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5 Minutes with 5 Inspiring Women in Fintech

Take five to hear from five inspiring female leaders in fintech

By Frankie Elmquist , Eternic

In celebration of Women’s Equality Day (August 26th), we’d like to share five inspiring women in fintech with you. This year is a landmark moment for women's equality as the United States celebrates 100 years of women having the right to vote. They, along with the United Kingdom and the Nordic countries of Finland, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, lead the way, and many other countries to followed suit.

Today, in almost every industry, the women’s equality movement is taking hold, but there is still much more work to be done. Many industries are still dominated by men, particularly in finance, technology, and fintech. Less than a third of fintech staff, and just 12% of fintech founders, are women. According to a recent survey by the Girls Scouts Research Institute, girls age 11 are interested in STEM but lose interest later on due to a lack of female mentors, role models, and gender inequality in schools and the workforce.

At Eternic, we’re proud to be 43% women, and we wanted to share with you the women that inspire us. These industry leaders are changing the stats, building new business models, and blazing the trail for women in fintech to come. We invited them to talk about their journey and thoughts on where women’s equality is today in fintech.

Five inspiring women in fintech

Without further ado, it’s our pleasure to introduce you to:

Susanne Hannestad, CEO, Fintech Mundi

Susanne is the Board Director and CEO at Fintech Mundi, a global fintech accelerator. She’s an experienced executive in financial services, financial technology, financial inclusion, cards, payments, and insurance.

Dr. D’vorah Graeser, CEO, KISSPatent

D’vorah is the Founder of KISSPatent, an international intellectual property and software patent service. She’s a sought-after expert in emerging tech intellectual property strategy with more than 1000 patent applications in 15 different industries to her credit.

Elise Kirkhus, COO, Neonomics

Elise Kirkhus is the newly appointed COO at Neonomics, a pan-European open-banking platform. She’s a senior-level lawyer with broad experience in banking and financial law and a passion for technology and business development.

Dr. Leda Glyptis, PhD

Leda is the former CEO of 11:FS Foundry, a digital financial service consultancy that’s helping the industry reimagining how to deliver the next generation of digital services. She’s a recovering banker with an impressive roster of innovation roles. Her weekly industry insights, #LedaWrites are a favorite.

Irene Imenez, Senior Architect, Neonomics

There’s no fintech without the tech. Irene’s software engineering skills are instrumental in making fintech solutions a reality. She has 18 years of experience in tech and holds two degrees in Computer Science and Engineering.

State of the industry from where we sit

Women are definitely in the minority in fintech, what drew you to pursue a career in tech?

Leda — It was entirely accidental! A series of serendipitous and entirely unplanned events meant I fell into banking through IT and Ops (which is less than obvious as paths go, given I had just completed a Ph.D. in politics). Finding myself in a career I had not planned for, I discovered a whole new world that I was both extremely interested in and (as it turned out) pretty good at. The rest, as they say, is history.

Susanne When I came out of business school and was looking for opportunities, I was invited to join the Graduate Programme at CapGemini and realized that technology would be a growth business. Having worked at the intersection of technology, business development, and commercialization throughout my career, I have loved scaling companies for the global market.

D’vorah I’ve been interested in tech for a very long time — I started coding when I was 16. This was back in the days before the GUI (graphical user interface) was common. I took one class in high school and then one at university but my interest led me to keep learning more by myself. Naturally, that just led me to look for a career in tech! It was when I worked on the Human Genome Project that I realized everyone in a leadership position was male. The only women I knew who were in leadership positions had their own companies. I understood pretty quickly that if I wanted to have the career I wanted and break the glass ceiling, I would need to have my own company. And that’s exactly what I did.

Elise — Since I was young, I have been interested in computers and my favourite subjects in school were IT and maths. I probably should have studied something within STEM, but chose to go to law school because I wanted to try something completely different. As a lawyer, I ended up specialising in banking and financial law. I later had the chance to lead a legal tech initiative started by the law firm I worked at. I figured out that fintech offers me an opportunity to combine all three of my interests — finance, tech and regulatory law.

Irene I always preferred science rather than humanitarian studies. In fact, I wanted to study mathematics first, but then I was thinking about how to apply this to a job — I thought that computer science would be more practical.

“I understood pretty quickly that if I wanted to have the career I wanted and break the glass ceiling, I would need to have my own company. And that’s exactly what I did.” — Dr. D’vorah Graeser, CEO, KISSPatent

What’s the most pressing issue for women in fintech today?

Leda — I would say that the challenges for women in our industry are threefold: first of all, we are in FinTech and yet most of the women are in neither Fin nor Tech but rise through specialisations such as HR, marketing and other hugely valuable activities that are essential but not central to what makes this industry unique. Getting more girls into STEM gets more girls into tech. Getting more women interested in banking and finance — still referred to by everyone I meet as “a man’s world” — gets women into fin. We need the core expertise to play front and centre in this game, as in any game.

Secondly, I would suggest that the challenge is embedding diversity. All types of diversity. This is not a women’s issue. It’s an ‘everyone’ issue. It’s good for business and we sorely lack it. Does our working culture accommodate single parents? Does our workplace provide a place where people of diverse backgrounds can thrive? Do we open doors, carve paths, and smash ceilings for people whose contributions were previously overlooked?

The third thing that would help women is shared compulsory parental leave. By giving fathers, not the option, but the default right to share that time you give young families a gift (because I have never known a male team member come back from his 2 weeks parental leave not dying to be back with their new baby) and you stop, in one fell swoop, employers from looking at a young woman, qualified for a job and thinking — consciously or unconsciously, ‘yes but will you be off on maternity five minutes into the job?’. Shared compulsory parental leave fixes that, and supports the employees and their families.

Susanne Inclusion. We have done a survey together with partners across the world of women’s share of employment in financial service. By numbers alone, across many advanced markets, women are now better represented in financial services firms than ever. Making up half, or more, of all financial services staff in eight countries. But there’s still a long way to go. Among the top 20 global financial services firms in 2018, women accounted for only 18% of executive committees. That’s an improvement on the 13% they represented in 2014 but still means that for every five male banking leaders there’s only one woman at the top.

If things are changing, most women and their peers from different ethnicities aren’t feeling the benefits. One of our partners’ survey found that 59% felt the industry doesn’t do enough to tackle gender inequality in pay and opportunities. Women were also twice as likely as men to have had direct experience of some form of discrimination. Fintech firms might sound progressive in principle, but in practice, most of them look like they’re at risk of repeating the mistakes of their predecessors.

A change has to take place and we in the Global Fintech Index want to reset the balance. With two of our partners — African Women in Payments and the European Women in Payments Network — and we hope, with many partners yet to join us, that we can build a global coalition to report on and assess progress in creating a more diverse financial services marketplace. So far so good. But those targets can only be met if you can reliably track take-up on a regional and global level while measuring the products that are being created to help close the gap.

There are big potential gains for firms in advanced markets. Companies in the top 25% for ethnic diversity are a third more likely to be more profitable than industry peers. Among companies with more ethnically diverse boards, the likelihood of increased profits is 43%.

D’vorah Culture. Culture is what determines everything in the company and the industry: pay levels, opportunities, everything. Changing the culture of the industry is hard work and that’s why we need a more diverse group of people in power.

I’m proud to say that I’m leading with the example through my own company, KISSPatent. We have a very diverse team because we don’t hire people because they look like us, we hire people because we share the same values and the same passion for supporting innovation. That’s our team culture. We will never have true innovation or develop solutions for everybody if we don’t include more people from different backgrounds in our teams.

Elise I would say that the most pressing issue is perhaps equal opportunities. My reasoning is that equal opportunities would increase the number of women who are given a chance to pursue a career in fintech and such an increase may in itself lead to a change of culture in those companies who employ a higher number of women.

In turn, this may in time lead to closing the pay gap. Having more women working in fintech and especially as leaders and founders would give women more female role models to look up to and could convince more women that they actually have a shot at making a good career in fintech.

My previous field of work (law firm) has many of the same challenges when it comes to equality on the partner level. From my experience, an increase in female partners in law firms has a significant effect on the motivation of younger women in the firms because they start believing partnership is actually achievable for them. I think part of the reason there are not equal opportunities today is that women perhaps lack some of the network within tech which men already have. A good network is not just key for spotting opportunities to take on a role in a new company, but may also provide comfort in the demanding phase of starting your own company.

Irene — Lack of attention and information about the gender gap issue from management towards all the employees. IMHO, companies must educate and discuss this issue openly with their employees. And especially, put a focus on hiring, retaining, and promoting the best candidate regardless of gender.

I would suggest that the challenge is embedding diversity. All types of diversity. This is not a women’s issue. It’s an ‘everyone’ issue. It’s good for business and we sorely lack it.
Dr. Leda Glyptis, CEO, 11:FS Foundry on equality in FinTech

What advice would you give to women looking to get into fintech?

Leda This advice is for everyone starting their career right now, not just women. And it is simple:

1. Work hard. The hard yards are not optional.

2. Be kind. Do the right thing. Especially when it’s hard.

3. Call out the micro-aggressions. Look after each other. As the wonderful Paul Roberts puts it: a rising tide lifts all ships.

Susanne Look for fintech companies you like regarding vision, team, products, and markets. Reach out to the fintech companies and ask for a coffee meeting and present yourself. Be part of the fintech ecosystems in your region and be active when it comes to broadening your network.

D’vorah Have deep technical skills and certified qualifications. Get good at coding, have financial certifications — something that is quantifiable. Everything is easier to overcome if you have quantifiable skills to support your work. Plus, it’s easier to get experience — and to have that experience accepted as valuable — if you have certifications.

Lots of people, especially men, don’t trust that women can have the same, or more, knowledge than them. This is especially true in the tech industry. I know that showing my credentials has been super helpful for me throughout my career. If people don’t trust I know what I’m talking about, I just show them my credentials!

Elise My best advice would be to start to build a network, e.g., try to make connections with people who work with technology and innovations in the larger financial institutions or who are in the start-up scene. They often have more information on exciting new projects which may need extra resources.

Also, if you already have a degree in either finance or tech, try to take some extra courses. It does not take much additional knowledge of the financial markets to stand out among the average tech graduate and vice versa. For those already working in finance, or other non-tech fields for that matter, who want to learn more about tech, I can highly recommend the MOOCs in computer science by Harvard on edx.org.

Irene Pick a goal and focus on achieving it rather than on the everyday problems and situations.

There are big potential gains for firms in advanced markets. Companies in the top 25% for ethnic diversity are a third more likely to be more profitable than industry peers.
Susanne Hannestad, CEO, Fintech Mundi

Are there any women in tech that have particularly inspired you?

Leda There are many, many women out there who are inspiring and inspirational. Some of them are close friends. All of them have had my back without me ever needing to ask and they would have yours because that is who they are as humans. The rise of the digital era has seen a return of community in our market. And it is a wonderful thing.

Susanne Ann Cairns, Executive Vice-Chair at Mastercard.

D’vorah Definitely! Mary Meeker, who is a US VC. She survived the first dot-com bust to go onto support such startups as Facebook, Spotify, Square, Twitter, and Slack with Kleiner Perkins. She has shown me the ability to withstand criticism and to be resilient, even in the face of failure. Arlan Hamilton was so dedicated to her goal of starting a VC fund that would focus on women and minority founders that she slept in the SF Airport at night. That VC fund became Backstage Capital. She showed true dedication — and made me realize how comfortable my life was, even now!

Elise — There are many women who could be mentioned here and I think it is great that organisations such as the ODA network here in Norway does a lot to showcase talented women in tech. I have heard Berit Svendsen, Head of International Expansion at Vipps, speak at a couple of conferences and I think she is quite inspiring. Also, I would have to mention my two little sisters, Julie and Mathilde, who are both developers and have inspired and encouraged me to always keep learning new things.

Irene I follow several women in the media. In particular, Marisa Mayer inspires me for the technical part. She’s a software engineer who rose to become an executive at Google and then CEO of Yahoo. For the fintech aspect, Megan (Caywood) Cooper, the Managing Director and Head of Digital Strategy at Barclays, who was named one of Forbes 30, Under 30.

Having more women working in fintech and especially as leaders and founders would give women more female role models to look up to and could convince more women that they actually have a shot at making a good career in fintech.
Elise Kirkhus, COO, Neonomics

Where do we go now?

Well, to quote Yazz, “the only way is up!” 🎶. We hope these inspiring stories offer you food for thought, and encouragement to take action for yourself and others to foster equality in the workplace. As D’vorah aptly pointed out it takes diversity to support innovation — here, here!

A BIG THANK YOU to Leda, Susanne, D’vorah, Elise, and Irene for sharing their thoughts, knowledge, and experience with us!

If you’re inspired by these stories and interested in fintech, check out our advice series on working in fintech.

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Eternic is a new global payment and settlement platform that uses blockchain technology to enable real-time cross-border transactions between banks. Our blog investigates fintech, payments, and blockchain developments, that can improve international banking.

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