Traditionally, the finance industry in India has had very strong women leadership. However, the story is not the same within the Fintech space. This, perhaps, has everything to do with what we generally see within tech product organizations where the talent pipeline for diversity in leadership offers a limited supply. Without women role models at leadership levels, the attrition rates from junior and mid-level positions will stay and not reduce.
Many of the fintech organizations are now acknowledging this problem and trying to bring a change by ensuring equality for both genders, encouraging more women into leadership roles, and creating equal growth opportunities for both.
Organizations are proactively working towards identifying and addressing unconscious biases and introducing robust policies from hiring for diversity and inclusivity to creating upward mobility plans and providing flexibility at work.
Reasons for the gender gap in fintech industry
Yamini Bhat, CEO and co-founder, Vymo, a US-based sales engagement platform for financial institutions, says there are a couple of reasons for the gender gap in the fintech industry.
“First, there is a lack of focus on gender diversity on an organizational level . Second, the organizational culture may not support healthy diversity ratios due to various reasons. One argument could be that the fintech industry, by and large, is perceived as demanding and intense, making it less appealing to a majority of women who may still be playing a primary role as parent/caregivers at home,” she says.
Also, there is a dearth of mentoring and coaching programs to build a pipeline of women leaders. “While many organizations are strengthening diversity ratios through their hiring process, there are fewer initiatives that focus on personalized learning and engagement plans for women employees to build a leadership pipeline,” she adds.
Pari Lennartz, Associate Vice President, Engineering at US-based fintech firm MPOWER Financing says a part of the gender gap in fintech can be attributed to the lower percentage of women who pursue a STEM (science, technology, engineering, or mathematics) degree. “In the US, for example, women comprise half the workforce but only about a quarter of workers in STEM fields. We see an even greater gap in other countries. For example, in India, women represent nearly 43% of all STEM degree graduates (among the world’s highest share) but represent a far lower share of workers in their field,” she adds.
Gender diversity not only to achieve gender parity
It is known that the benefits of hiring more women and grooming them for leadership positions have much larger outcomes and benefits - beyond gender parity. “Diversity leads to diverse thoughts, information sharing and ideas, fueling innovation. A McKinsey study found 15% greater financial returns among firms that are strong on diversity. In addition, there are several studies showing women have inherent qualities that add value to the organization’s communication skills, emotional intelligence, collaboration, listening skills and empathy,” says Bhat.
Thus, proper representation of women and gender diversity brings about improved business outcomes. “Gender-diverse teams have reported better performances and higher sales and profits. Besides financial outcomes, organizations with more women are thought to be better places to work by individuals of all races and genders. Teams led by women are more egalitarian and showcase improved job satisfaction, increased organizational commitment, more meaningful work, and decreased stress. Teams with a higher ratio of female employees perform better in terms of developing meaningful relationships and streamlining work processes,” says Swapna Nair, vice president – HR at Bengaluru-based fintech startup Khatabook, which has women experts in product, technology, and across other teams.
“These women bring in fresh perspectives, ideas and approaches on the table and it is visible in our performance and the positive results that we have been witnessing,” she adds.
Women have been natural leaders ; however due to years of role conditioning, they end up curtailing themselves or being very vociferous about putting forth their views especially at a work set up. Up until recently, this unconscious bias used to affect hiring and promotion decisions in many organizations and still persists, which in turn, leads to a lesser number of women making to the leadership positions. “This is seeing a paradigm shift; we see a conscious effort from the industry and HR to identify and address these biases and unfair practices,” says Nair.
That said, we have a long way to go, says Nair.
“While we should encourage women employees to be more confident about voicing their opinions and ideas even if she is the only woman with a diverse opinion on a decision panel; we need to equally sensitize her colleagues about being more inclusive and create an environment where it is not the loudest and most aggressive voice that gets to eat the cake.
“Unless we become more open and accepting and trusting of different styles of leadership, this change will not be sustainable,” she adds.
Creating pathways to help women talent pool flourish, bolster rise
Bhat outlines the following ways to help women talent rise to leadership roles.
- Create buy-in at the leadership level since diversity hiring is not ‘nice-to-have’, it is a strategic business decision.
- Create a separate leadership pipeline for women and mentor them; create specific programs for returning mothers, young women leaders and so on.
- Focused resilience programs that help women overcome their apprehensions about the demands of a leadership role and empowers them to ease into senior roles.
- Evangelize women leaders in the organization and get them to share their experiences.
- Create a conducive work environment that provides flexibility, enrich benefit programs to support women especially as they reintegrate to the workforce after a maternity break etc. identify other areas women may need support - family, childcare, education, health and so on.
Organizations must consider diversity hiring as business-critical and work towards strengthening their policies, Bhat adds.
“Our hiring process is designed to eliminate hiring biases by standardizing interview guides and minimizing non-inclusive language in all our job descriptions. We have extended flexible work modules for the women force, which has led to more retention and advancement internally within the organisation,” says Tanya Mehan, Head - DEI and Employer Branding at debt marketplace startup CredAvenue, adding that the startup has chartered a specific leadership development program, along with coaching for the women folks at the mid and senior levels for a seamless transition for taking up leadership roles at the organisation for the coming year.
Unlike other organizations who give a pass to women for promotion, CredAvenue has promoted women at senior leadership levels in various verticals including Data Org, Capital Markets Office and Strategy, Capital Raise, and M&A.
As per Sonika Chandra, Head of Consumer Platform and Payments at PhonePe, beyond the obvious need to deliver impact, a few dimensions that are helpful in moving up the ladder include the ability to empathise - with end consumers, with peers, and key stakeholders, to bring people along the journey via a collaborative spirit that is accepting of ideas from one and all, excellent conflict resolution skills that allows for vigorous debate without falling prey to analysis paralysis, and perhaps most importantly bringing diverse views to the table.
“My focus has been a lot on soft skills which become more art than science as one rises up the ranks, and it is hard to produce a checklist that one can tick off. And of course hard skills are important as well and that is table stakes earns everyone the right to be in the room. Although, I personally feel that these skills are no different to what it takes in general to move up the ladder regardless of gender,” she adds.
Prioritizing mentorship and advancement opportunities
Lennartz says there are several other reasons for the gender gap in the industry, including the lower retention rate of women in STEM fields and other challenges relating to women’s career advancement, such as a lack of role models and mentors.
“I have tried to increase the number of women in fintech by prioritizing mentorship and advancement opportunities for women engineers. Through these efforts, my engineering team at MPOWER Financing has grown 600% in the last four years, and we’ve actively worked to recruit women engineers,” she adds.