Slowly but surely, women are changing fintech

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Bloomberg Professional Services | May 3, 2018

Growing gender diversity, and more open conversations surrounding it, are having an impact on financial technology that’s as fundamental as it is subtle: As more women take on fintech roles at almost every level, their influence is driving user-centric product design and rapid development timelines.

That dynamic was evident during a recent Women in FinTech panel discussion hosted by Bloomberg. While the panelists covered a variety of topics—from the speed of fintech’s advancement to managing expectations when implementing financial cybersecurity solutions—they also noted how women’s voices have begun nudging products to be more reflective of users and how they work.

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“When you have systems that are very skewed and homogeneous, your ability to build holistic solutions is somewhat limited,” observed Cristina Dolan, co-founder and chief operating officer of iXledger, a London-based peer-to-peer marketplace for insurance. As an example, she pointed to the development of speech-recognition products that struggle to accurately identify nuances present in women’s voices. Despite the sophisticated artificial intelligence behind them, she noted, the products were developed by men.

Relying on homogenous teams, “is not a really good way to solve problems,” agreed Ingrid Busson-Hall, senior director of financial regulation at PayPal in San Jose, California. “If you have people who all look the same and think the same, you’re going to define the problem one way and then you’re going to solve it in a really confined way.”

Reality catching up with research

Research bears this out. A recent study by Bloomberg, which analyzed some 600 decisions made by 200 different teams in a variety of businesses, found a direct link between inclusive decision-making and improved business performance. For example:

  • The business decisions of inclusive teams showed better results up to 87 percent of the time.
  • Teams that followed an inclusive process made decisions twice as quickly, and with half as many meetings, as those following non-inclusive processes.
  • Decisions made and executed by diverse teams delivered 60-percent better results.

Those are encouraging signs, but Busson-Hall emphasized that diversity goes beyond just looking diverse.

“If you think about the culture of the organizations that you’re in, are they organizations that really value diversity of thought and expression in its truest sense?” she asked.

For example, there may be a woman or a person of color on the team, but “if they never get to say anything, or when they say something their idea is appropriated pretty much immediately and incorporated into the broader whole, it isn’t real.” In other words, it’s important for teams to value the input of all team members if the organization is going to reap the benefits of diversity.

And in order for diversity of thought to flourish, added Busson-Hall, managers will have to tolerate a certain amount of conflict. “I think you have to accept that diversity means people disagree, people will dissent and you have to actually value that.” It’s those very disagreements that lead teams to define problems differently and come up with better solutions.

The power of mutual support

The sheer amount of technical detail covered by the discussion demonstrated the contributions women are making to fintech. If anyone needs to explore the cybersecurity risks inherent in payment transfer systems or why blockchain may impact fintech as much as the Internet did, these are the people to consult. Despite that, the panelists agreed much work remains to be done before women can deliver their full potential to financial technology.

“I think we need to be realistic and recognize that we have a long row to hoe and it’s incumbent upon each of us to make sure that we’re promoting and encouraging one another,” Busson-Hall emphasized. Jo Ryan, Bloomberg’s global head of product oversight, took it a step further:

“It’s not just about women helping women.”At the end of the day, “you’re part of a team and everybody who’s around you and learns from you benefits from your experience,” Ryan contended. “Women should engage with everybody and turn diversity into a conversation about people in fintech, not only women in fintech.

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