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 2017 Fintech Talent Africa report, Digital Frontiers Institute (DFI) made gender balance a particular focus of the research, knowing that this is a significant problem in the industry.
The findings of the report validated this belief. More than 400 industry leaders and professionals responded to the survey and of these, only 12.5% were women. The gender gap 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 highlights that there is still a way to go in order to achieve gender parity.
However, the fintech industry in Africa still tracks ahead of worldwide industry figures on gender representation 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.
Though it trends ahead of data in related sectors, gender representation in fintech still falls short. From a business point of view, the continuation of this imbalance makes no business sense. 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. The IMF’s working paper on the power of women’s leaders found that gender-balanced teams correlated with the financial stability of banks.
This underrepresentation of women in leadership roles in fintech is only multiplied in the massive lack of financial inclusion on the ground for women across the world. The World Bank, for example, estimates that the exclusion of women from the world of work costs between 10 and 37% of GDP across all regions.
Developing products to meet women’s financial needs
So, how do we deal with gender parity as an industry? The World Bank points out that one of the key ways to bridging the gap for women is building “flexible service products that meet their needs and that are marketed and promoted in resonant ways”. Doing this actively has been shown to drive up women’s usage of digital finance products and so involve them more heavily in the economy.
But tailoring products for women’s needs also requires people in roles who understand what those needs are. “We need women working in the right roles in businesses to build the right products – with the end-user in mind – women who face a number of different challenges depending on the market they are in. Without women’s voices raising issues relevant to women, companies will potentially be blind to these problems. As women make up 50% of the world’s population, building products that include them more sustainably in the economy can have a massive impact on GDP,” says Debra Roodt, Commercial Director at DFI.
The benefits of developing these products are manifold, but to achieve that, there first needs to be women with the necessary qualifications and training behind them to succeed in the industry. This is where the training provided by organisations like DFI comes in.
DFI has already trained 2 326 students in 2 years. Of the these, 32% were female, higher than the average gender balance of 26% in the technology and fintech sectors. While this still represents a significant lack of female candidates, DFI has made a commitment prioritise female applicants in order to drive up gender balance across the base.
Manal Mubarak, an alumni of DFI’s Certificate in Digital Money and the senior manager in mobile financial services at Sudan’s Sudatel Telecom Group, is one of the many talented women to come out of DFI’s training programmes. “CIDM has provided an incredibly rich dose of knowledge and experience in Digital Money, which I am now utilizing to develop our service in Sudan. From the knowledge gained I was able to propose enhancements, look at marketing differently and identify impactful opportunities. Coming out of the training my confidence has grown and I have been able to negotiate, work with and manage consultants, regulators and subject matter experts that we have cooperated with. Because of this qualification, I was promoted to the position I now hold, less than a year after my last promotion to manager,” she says.
Women like Mubarak, equipped with the skills provided by DFI’s training and promoted into decision-making positions, will allow companies, governments and development agencies to develop products that empower women and address their needs.
DFI’s commitment to gender parity
With the significant gender imbalance that still needs to be addressed in the fintech industry, DFI has committed itself to achieving gender parity across all its operations. As part of its agreement with funders like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and FSD Africa, DFI expects to rapidly scale up its focus on gender through prioritizing female candidates in organisational recruitment, including the recruiting of board members, securing scholarship funding for female candidates and prioritizing female applications. DFI is also conducting a review of all their course content in order to eliminate gender bias and to develop more case studies and courses with a gender focus.
Some strides have already been made in this direction. “As an organisation we currently sit at 58% female employees and we have made a commitment to have diversity on our board with a 50/50 gender split prioritised,” says Roodt.
“We are also in the process of developing a course on gender dynamics in financial services to shine a light on women’s needs and how they differ from men’s, and what needs to be done in order for this to be addressed.”
One of DFI’s funders, FSD Africa is making promoting gender parity a key focus in its own business operations going forward and their funding has also already provided a number of scholarships for women to take part in DFI’s courses.
The future of gender in fintech
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 such as DFI’s, 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,” points out Roodt.
For more information on gender representation in the African fintech industry, download DFI’s 2017 FinTech Talent Africa Report – Leadership and Employee Insights here or read the background of the report here.