Diversity and inclusion have come a long way in the past few years, both within the workplace and society – and FinTech has the potential to play a vital role.
But, says Neha Mehta, Founder of FemTech Partners, there’s still a long way to go.
“Things are changing for good, but we’re far from seeing these changes really impacting women,” she comments. “Only 2% of funding goes to female founders.” A combination of factors, from a lack of flexible working arrangements to bias in interviews and pitching sessions, makes for a world that is still not inclusive for women.
Mehta founded FemTech Partners in 2018 following a career in the financial services industry. The entrepreneurial move was prompted by her own experiences. “I’d worked in FinTech startups which showed examples of the biased behaviour women face at work,” she explains. “It gave me a good grounding in things like investment and legal counsel, but it was difficult for me to speak my mind.”
Connecting with women in FinTech across Singapore through networks and WhatsApp groups, Mehta was hearing the same stories over and over again, and the message was clear: even within those organisations that were striving to meet diversity targets, there was too much lip service and true inclusivity was missing. “Often male bosses want to show diversity in their team, but when it comes to actually empowering staff by providing the right tools and environment – all that is lacking. I felt I needed to do something to fix this.”
While FinTech is not immune to these issues, Mehta felt it was a good place to start making real change. A fast-changing, dynamic ecosystem is constantly evolving and a high proportion of FinTech companies are startups which can bake inclusivity in from the beginning. “It’s useful for women to kickstart their journey in FinTech because there are no fixed roots. We’re always breaking barriers and changing the landscape.”
The playing field has yet to level out for women seeking both jobs and investment – even the questions VCs ask founders differ based on gender. “Because it’s a very unequal platform to begin with, women find it more difficult to stand their ground and push themselves properly. We often tend to undersell ourselves as a result,” Mehta comments. “Studies have shown male founders tend to ask for a higher sum when fundraising.”
A practical thing women can do right now is practise as much as possible. “It’s important to prepare, whether for a job interview or fundraising,” says Mehta. “The more practice session you have, say with your family, it helps you think of all the questions that might come up. You become more comfortable in your skin representing yourself or your company.”
Another recommendation is simply to keep trying. “We need to be very thick-skinned. It’s a numbers game – the more doors you knock on, the better the success rate. So we should never be disheartened. At the same time, it’s important to have support. Networking groups are particularly helpful as you can hear about the kinds of questions women are generally asked and how to navigate those.”
Finally, she reiterates that a resilient mindset is key. “As women we need to make sure we step up our game and showcase ourselves as someone who knows what they’re doing. We need to blow our own trumpet because men do that very easily! We always downplay our skillset.”
Even now, issues of Bias and harassment remain a problem for women trying to build their career in FinTech, and research supported by FinTech Alliance has shown the vast majority of women do not report such issues. “We feel if we report things we might lose our job and we think of all the trickle down effects… but if we know we are talented enough we can see there are better opportunities and we can work in a safer environment. It’s so important to feel safe; only then can we be productive. That’s why businesses need the right HR policies in place and that needs to be clear.”
When it comes to finding the right environment to thrive in FinTech, Mehta urges women to trust their instincts. “Sometimes when we go for interviews we meet bosses who come across as someone who is not the kind of boss we want – you can be really intuitive in that sense. It’s important to listen to that inner voice.”