Just as in technology and finance industries around the world, fintech companies in Africa are grappling with a severe underrepresentation of women in leadership roles and throughout their businesses. When compiling the data in the Fintech Talent Africa report, Digital Frontiers Institute (DFI) gave a particular focus to gender balance, knowing that this is a significant problem in the industry.
The findings of the report validated this belief. Of the more than 400 industry leaders and professionals surveyed, only 12.5% were women. This was reflected again in the data they reported: respondents indicated that the teams they lead are made up of approximately 39% women, while senior or executive teams are made up of 43% women. This data shows that the industry is still a way from achieving gender parity.
What is refreshing about the data, however, is that fintech in Africa still tracks ahead of worldwide industry figures for technology and financial services. A 2015 report by Innotribe on women in the fintech industry found that globally, 26% of executive committee members in the banking sector were women, with this figure dropping to 19% in Africa. In the technology sector, around half of the top 100 tech companies did not have a single female board member, with women making up only 14.3% of executive committee members.
Having more gender-diverse teams is good for business.The World Economic Forum’s 2014 Gender Gap Report notes how gender-balanced teams consistently outperformed male-dominated teams in experimentation, creative work, knowledge sharing and task accomplishment.A 2014 study by McKinsey & Company also found a direct financial correlation with gender parity, with companies with more gender-diverse leadership teams having, on average, 15% greater financial returns than the national median for their industry.
One of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN is gender equality, which includes ensuring women are part of the formal economy by giving them access to education, healthcare and the right financial products. To do this we need women working in businesses that build the right products – with the end-user in mind – women who face a number of different challenges depending on the social norms of that market. Without women’s voices raising issues relevant to women, companies will potentially be blind to these problems. The impact of the right product on driving GDP growth is massive.
The fintech industry does recognise that it is struggling to recruit female talent, with 77% of respondents noting it as a problem. The respondents also highlighted four major perceived barriers to recruiting more female talent to the industry.
From the report we see that firstly, finding female talent with technical abilities can be very difficult. Secondly, there is also a perceived low-risk appetite for female talent in start-up environments, making female candidates less likely to look for work in the fintech industry. It is worth nothing that these perceived barriers reflect the attitudes of mostly male professionals already in the industry. Currently, there is no data to prove whether it reflects the attitudes of female candidates or not.
Thirdly, general gender inequality and discrimination against women is seen as a significant challenge to companies’ ability to recruit female talent. This is coupled with the fourth challenge of a widely-held belief that only male candidates can perform well in technical fields. These two factors will affect both how recruiters look for female talent and how many female candidates enter the industry.
For women, trying to navigate the ‘boy’s club’ of the fintech industry can be very difficult. Founder and CEO of Starling Bank, Anne Boden, has strong advice for women entering the industry in an article titled Where are all the women?: “Until the entrenched issues around gender are changed from within, you’ll unfortunately still come across sexist attitudes from time to time – but the way to beat them, is just that – to beat them! Be the best in your field, go for those top positions, demand the same treatment as others and never give up. We need women like you to reach these positions of power so that we can change things from within – and so it can filter down the chain and through the culture for the benefit of everyone.”
In the meantime, what can hiring managers in the fintech industry do to recruit more female candidates? The Innotribe report highlights five major recommendations:
1. Address the gender gap head-on. Train leaders to identify gender bias and implement policies to reduce gender as a consideration for recruiting.
2. Write family-friendly policies that flex to support the needs of all employees regardless of gender.
3. Don’t measure success in addressing the gender gap through quotas or gender target metrics. Instead, focus on creating a programme that develops and cultivates female talent.
4. Invest heavily in mentorship programmes for female employees aimed at providing career guidance and feedback.
5. Celebrate the positive achievements of women leaders in fintech and actively amplify their voices and influence to cultivate role models for future female employees.
By example, DFI’s recruitment policies insist on diversity, specifically gender balance, and DFI’s course enrollment and scholarship programs prioritise female candidates as a way to encourage more female talent to enter the sector.
Fintech is likely to struggle with the gender gap for a while still, as there is no instant solution to this problem. Through concerted and focused programmes and initiatives to bring more female candidates into the profession and develop them into leaders, the industry can continue to lead when it comes to gender parity. I work on a daily basis with incredible women in this space. While women are underrepresented, the women in the industry are claiming their space and making a significant impact on how their teams are run, what products go to market and how decisions are made, which can only but make for a better future.
You can read more by downloading the Fintech Talent Africa Report and the Compensation Report. We talk about these issues and others affecting the DFS community in our group, League of DFS professionals, on LinkedIn. Sign up to the group to join the conversation.