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Leaders must #PressforProgress in tech

By Keeley Reynolds, Global Head of Communications at Spotcap

In early November, the World Economic Forum announced a statistic that hit close to home: Only 22% of individuals holding senior positions globally are women, with the largest gap being observed in the STEM fields, including software and IT services.

In response to the issue we set out to learn more about what some of the leaders, both men and women, in the fields of finance, tech and fintech felt about the topic. What we found was a remarkable determination to reject the status quo and press for progress.

“This is actually a time of opportunity to position ourselves as pioneers,” argues Carolin Neumann, Co-founder at Finletter. “Women, don’t be afraid because you are in the minority. Take charge!”

Instilling confidence in generations to come

“As a female founder, I can’t ignore the fact that there are so few of us,” states Shahirah Gardner, Founder of Finch. ”I don’t think we’re doing enough to give women the confidence to join male dominated industries like finance and tech.”

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy—the fewer examples of female leadership women can look up to, the less likely it becomes for them to aspire to senior positions themselves.

In a 2015 survey by KPMG, 69% of respondents believed that having greater visibility of female representatives in leadership would inspire more confidence among young women to pursue similar roles in the future.

But where do we start? Speaking on the inaugural episode, ‘Gender diversity, not just a women’s issue’ of our podcast Spotlight on Fintech, Barbara Lampl, Behavioral Mathematician and Finance expert, believes that being a good role model involves not just becoming visible, but also making it easy for others to reach out to you: “Be approachable, be open for anybody who has a question. I love being a professor, because then through my lectures it’s much more like mentoring.”

Devie Mohan, Co-founder and CEO of Burnmark, echoes Lampl’s statements on the importance of being a mentor and gravitates toward groups on social media that support women in the industry: “At one stage in your career, you need that. You need to find like-minded people with a similar background to you, who can help you climb up that ladder.”

Shaping the conversation

As pioneers of change, we need to carefully consider how we talk about the issue. “We want to inspire women, not highlight how the odds of achievement are against them,” explains Sanj Sanan, Partner Sales Manager at Spotcap.

Equally, Laura Barbosa, Global Product Manager at Spotcap wishes we would change the way we frame discussions around diversity. “Being a woman in a male-dominated field has its advantages, we can stand out and not stand on the sideline.”

Even something as subconscious as the vocabulary we use could negatively impact our perspective. As Siobhan Hayden, COO at HashChing states:  “We need to stop thinking of ourselves as female brokers, fintechers, or executives. We are brokers. We are fintech professionals. We are executives.”

Normalising the language around women’s participation in leadership is a step toward a larger goal: positioning equality as a collective problem, instead of a woman-exclusive initiative. It takes the involvement of all people, both women and men, to move from conversation towards implementation.

Introducing corporate change

One example of tangible action is introducing changes within our own businesses. To truly achieve stronger female leadership, we need to implement policies which build environments where diversity is valued and nourished.

“Difference drives innovation,” states Diana Biggs, Head of Digital Innovation UK & Europe at HSBC UK. “We actively seek different ideas, backgrounds and perspectives because it creates business value, it helps us to innovate and it enables us to better serve our customers.”

Starting from our approach to hiring within male-dominated industries, we need to consciously cast a wider net. Jens Woloszczak, Founder & CEO at Spotcap, explains: “We need to commit to looking outside of our immediate networks to find highly skilled and competent females to fill roles within our businesses.”

Once we find the right talent, the journey isn’t over. We need to nurture them by creating secure, fair and fulfilling environments where both genders can see the possibility for development and success. Marija Butkovic, Founder and CEO of Women of Wearables, claims: “Only when women start feeling safe within the team and their workplace, will they feel confident to share their experiences and recommend tech as an industry to others.”

Creating and supporting initiatives

Our responsibility to enact change isn’t confined to our own businesses. We should also press for progress within the wider community.

Some businesses raise awareness about the issue by hosting their own events. For example, Central Research Laboratory are launching ‘Women in Hardware’, which features an all female panel. Mat Hunter, Managing Director, elaborates: “The event deliberately won’t make the lack of women in the sector a focus, but simply provide a platform for some of the incredible talent that exists, as well as correct (at least for an evening!) the imbalance that exists at industry events more widely.”

In situations where businesses aren’t able to run campaigns of their own, why not find an existing campaign and jump on board? For instance, we at Spotcap proactively work with two initiatives: “Girls in Tech”, a non-profit working towards the engagement and empowerment of women in technology and “Women in Fintech”, an initiative by Innovate Finance to showcase women who are driving global success across the sector.

We still have a long way ahead of us. Driving the conversation, encouraging and mentoring the next generation and bringing our businesses closer to gender parity will take time. But as the leaders in our niche, it falls upon us to press for progress, and be the role models that we never had.

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