Solving the women in tech problem

Last week, I went to the Why Work In FinTech talk with Anil Stocker of Market Invoice, Hiroki Takeuchi of Go Cardless and Damian Kimmelman of Duedil. They were basically pitching their businesses as a place to work. Nothing wrong with that, kudos to them.

There were two poignant points raised that interested me.

Firstly, Alex Wood, the moderator brought up the elephant in the room – the lack of women. He asked if they believe that FinTech will be different from traditional Financial Services in its recruiting of women.

One of the panellists responded saying they’d only ever received 5 CV’s from female applicants. Someone mentioned the lack of talent pool, going on to say it’s a much bigger problem that will not be solved by startups. Finally, the American on the panel (Anil I think, I was at the back of a crowded room) said something that rang true. When you’re starting up, it’s normally with your mates, people you’ve worked with before. You continue to recruit in this fashion and before you know it, it’s a boys club. Now if you are a woman why would you want to work there when nobody in the company looks like you. Give that man a round of applause. Finally someone who made damn sense.

When the majority of Founders get together, the very last thing on their mind is the business of running the business i.e. Operations. Even less so, the concept of a Hiring or People Strategy doesn’t even cross their minds. I mean have you read the average job description for a startup – foosball table, table tennis table, Friday afternoon beers are common benefits used to attract talent. And as for Ninjas and Rockstars,  I don’t know about you but I don’t recall many (if any) female Ninjas in any martial arts movies and if you were asked to list Rockstars that came to mind, I doubt there’d be female name mentioned, certainly not immediately anyway.

So, back to statement that the lack of females in FinTech is a bigger problem that can’t be solved by companies like Duedil, Go Cardless or Market Invoice, I beg to differ. These are the same guys who decided to disrupt arms of the Financial sector that was believed to be just so for centuries. They have rethought funding, payments and company checking. If startups likes these truly decided to do something about Women in FinTech, they would make change rather than wait for someone else to it.

Secondly, one of the few female attendees asked what books would you advise reading to prepare for getting into a fintech startup? At which point I raised an eyebrow. But then it got me thinking about the general difference in the way girls and boys are raised. There are very little differences in the curiosity and discovery elements of toddlers minds. They equally destroy things in a quest to understand how it works or act as dare devils to understand the abilities and limitations of their bodies. Yet, somewhere along the way, the gulf between girls and boys in their attitude to curiosity and discovery widens as well changes under the influence of parenting, schooling and damn toys (the genderisation of toys alone requires it’s own post).

I remember a good friend and ex-flatmate of mine telling me about her night in the maternity ward with her first daughter. There was a woman whose baby was crying and rather than picking the baby up, she also started crying. When one the nurses came to attend her, asking her to pick up the baby, she said none of the books she’d read had told her how to deal with this. It was the middle of the night but they called her husband and he came blurry eyed in his PJ’s to comfort their child. Ok, whilst this is an extreme case of irrationality, the point is books cannot prepare you for the reality of the motherhood, fatherhood or working in tech. Our thinking is so entrenched in this idea that we go to University to be endowed with this knowledge that prepares us for the working world. The truth is, we graduate with absolutely no inclination of what the world of work entails. Even with the heavily practical technical subjects, the reality of the applying studied skills in the workplace is daunting.

The difference here is that these are women with existing skills that either perfectly match available roles or they have transferable skills that would be invaluable in any tech company. Jump in feet first, figure out what you don’t know then by all means read books to fill in the knowledge gaps. Better still attend events, talk to people in similar roles in different companies and sectors.

I am not by any means saying that I possess the magic elixir to solve the women in tech problem. However, I do believe that there needs to be in a shift in mindset and approach amongst women when it comes to moving into Tech. We need to get comfortable with been uncomfortable, we need to accept that the answer isn’t as simple as reading a book and more importantly, we need to accept that tech is a boys club that we need to barge into uninvited. As for tech startups, take some responsibility. Do in your internal business what you have done in industry – be the disruptor rather than waiting for someone else to do it.