When Maithily Erande graduated with an engineering degree in 1999, a consulting firm in India recruited 25 students from her school. She was the only woman in the group.
The job marked the beginning of her career in banking technology, but more than a decade later, she was still the only woman in the room when she joined a Manhattan firm.
“I was the only woman in the management room,” Erande said at a panel on women in fintech. “A 12-person management board – I was the only woman.”
Women remain underrepresented in fintech, and an organization founded last year is trying to change that. Based in the Boston area, Fintech Women has partnered with firms in the fintech ecosystem to help women advance their careers.
The organization hosted a session on Sept. 11 as part of Boston FinTech Week, a four-day event hosted by the nonprofit FinTech Sandbox.
Fintech Women founder Jagathi Gururajan said while women have vibrant careers in the industry, there is a gender equity gap.
“It’s not that we want to make the world of financial technology like this room,” Gururajan said to the more than 50 people, mostly women, attending the event. “But we want greater representation.”
Industry’s Large Gender Imbalance
A survey of 50 fintechs by the firm LendIt Fintech found that women represented about 37 percent of their workforces in 2018. Only 16 percent had a woman founder or cofounder.
Massachusetts has about 300,000 jobs in the broader technology sector, with another 100,000 tech jobs in other industries, according to the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council. About one-third of those jobs, which include both technology and other roles supporting the industry, are held by women. For jobs in the state focused specifically on technology, such as engineering or programming, women represent about 22 percent of the workforce.
Fintech Women board member Kim DiNicola, who previously worked at State Street Bank recruiting college students, told Banker & Tradesman that collaborations between business schools, technology departments and the fintech industry are important to help women develop their careers. Suffolk’s Sawyer Business School, which hosted last week’s panel, began a partnership with Fintech Women this spring.
“I’m thrilled that academics are recognizing that we need to blend skill sets together moving forward, that industry and academia have to be connected, and that they understand the jobs of the future,” DiNicola said.
Developing new skills has also helped women already working in the industry. Erande, who now teaches at the Hult International Business School, said every year she takes a course or earns a certificate to learn something new. Another key to her success was finding a male colleague open to coaching her throughout her career.
Mentors Make the Difference
Mentors were important for Barbara St. Louis’s career as well. Now manager of the project management office at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, St. Louis did not plan for a career in technology. As an 18-year-old, St. Louis worked on education programs and conducted tours at the Federal Reserve. She was later introduced to the technology world as an administrative assistant and then a help-desk analyst in the technology department. After she obtained a bachelor’s degree in business, a mentor encouraged her to pursue a project management certificate, and she now leads the office.
“When I think about the term ‘male ally,’ it wasn’t a popular term at the time, but I feel like I’ve had so many male allies within my career to help me get to where I am,” St. Louis said.
One of those allies is Paul Brassil, the vice president of business technology solutions at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Gururajan calls him an ally of Fintech Women as well.
Brassil told Banker & Tradesman that he recognized leaders tended to hire people who look like them, resulting in more men entering technology fields. But because the products being developed by fintech companies are new, Brassil said men do not necessarily have an advantage in this industry.
“There’s a huge opportunity to change the gender imbalance in fintech,” he said. “If allies don’t step forward, we’re going to fall into the same patterns we’ve had in the past.”
Take Up Space on Stage
Conferences and events have an important role to play in fixing the gender imbalance, said Bobbie Carlton, founder of Innovation Women, an organization that places women on technology panels and in speaking roles. Speakers are often chosen because they are leaders or CEOs, she said. With fewer women in these roles, events have a smaller pool to choose from, but an increase in women outside of the corner office willing to shine a spotlight on themselves could change that, she said.
Carlton encourages conference organizers to aim for gender parity on stage. This gender parity could affect women’s careers as well.
“Conferences and events often showcase the next big thing,” Carlton said. “So, if we achieve gender parity at the conferences and events, it will eventually lead to gender parity and gender equity in the industry.”
Even without technical backgrounds, women can still fill more roles in the industry. After finishing law school, Kimberly Monty Holzel began working as a bank examiner at the newly formed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2011. That work eventually led to a job at Goodwin Procter, where she handles relationships between banks and fintech companies.
She pointed out that fintechs need support in more traditional areas, including marketing, accounting and legal roles.
“Your advice and your services to them may be a little bit different and may be delivered in a more unconventional way than you might approach a larger business or a more longstanding business, but they do need similar services,” Holzel said.