Separating Fact from Fiction: Women in Fintech
There are no "have it all women", but there are women who have been influenced by their experiences and set professional goals and aspirations for themselves. A part of setting goals is to learn what not to do or what not to accept to ensure fintech fosters an environment of participation of women in all aspects of the industry.
In my experience, there are three myths around women in fintech and I believe it is essential to be able to identify them and challenge them.
When I first joined the corporate arena, especially a male-dominated one, I aimed to be perfect from the start. But I had no experience yet and entered the workforce during a financial crisis, in 2008. So what did I do? I spent every night, every weekend, and public holiday "perfecting myself" - or so I thought. The truth is that this resulted in anxiety and exhaustion. I eventually stepped out of that arena entirely, believing my career was over.
I was incorrect that my career was over, it was just changing, and I had to learn a few tough things about myself and my goals. This included perfectionism, which is not needed.
Excellence for me then was accepting that I needed to be inspired in my work and wanted to be part of building new products and services directly, which led to fintech and data protection. Now, excellence is also about not always impressing others but asking, recognising, and taking action when any issues are to be solved.
Fintech is already a disruptive and fast-paced evolving industry, coupled with significant regulatory compliance requirements and ambitious projects worldwide. This means managing expectations and admitting when someone else is the right person for the task while ensuring that the team works collectively to meet the organisation's strategic objectives. It is not about you being perfect or liked, and that includes knowing what the business and its users of your products need, for all genders.
Therefore, my advice for young women entering the corporate arena, including fintech, would be to not strive to be perfect. Strive to excel in a path that aligns with your values and goals. Personally, as a woman in the industry, be uncompromising in working with a company that aligns with your professional goals. Being satisfied with the company you are working for, as I am now, enables you to unlock further opportunities for yourself and younger generations.
Nature vs nurture
The idea that women are meant to be nurturing even in a work environment is a debate that can mask bias, unequal treatment, and in some cases outright sexism in the workplace. My advice is:
- Challenge this from the start, and do not accept it.
- If you are uncomfortable challenging it, don't challenge it alone.
- If you are in a leadership position, raise it as it happens, and do not be scared to report it. If left unattended or poorly managed by the organisation, a leader must have the courage to change the culture.
To change an emotionally charged topic takes courage, and courage means being vulnerable, but as Brené Brown states in her book Dare to Lead, "courage is contagious". A leader's responsibility is to show women not to accept this bias and that it is not - and should not - be the norm in this sector.
Leaders, fintech bodies, and associations must also continue promoting women's place in the financial and technology industry in multiple channels, including media and sponsored events so this argument erodes and is not present for the next generation.
Michele Mouton, who presides over the Motorsport Commission of the FIA, states that "there are already a number of highly successful women working in our sport, but we also need to invest in the future and encourage the younger generation to view it as a world of opportunities".
While in different areas, there are already many women in the fintech sector. However, the investment still needs to be significantly higher for female founders, and women need to discover how diverse the industry is and how many opportunities there are.
There were no childcare facilities when I had a child and returned to work. There was, however, a broom closet.
Walking past colleagues to go to the broom closet several times a day is an experience I would not like others to go through but I am under no illusion that it still exists, and may be even worse in some companies. While the times have changed in some organisations, the pace of change in this area must be faster in the industry as a whole. Childcare facilities should be made available without being asked for, or at the very least, breastfeeding rooms.
The time of the broom closet is long over.
Rieka van Wyk is the Group Data Protection Officer at Unlimit. She is a 12+PQE qualified attorney and her responsibilities include overseeing successful payments license applications, team transformation, and privacy program management, as well as heading data protection due diligence and audits, and occasionally presenting at various regulatory authorities.
Van Wyk completed an LLM full research thesis on the topic of confidentiality and legal privilege in Psychotherapy. She has vast expertise in global data protection and privacy, payments, fintech, IP, legal, and compliance. Curious by nature, Van Wyk is also a researcher and author having achieved an LLB Academic Honours (summa cum laude), as well as a BA in English and Psychology from Rhodes University in South Africa. She co-authored the textbook “Information Technology Contracts” published by LexisNexis in 2018 and is currently Co-chair of the IAPP Cape Town Knowledge.net. She is CIPP/E and CIPT certified and holds additional certifications in Forensic Psychology and Cyber Law.
Van Wyk strives to lead by example with humility, wisdom, and humour. Van Wyk is passionate about gender equality within fintech and is a strong advocate for women in tech and privacy.