Guest Column | November 3, 2017

Closing The Gender Gap In Fintech Leadership

Two Tools To Grow Your Influence As A Leader

By Tonya Flickinger, Blispay

With continued economic growth there are many tech positions in need of filling, including many in leadership. Despite this need, qualified women looking to enter into leadership positions in the tech world face many challenges. What can be done about this? What can women do to turn the tide? I want to share my viewpoint on the situation, which some may find controversial. But hear me out.

I was recently asked what got me interested in finance and, specifically, fintech (financial technology). I started my career in management consulting where I held technical roles in several different industries, but not finance.

While I learned my fair share from consulting, I wanted to find a product role for my next career step and decided to join a large credit card issuer focusing on their rewards programs. I was mainly drawn to the role because of the rewards component and was honestly a little skeptical of the finance industry and the opportunities it might afford me, however I was surprised at how much I enjoyed learning the ins and outs of consumer lending. A few years later, I had the opportunity to join an early fintech startup called Bill Me Later, where I got to further my knowledge of the credit industry and realized the innovation opportunities within the industry were greater than I had anticipated.

Despite the opportunities I’ve had during my career in the fintech industry, there’s no question I have few peers of the same gender. The company I work for now, Blispay, is a real anomaly in our industry as we have two female co-founders.

Simply put, there just aren’t many women in either finance or technology leadership positions, and women are missing in leadership across the board. Why? I think it’s a perfect storm of scarcity and the pool just not being big enough to produce enough female leaders. In fact, I think the lack of women in the industry as a whole can be mostly attributed to the fact girls are not encouraged to pursue math, science, and technology (STEM) the way boys are.

Interestingly, Girls Who Code reported last year about 74 percent of young girls expressed interest in STEM fields and computer science, so the narrative is beginning to change. But I still see many more boys than girls when I drop my son off at robotics class. In other words, we still have a long way to go.

How few female leaders are there? A recent report from law firm Fenwick & West LLP revealed:

  • women hold 11 percent of executive positions at Silicon Valley companies
  • 9 percent of executive officers in Silicon Valley are women
  • 16 percent of executives at S&P 100 companies are women

As a result of the dearth of female leaders in the tech industry, women struggle to find role models and mentors they can lean on in order to share experiences and gain advice. I think this causes more women in the industry to either exit the workforce when they start families, leave the industry for one that has more female leaders, or choose not to pursue leadership roles at all. This is a problem.

What can be done about this issue? It is important for women to remember they are not “one of the guys,” and they should stop trying to be one. It took longer in my career than I wish it had to realize this, but it was a game-changer when I got it.

Women bring a different perspective and approach to ideas and solutions that are definitely needed in fintech. Embracing that difference and understanding it is usually welcomed and appreciated by our male peers and it is essential for females pursuing leadership in a male-dominated industry.

What advice would I give to women who are interested in becoming a leader in the fintech industry? I encourage aspiring female leaders in fintech to surround themselves with supportive men.

I know it likely sounds counterintuitive, but telling women to find a female support system just isn’t realistic in the fintech industry as it stands today. It will be great when there are more of us — and this is what we’re striving for — but until then we need to leverage supportive male leaders and peers for the help we need. I have had many men support my career and leadership aspirations, which I’m grateful for, and I want to return the favor to other people wanting to develop their leadership skills, especially other women.

While the stats I shared reflect a bleak assessment of the tech industry landscape for women aspiring to reach leadership positions, this is very much a solvable issue. Girls need to be provided with opportunity to take STEM classes while the rest of us work to change the perception that it is a “boys only” club. The result can only help businesses, and society, as a whole.