The financial services industry is well known for being fast paced, competitive and male dominated. In fintech, women are vastly underrepresented, making up just 29% of staff in the sector, despite representing 47% of the UK workforce. But this is also an industry in transition – and growing numbers of companies now recognise the importance of promoting gender neutral pay structures and flexible working policies. As Rosie Silk, R&D Tax Manager at Kene Partners, explains, with the right working policies and role models, concerns about attracting women to the industry should be rapidly consigned to history.
Gender pay gaps. Endemic sexual harassment in Silicon Valley. It is easy to assume that the experience of women in the workplace has failed to improve over the past three decades. But that is patently untrue. There are many organisations within the fintech sector that are passionate advocates for generating a positive working environment - one with zero gender bias.
Given the challenge of recruiting high calibre individuals, companies need to encourage working practices that suit today’s attitudes towards work/life balance. Both women and men should have equal access to flexible working policies, for example.
However, of course, fintech is a young industry. Fast growing startup organisations will often overlook the need for flexible working models to support parents of both sexes. Indeed, in many startups, such flexibility is simply not an option. But this is an industry that offers choice: if flexible working is important to any individual, then look for a different employer. There is without doubt a divergence in cultural attitudes and behaviours as well as working practices in firms across the fintech sector, and it is incredibly important for both employer and employees to understand and identify those issues up front. Skills and experience alone are not enough to ensure a great fit.
This is also where female role models can play an important part, not only to inspire contemporaries and the next generation but also to set expectations within the workplace. The days when women leaders felt the need to adopt so called male leadership traits are long gone; successful women are leaders on their own terms in fintech as much as any other industry, and that is an important message.
Attending an innovation conference recently and finding four women on a panel of five was incredibly inspiring. Furthermore, these women can also reinforce a strong culture by acting as coaches or mentors to new starters. However, it is also important to remember that changes to the workplace alone can never achieve zero gender bias without a wider change in culture, at home and in education.
Chat to any successful women in fintech, or just any successful women, and the story will be the same: they were provided with a huge amount of confidence at home, encouraged to try new experiences and treated equally. As a result they expect to be treated fairly at work and to have access to the same opportunities. They are also confident enough to take risks and embrace innovative business areas such as fintech.
For any business leaders carefully crafting good flexible working policies, don’t forget to apply the same encouragement and support once you get home from the office!
Despite the occasional negative headlines, times have without doubt changed. In addition to the support provided by switched on employers, women leaders are now becoming commonplace and acting as role models to the next generation. Companies across the board are investing in new working practices to support all staff and, as this continues, hopefully, within the next few years this conversation will be consigned to history.
Rosie Silk is R&D Tax Manager at Kene Partners, a team of specialist R&D incentive advisors.