Women in payments: the importance and challenge of gender empowerment and equality | Blog
01 / 11 / 2022
The topic of gender equality is current and extremely important, being hotly debated and discussed in all areas of contemporary media. Both within the fintech industry and throughout wider society, gender equality and empowerment continue to be major drivers in the journey towards an equal, fair and ethical future for all. But beyond the obvious benefits for under-represented and under-served individuals in the workforce, championing gender equality and empowerment can have myriad and often drastic impacts upon services, products and ultimately, success.
Lisa Coleman, Group Head of Post-Merger Integration and Operational Performance at Worldline, discusses the importance of gender empowerment, the challenges faced by women in the financial world and how recognising the need to change can bring success and progression within business and society.
Why is this topic so important?
Promoting equality and changing mindsets can help break down barriers to an industry traditionally regarded as male-dominated or even 'male only'. In today's modern, diverse society, it's vital that all individuals feel comfortable, represented and empowered to be able to fulfil their potential, challenge themselves and build a career within a chosen industry, without facing barriers due to their gender, sexuality, race or any other aspect of their being.
"This is true of many male-dominated type environments, without a doubt," agrees Lisa. "These present huge barriers to entry, especially when combined with a lack of knowledge. It's important to make people understand that there are some great opportunities for women within those sectors that are not as obviously promoted as some of the other sectors. This also goes both ways - if the opportunities are not presented, or the general impression of an industry or specific team is bad, women won't seek to work in that field."
What have been some of the (historic or contemporary) barriers faced by women in finance/payments?
Both historically and contemporary, workplace culture and a lack of representation have been significant in preventing women from entering and progressing through certain industries. This is the case in both the financial world and rest of business. Companies can create more open and inclusive working environments by breaking stereotypes, widening understanding and education on gender and equality, and promoting better support of gender-specific issues and challenges. In turn, this trickles down through their company, industry and eventually, to their customers.
"We always need to understand our workplace culture,” says Lisa. "I think it's important to recognise and understand what was the norm within some industries and geographic regions. When you detail this, you can start to break down on a micro and macro level what the current issues are. For instance, I still think we have a lack of female leaders. Role models are really important to show what can be achieved. Workplaces also lack mentor programmes and support networks. There are some fabulous organisations out there, like women in payments, that are making great strides in building that community support that's required."
The issue of gender equality doesn't just involve the betterment of women. Indeed, gender equality has to include all genders and offer all employees the same level of respect, opportunity and support.
"Another big barrier is gender stereotypes," says Lisa. "If we really want equality, it's not just about empowering women; it's actively seeking and achieving equality, avoiding gender stereotypes in their entirety.”
“There are also challenges with lack of flexible working practices and policies that actively support women to return to the workplace or balance childcare with work. Of course, this support should be available to parents, not just women. When companies consider how they empower their employees, they need to consider all of these aspects."
How does the fintech world rank against other industries in regard to gender equality?
In traditionally male-dominated industries such as tech and finance, the challenge towards gender equality and recognition of ability has been as much about breaking stereotypes of these industries as it has been about changing mindsets within them. Within the Fintech industry, women increasingly represent greater proportions of the workforce, yet leadership and management roles continue to be male-dominated. This remains a significant challenge, as outlined in a recent Deloitte report.
"Take the findings of the report, for example," says Lisa. "Around 40% of the surveyed workforce are women, yet only 19% are in senior roles. And then you compare that to the tech industry, which is even more relevant for Worldline, where 33% of the workforce is female, yet only 25% hold 'tech-focused' or senior roles. We have seen increases in the last few years, but it remains low, especially regarding Fintech."
In the same report from Deloitte, within financial services worldwide, women held 21% of board seats, 19% of C-suite roles and 5% of CEO positions in 2021, exposing a stark contrast. However, Lisa suggests that, compared with the Fintech industry, financial services currently see greater progress. "Financial services as a whole is currently doing better than the tech industry. For Worldline, we need to be that combination of finance and tech. So, Fintech is the sector we should compare ourselves against and many opportunities and room for improvement remain."
What issues should companies be aware of in regard to gender empowerment and equality?
"A significant and often discussed element of many women's careers is the lack of support for sufficient childcare or caregiver support. People are willing to balance childcare; however, the lack of access to more flexible and remote ways of working, combined with the potential additional responsibilities of senior roles, is holding many women in the workforce back from fulfilling their potential. I also think there's a lack of sponsorship regarding mentoring and helping people recognise their barriers and how we can adapt and work to help people be the best version they can be. Through this recognition of failings and opportunities, talent can be nurtured and more diverse, engaged and successful workplaces can be created."
Companies need to be aware of potential issues that affect their workforce, regardless of their gender. Some issues may be gender-specific, whilst others are more general. What's important is that businesses actively support their employees, empower them to fulfil their potential, and balance their personal and work lives.
Businesses should also not avoid recognising their own failings or the negative aspects of their industry. Through recognising challenges and opportunities to improve, key barriers such as workplace culture, traditional stereotypes and lack of attractiveness as a business can be broken down.
"Companies should ensure that they have role models in their business,” says Lisa. “They should build mentor programmes and support networks. Work to eliminate unconscious bias and install robust policies that protect and empower their employees. It's also important not to limit the conversation to boxes of men and women - it needs to be a broad discussion on gender."
Gender is an important social discussion – how can businesses support their employees and should they take a more active role in social progress?
Gender is a critical aspect of social discussion, but we also need to focus on other aspects of social inclusion. Businesses can play a part in the process by undertaking efforts to ensure equal opportunities. If diversity and inclusion are embedded within products and work processes, this will spread to the way we think and build networks.
"It's important for businesses to think beyond their business through local communities," says Lisa. "I think businesses can play a much greater role in ensuring that people can achieve their full potential regardless of background. This starts by ensuring that the right approach is embedded within their day-to-day work and then expands from there to other areas. They should consider things such as adequate training, workplace spirit, building a positive understanding of gender and diversity and being visible in their approach to spreading the right message and taking the right steps.
This also includes how they consider their customers. For instance, ensuring digital inclusion within their products and ensuring products are available and tailored to their customer's needs. It's essential to understand how we work with our people, but also how we work with our customers. So embedding diversity and inclusion in our products and day-to-day work is a significant step in the right direction."
How does the future look?
Within the fintech and broader financial industry, there remains much opportunity and a huge room for improvement in how these necessary changes are to be realised. The industry will need focus and commitment from the top and within businesses to achieve these changes. How we work is changing, making it imperative to use these new ways of thinking and career approaches to strive toward equality in the workplace and beyond.
"The COVID-19 pandemic taught us many things, not least our ability to adapt and change quicker than we think," suggests Lisa. "I think flexible working can be a big trigger, with the power to enable those less able or comfortable to return to the office to still pursue their careers, for instance, parents or those with less financial freedom. Questions need to be answered, such as how you still allow people to be part of the workplace community and engage with each other in the same ways that in-person working brings."
With younger generations embracing flexible working and less traditional approaches to careers, approaches should be made now to engage and attract this future talent. As younger generations are also more vocal regarding topics such as equality, ethics and societal issues, attracting and employing a future workforce that holds these values dear can profoundly affect ethical progress.
"Ultimately, the future looks bright for women in fintech and, in a broader sense, the fight for gender equality and support across workplaces. Aspects such as in-house training and changing mindsets contribute to awareness and break down old barriers and workplace cultures. We are seeing that women increasingly are represented within the finance workforce, but that many either hold roles in traditionally female-dominant areas, such as HR or do not hold senior positions in their companies. This needs to change, but positive signs remain and progress is there.
For Worldline, the subject is hugely important. We have committed to several CSR objectives, one of which is to focus on hiring women managers, not just women in the workforce. Instead, we want to ensure that we also have that talent and diversity across all our different levels within the business, starting right from the top."
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