should review their recruitment processes and ensure they are free from gender biases. This can involve using blind applications, having diverse interview panels and promoting open-mindedness during candidate evaluations.

Fintech firms can also regularly analyse and publicly report their diversity data to promote transparency and accountability. This enables them to identify areas that need improvement and allows the industry as a whole to share best practices. Firms can set (and publish) clear and measurable diversity goals to ensure they are actively working towards improving gender diversity. This can include targets for hiring, promotion, and leadership positions.

How men can help pave the way

Research from Findexable found that only 16 of more than 1,000 fintechs globally were founded solely by women, and less than six per cent of chief executives were women. This means that active involvement of male leaders and employees is instrumental in combating biases and promoting inclusivity within fintech.

Men need to feel confident to challenge biased decisions in hiring and promotions and hold each other accountable for creating an inclusive workplace. For example, using gender-neutral language can help establish a more inclusive environment.

For HR teams, it is important to support men in challenging those in higher positions, as it is difficult for anyone — regardless of identity — to address senior colleagues without external resources. Fintech firms should also actively positively promote success stories about their women in leadership positions to help encourage others.

Feeding the talent pipeline

To achieve balanced representation at all levels in the fintech industry, equal opportunity and consistency are necessary. Implementing initiatives and frameworks that measure progress and ensure accountability play a significant role in driving lasting change.

Expanding the talent pool is critical, and this requires proactive engagement with schools, encouraging diverse career pathways, and establishing apprenticeship programmes for candidates with transferable skills. It is also essential to spotlight and support female talent throughout the industry to foster diverse and inclusive environments.

Overall, fostering progress in gender diversity requires a collective effort that involves not only HR departments but board-, senior leader- and employee-driven bodies to keep diversity on the agenda — whatever the macroeconomic environment brings.

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