Since the 2008 financial crisis, growth in the financial technology, or fintech, sector has been unprecedented, completely disrupting the landscape of financial services. While the fintech community continues to be an emblem for challenging the status quo, it's progress towards a diversified workforce has been limited.
Although a historically, male-dominated field, the fintech industry has seen some movement toward advancing gender equality, particularly within the last decade. Deloitte recently reported that women-led fintechs have grown at a slightly faster rate compared to startups founded only by men, with more dollars being directed toward female-led startups. And in 2019, a record-number of women became U.S. venture capitalists (VC) partners for the first time.
Despite these notable advancements, the gender gap persists: the majority U.S. VC firms still do not have any female partners, and globally more than 93% of VC deals in fintech are led by a male CEO.
If further progress is to be made, the fintech industry will need to champion a level playing field. And fortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic could be a catalyst for gender parity.
Encouragingly, as economies begin to rebuild and recover, a new survey suggests that, in some ways, female-run startups may be better positioned to make it through the economic downturn than those of their peers, in part because of their resiliency and collaborative decision making, but also because of their expertise in cybersecurity, technology, and engineering.
As a progressive technology leader for more than 25 years, Amy Corn, academic program director for Georgia Tech Professional Education's new FinTech program, has continuously adapted to the changing tides of the fintech industry. In a recent interview, she shared some personal insights and advice on the challenges faced by women in the industry while contributing to the global dialog on gender imbalances in the workforce.
What's one way you work to challenge gender bias and inequality?
To challenge bias and inequality in any environment, we must name it and be intentional in our actions. In speaking truth to bias, we bring presence and awareness to injustice. Look around the room or at the table and ask, “Who is missing?” Then, work to ensure a diverse perspective is present. If everyone at the table looks like you or if you are the only one at the table that looks like you, then it's time to act.
But let’s not stop at diversity, equality requires inclusivity. Everyone belongs at the table and each voice at the table matters. We each have a duty to explore and educate ourselves on the issues faced by minority populations, seeking to understand and breaking down existing barriers. If you see something, say something, and do something.
Where have you seen progress in gender equality over your lifetime? Where do you still see the biggest gap?
The optimist in me says, “Yes, I see progress,” but the reality lies in the data.
In an environment where women account for less than 10% of the Fortune 500 CEOs and only a quarter of the U.S. Congress, we still have a long way to go. While it is encouraging and an honor to see a woman of color as the Vice President of the United States, there is still a significant gap. Women face barriers in career advancement, access to capital, and crossing boundaries to work in male-dominated jobs, particularly in STEM and Financial Services related fields.
For example, a study from McKinsey shows that women and men in financial services begin their careers at parity, making up roughly equal portions of entry-level staff, but higher up the ladder, women account for only 19% of positions in the C-Suite. This is slightly lower than the 22% average for US women overall. And, this gap is even more prominent for women of color, representing less than 1% of C-Suite positions in financial services companies.
In an industry focused on data, we can also point to the facts proving diversity is good for business. Reports show that companies with a higher level of diversity in management earned 38% more of their revenues, on average, from innovative products and services in the last three years than companies with lower diversity.
Diversity attracts more talent, leads to more innovation, increases customer satisfaction, and expands the market. Diversity is not only a moral obligation, but also a business imperative.
What is your advice to your younger self, younger women, and other women?
Know your worth, celebrate your unique capabilities, and harness your power. In oppressed populations, the dominant force is fear, and it is used to devalue your existence. Throughout your life, many people will attempt to dismiss or define you. You are uniquely and beautifully made. Bring your whole self to the situation and remain true to your values. When we recognize and assert our power, we drive out the forces of fear. And, that force, when used to empower, protect and care for others, is the gift of love.
From my Native American great-grandmother who survived mass killings to my own mother who cared for her younger siblings after her father died at a young age, I have come from generations of strong, resilient women persisting in living their purpose. These women, along with teachers, mentors, co-workers, friends and family have and continue to serve as role models in asserting power!
What’s the biggest thing you feel like other women can do to support each other?
Particularly in the corporate environment, and in environments where women are underrepresented, we foster competition amongst each other. Instead of competing, we should seek to amplify the voices of others and elevate the work of women in achieving common goals. Women have unique problem solving, collaboration and leadership abilities. When women work together, we can make a difference. There is power in numbers!
I read daily and have many “favorite” books. But I love this passage from Marianne Williamson's book, A Return to Love, in which we are challenged to think about our worth and our impact on others.
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate," Williamson writes. "Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.”
We are encouraged to let our light shine, therefore, illuminating the light of those around us. Women, all women, have this light. Instead of competing, be sure you are illuminating the positive light of someone else.
How can we achieve an equal future in a Covid-19 world?
Women and minority groups have been disproportionately impacted adversely by the pandemic and polarized political environment. Many studies have reported that of the jobs lost since February 2020, more than 50% were held by women. Healthcare cost, lost jobs, reduced wages, and lack of access to childcare continue to amplify the impact on minorities. And, until we make structural changes to the systems and policies built with the intention of oppression, the system will continue to function as it was built and favor the privileged.
Be an advocate for change. Exercise your voice, vote, and be present. Get involved in your community and be active in forums where decisions are being made. Do not be a bystander waiting for change, you have the power to lead and make change happen for the world.
What vision do you see for the young girls of today?
As a single parent of a daughter, the vision for women of the present and future is filled with possibilities. The possibility to create an environment where all can thrive regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, or anything that is perceived as different. Our differences make us beautiful and powerful. At our core, we are human, and we cannot allow the prejudices of this world to define our worth.
At Georgia Tech Professional Education, we believe progress in gender parity is achievable but will require a willingness to embrace the power of inclusion. We also believe that collectively, we can help create an inclusive world. Click here to read more career highlights, advice, and stories from the GTPE women shaking up the STEM industry.
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