As awareness of diversity issues in the workplace increases worldwide, business leaders are quickly realising that diversity programmes are not just tick-box exercises but are a core strategic priority that can help to future-proof their growth and success. Things are already changing for the better in the UK, where 34% of companies stated that they now have at least 50% female representation on their senior leadership teams, and 82% of companies stated that they specify gender diversity in leadership succession planning in Dial Global’s Diversity review UK 2023.
Yet, with global fintech funding having fallen by 60.8% in the second quarter of 2023 compared with 2022, it’s clear that the fintech industry cannot afford to miss out on the benefits of championing a diverse workplace including increased innovation, access to top talent and stronger results. While it may be known for being a disruptive and dynamic industry, fintech employment practices behind the scenes have lagged the progress made in solution innovation: according to Eurostat, women account for only 17% of people working in STEM roles across Europe.
So, how can fintechs around the world become a force for good in the world of work while also helping to expand their businesses and improve the standing of the wider industry? They must establish an evergreen approach to tackling inequality – at every level of the system.
Changing the perceptions of an industry
The lack of representation for women, ethnic minorities, the disabled and other marginalised groups in technology starts early, with the gender gap in STEM alone often starting at school or university age and carrying on through every stage of girls’ and women’s lives. In fact, data from The Higher Education Authority (HEA) notes that 43% of men entering higher education study STEM subjects compared to only 19% of women – a huge 24% difference.
With the UK already struggling to fill 43% of available STEM jobs, according to the UK Commission for Employment & Skills, the fintech industry will suffer as a whole without continued efforts to improve diversity and inclusion with STEM skills development programmes and subjects. And the earlier these efforts start, the better.
As well as investing in the development of core STEM skills at school age, it’s extremely important to equip people at university with the right building blocks to be able to go into fintech companies where they can hit the ground running and be successful from the start of their career.
There have already been great strides in this area in Kani’s hometown of Newcastle upon Tyne, and the wider North East region, where local universities such as Northumbria University and Teesside University have started fintech courses as a way to pull top talent to the region and embed them into local fintech companies. In addition, Kani recently announced that it is sponsoring Durham University Women in Business (DUWIB), which helps its members to gain access to internships and graduate schemes with some of the world’s most prestigious firms. Schemes like this are vital when it comes to changing the gender imbalance that exists in senior leadership positions, and I am delighted that Kani is now able to support skills, enhance schemes into work and drive awareness of the opportunities for women within the fintech and payments industry in this way.
Opportunities for change
Another way that fintech companies can encourage women, ethnic minorities, the disabled and other marginalised groups into the industry is by getting involved in groups, schemes and apprenticeships that enable access into STEM roles, and there are several valuable opportunities for both businesses and individuals across the UK.
For support and awareness raising, the Generation programme runs nationwide and offers knowledge and valuable guidance on mindset, time-management and more. For skills development, the Code Nation master coding course teaches everything that an aspiring developer should know, and has previously taught people who went on to be Kani’s own apprentices. For apprenticeship opportunities, Baltic Apprenticeships is the largest independent training provider in England, helping to build sought-after tech and digital skills through online training, and has also kick-started the careers of some of Kani’s team members.
There are also numerous mentor groups, such as The Youth Group and the Girls Network that I mentor for, which aim to inspire and empower girls from the least advantaged communities by connecting them with a mentor and a network of professional women role models. For the Girls Network, STEM meetings take place across major cities and are a great place for girls to ask a specialist about their career, find a mentor who can guide them through their journey or discover which STEM role would be right for them. Some other fantastic organisations that facilitate meetups in person and online are The Prince’s Trust and Code and Stuff in the UK.
Be a company that people want to work for
It sounds straightforward, but ensuring that you are becoming a diverse company that talented people want to work for is often overlooked.
One important way to attract top talent is by looking into local or national requirements to officially become a great place to work. For example, Kani Payments recently signed up to the North of Tyne’s Combined Authority ‘Good Work Pledge’ to make low-paid unemployment a thing of the past. We have also been accredited as a Living Wage Employer, which is the only rate calculated according to the costs of living. It provides a voluntary benchmark for employers that wish to ensure their staff earn a wage they can live on, not just the government minimum.
Companies should also champion strong diverse leadership to ensure that people can see other people like them in these roles, and help them understand options, pathways and the experience/skills required to develop in their field. For example, Kani regularly shares the accomplishments of its senior female leaders and aspiring leaders – including my colleagues Alina Ciocan, our industry-recognised Head of Finance and Reconciliation who made The Most Influential Women in Payments by PaymentsSource, and Dr Sophie Harbisher, our Data Science Lead who is driving Kani’s data science efforts and recently spoke at the FinTech North Newcastle Conference 2023 on ‘Smart Data and the Future of Payments’. This extends to my own accomplishments, as I proudly made TechRound’s Top Women in Startups and Tech list, which is also great recognition.
Championing diverse talent
Once talented people enter the fintech industry, they need to be recognised, rewarded and retained through mentorship, skills development and job creation.
To support and encourage a more diverse workplace, fintech companies need to create a business culture that champions the sharing of knowledge and insight as well as open communication between people – this is something we’re focused on at Kani as we continue to grow the team. Employees from all backgrounds and from all levels of the organisation should have a forum to share their experiences, the details of how they got into the industry and how they see the company developing. Whether this is in a group meeting or a one-on-one mentor pairing, it will ensure that team members feel lifted, supported, motivated and that there are people around them willing them to grow.
Many of the barriers that prevent all genders, races and those with disabilities from achieving their aims are built from outdated attitudes and beliefs that we can all do our part to tackle. It’s not enough to simply provide token opportunities for those who might ordinarily be overlooked; fintechs must continuously strive to create an inclusive culture that will attract the best talent.
Article by Melissa Beckett, Chief Marketing Officer, Kani Payments
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