Self-esteem is vital for women in fintech, says international Intersekt Fest speaker

By Jessica Hailstone

Clara Durodié’s ambition has always challenged the status quo.

Clara Durodié, CEO and Founder, Cognitive Finance Group

Clara completed her Masters at University of Oxford while bouncing her four-year-old son on her lap during lectures. She later went on to become a Board Executive amidst the traditionally macho environment of London’s financial district, known as ‘The City’.

Clara founded a successful British artificial intelligence (AI) consulting and investment company in an area which is predominantly populated by men.

“Our AI implementation team is only men and all have PhDs. Our advisory Board is also only men.

“We welcome talent irrespective of gender; first and foremost, we are a group of high-grade intellectuals and AI specialists.

“However, I do go out of my way to find talented women. My first business partner is a woman, who is a global leader in AI ethics. Meanwhile our Scientific Board is looking to add a highly successful female robotics professor. I am very proud of my team, and it’s an honour and a privilege to be their leader. ”

Clara is practical in all aspects of her life, from her early fascination with artificial intelligence (“I’ve always believed technology can free us from menial tasks which destroy our creativity as humans”) to starting her own business (‘it came out of necessity — there was a need to do something better with technology in financial services”).

Her practical attitude propelled her not to be held back in a male environment by “conditioning in our society that makes women doubt themselves”.

Conditioning, Clara says, comes from early childhood stereotypes of what “girls can’t do”, and later is manifested in women’s expected roles only as mothers, who are severely unsupported in the workforce:

“when I was starting out, there was still this idea that if you don’t marry and have children, there is something wrong with you.”

For Clara, self-esteem is fundamental to leadership and entrepreneurship. Conversely, women are conditioned to doubt themselves.

This is the core reason, she believes, why there is a lack of females in fintech leadership positions. However, “knowledge of subject matter brings self-confidence, which in turn generates self-esteem. A respected leader is an authentic leader, and authenticity is primarily rooted in self-esteem.”

In 2016, Clara was listed as Top 100 Women in Fintech in the UK. Clara feels strongly that in her career, had she brought up the fact she was a woman, or “played the gender card”, she would not have made it to where she is today: “my focus has always been: did I know more today than I did yesterday?”

Nonetheless, she was far from treated as an equal in the City and admits that “of course, women had to work ten times harder”.

Clara elegantly alludes to the cat calls and comments made about her appearance when she started in The City — being the only woman and the only foreigner in the front office, drew plenty of unwanted attention, but adds

”it was a sign of their problems, not mine”.

Her view of Silicon Valley is that:

“it’s an environment established by men which formed a strong network (of men, naturally) which has proliferated over time due to cognitive biases. Like everywhere else, you have to be part of a network in order to be accepted: go to the same school, have the same friends since high-school, family friends etc. We are conditioned to stay in our comfort zone of what we know and have always done.”

Clara’s opinion on gender equality may not be everybody’s “flavour of the month”.

She says “we can’t just kick men out, in order to make space for women”.

She cites the media storm surrounding the appointment of a female judge, Lady Hale, to the UK’s Supreme Court as unfairly dominated by gender politics:

“I found it upsetting because she achieved that promotion not because she was a woman, but because she was an excellent judge. Her professional stamina and achievements are the key to her appointment, not her gender”

The narrative for gender equality for Clara needs to be around empowering and encouraging women to excel professionally. Knowledge, as the cliche goes, is power:

“I’ve heard many men saying ‘Clara, your intellect intimidates me.’ So that’s where you fight your battles and you gain your respect in fintech space. Make sure you know so much that anyone will get intimidated by your knowledge. And when they get intimidated by your knowledge, they will respect you.”

Intersekt Festival’s commitment to gender equality “brings women to the fore” for Clara, who adds “we need create more visibility for women, and in particular mothers, as role models. Careers go beyond motherhood.”

While the odds remain staggeringly unbalanced in fintech leadership, Clara has a positive outlook on the future of women in fintech.

She believes the sector embraces “women helping other women”, and elaborates, “I look at my son’s generation, and I can see that attitudes [towards gender bias] are diluting.” However she adds that “leading in fintech, like in any leadership roles, needs to have roots in excelling at what you do.”

Clara’s business, Cognitive Finance Group, focuses on implementing AI in financial institutions. She predicts that with the advance of AI adoption, the businesses who come out on top will not only adapt their workforce to new technologies for business growth, but use these technologies for flexible work, especially for parents, mothers and fathers alike.

Clara looks forward to expressing her views at Intersekt Festival, but makes it clear why she is attending. Clara was invited to speak on the A.I. and Machine Learning panel “because of what I have achieved in my career, and not because I’m a woman. We, women are where we are in our careers, because we’re good at what we do.”

Intersekt — Australia’s first FinTech Festival

We look forward to hearing her talk on the A.I panel, as well as the all-female panel this coming November.

Clara will be speaking on the Women in FinTech Panel at the Collab/Collide Summit between 2 and 3 November as part of Australia’s Intersekt fintech festival