The banking industry has always been dominated by men and this is still true for the more modern fintech companies. Only 12% of startups in the financial sector were founded by females, and just 18% of banking leaders are women (2019 Findexable Report). We invited Jessica Holzbach (Co-Founder & CCO of Penta), Delia König (Managing Director at solarisBank), Anna Lena Zeisbrich (CPO at Vantik), Antonia Piersanti (Partnerships Manager at Moonfare) as well as Martin Schilling (Former COO of N26) to discuss the challenges that female leaders face in the fintech industry and what can be done to change the inequality.
What kind of gender-specific challenges do you face in your role? What kind of consequences does that have?
Antonia opened the first question stating that the gender pay gap is a real thing, but no one will openly state that women are being paid less: 'It makes it difficult to identify situations when you may be disadvantaged because of your gender'. She divided the problem into three buckets:
Unconscious bias (for example, not hiring or promoting women in her 30s because she may get pregnant)
Ordinary sexism (using he/him as default pronouns, using girls instead of women)
Representation: 'When you don't see diverse profiles making it to the top of the company, it's really hard for female in junior roles to project themselves that there is a spot there for them.'
Martin added another challenge, recruiting pipelines: 'How can we encourage more women to lean in and apply and have a more balanced pipeline?'
Anna elaborated on the topic adding that women tend to be less confident than men and apply only for lower-level positions that they are overqualified for (read more on that here). She also said that women who faced challenges of getting a higher-level role because of the chance of getting pregnant won't apply for the positions in the future, because they already faced the drawback.
Jessica added more in terms of imbalance in hiring: 'It's super difficult to get female applicants in the top line of the hiring funnel. [...] for higher-level positions, we still have to go out there and actively source.'
Delia talked about the challenges of the fintech industry itself, which often requires banking experience. At solarisBank, they try to push high-performing women inside of the company to go into higher positions. They try to make the whole company aware of things like Slack communities and start a mind shift in the whole industry. 'It's important that everyone is aware that it's an issue, and then we can work on it.'
How can we get more gender-equality within the fintech sector? And why is that important?
Anna started answering the second question by saying that it's not just about gender, but diversity in companies in general: 'It's kicking off the processes that drive diversity as early as possible.' She told a story of her going with her intern for a meeting with investors. After the meeting was over, one of the investors came to Anna and tapped her on her head saying 'Good job'. Her intern was so put off by this gesture that she stopped looking to develop her career in leadership
Antonia added that there are countless studies proving that having a diverse team is very beneficial for a company adding more points of view and creativity to the decision-making and improving the performance of a team.
Martin: 'The best time for females to apply to fintech companies is now' and that checking 4 out of 10 points in a job description shouldn't stop anyone from sending an application: 'You can only win when you apply!'
Jessica: It's not only about fintech companies and there are many women founding their own startups: 'It shouldn't be scary anymore.'
Delia: Fintech should be looking outside of the banking pool to bring people who can add their expertise from other industries. The background should not matter.
Martin: added to that that having ten years of experience in banking doesn't necessarily mean that someone will be a good fit for a fintech: 'Rethink the industry from the ground-up.'
Who serves as a role model for you in the industry?
Anna opened this question by saying that when she founded her first company 15 years ago, there were no women in the industry. She doesn't receive almost any female candidate referrals, and she thinks that it’s because of the lack of role models in the industry.
For Antonia, the role model is Sallie Krawcheck, Co-Founder & CEO of Ellevest. She is a strong advocate in the industry, giving women access to investing.
Jessica mentioned the German newsletter finanzen.de that runs a series of interviews with fintech executives in the country.
For Delia, it's not always about specific names but rather finding inspiring people who are passionate about their job and are authentic leaders. One of them is Georgina Smallwood, Chief Product Officer of N26. She added that there are not that many females in leadership positions in the fintech industry, therefore, it was always important for her to look around her colleagues and her teams.
Martin added Noor van Boven to the list, who is a Chief People Officer at N26.
What are your predictions for the future? When do you think we will reach the point when we won't have to think about gender diversity in the workplace because it will be simply natural?
Jessica said that she wishes that it would happen today: 'We are still at the phase when you have to double the effort'.
Anna pointed out that it's something that's very incorporated into a general mindset and the culture: 'We are no longer talking about people's rights but unconscious biases that happen all the time'. If each generation is getting better, these biases will eventually phase out.
Antonia added that it's important to acknowledge the negative behaviours and that we need to keep talking about the topic relentlessly.
Do you believe that positive discrimination (e.g. quotas) is necessary to solve the problem?
Delia answered the question by saying that her opinion on the topic often changes and that there are so many things to consider, each with pros and cons. 'If we would start with positive discrimination, [...] we would get there faster, but it's a harder path.' You have to invest in changing the mindset of people.
Jessica has a similar point of view to Delia's. She thinks that only drastic measures will help to change the situation.
Martin believes that positive discrimination is still discrimination. It might be difficult to get very fast to 50-50 in leadership positions, but it's already happening individually.