FinTech: Encouraging Diversity

UK FinTech is setting an example in the ongoing struggle for corporate diversity

Diversity breeds innovation. Diverse ideas are the best ideas. Diverse teams work more effectively than limited demographic teams. . . yet diversity, particularly in the technological community, remains a rarity. In the UK, only 17 per cent of tech workers are female. Based on data taken from 23 technology companies in 2016, even those with the most female employees had workforces in which less than half were women. Although the employment gap between men and women is astounding, diversity also refers to age, race, social background, educational level, and a more complex view of gender that encompasses sexual orientation. All industries should work to build diverse teams, but how do they do it? The thriving UK FinTech scene could have the answer.

Celebrating our differences

Last month, DueDil hosted an evening of discussion in London to bring together people from the LGBTQ community at the Celebrating LGBTQ (+Allies) Diversity in FinTech event which featured speakers from organisations such as the Lloyds Banking Group and UK based accelerator Wayra. The event was organized by Nzube Ufodike, Digital Product Owner at Wealth Dynamix, Babangida Kure, Venture Capital PhD candidate at Kingston University, Farouk Umar, Data Engineer at DueDil, and Cliona Moulton, Senior Marketing Manager at DueDil. According to Farouk Umar, the aim was to celebrate the LGBTQ community and raise awareness of the issues that they encounter. At the same time, DueDil’s Senior Marketing Manager Cliona Moulton explains that it was also about encouraging conversations and getting people to think about the different initiatives they can run to promote diversity with their organisations.

Don’t underestimate diversity

So, why is it so important to encourage diversity? Diverse teams offer diverse viewpoints and solutions but diversity can be a sensitive social issue. Failing to break free from ‘the great white male’ stereotype can considerably harm innovation and rightfully tarnish a progressive company image. From a strategic viewpoint, diverse teams demonstrate higher performance levels when it comes to innovation. This means that they are more likely to create better products and services. As the FinTech sector aims to disrupt banking, this should be a principal objective.

“It’s to get different ideas and perspectives into the business,” says Moulton. “There’s a quote from Maria Popova that we opened the event with that nicely summarises the importance of diversity, ‘The things that you put inside your head are like lego blocks. If you are trying to build with just one shape and one colour your creations will always be limited. The more blocks you have and the more diverse their shapes and colours, the more interesting castles you can build’.”

Beating the bias

Despite the merits associated with building up a diverse workforce, doing so remains a real challenge. Many organisations are stuck in a fortress mentality. It’s not hard to see why – sticking to what you know can be a useful approach. But in order to compete, organisations must break out.

“One of the main challenges is getting individuals in the company to feel comfortable – empowering your employees is one of the harder things to do because people need to overcome the initial fear that people might not support them,” says Umar.

Moulton explains that it’s also about convincing management to buy into initiatives. Another challenge is creating the conditions in which a member of a minority ethnic group, for example, would feel comfortable applying for certain roles. According to Umar, there are a number of things that can be done to encourage potential employees to step into non traditional roles, including companies can attract more diverse teams by thinking carefully about the language that they use.

The Spectator has applied an interesting approach that completely omits names, age, sex, and education from job applications. ‘Blind hiring’ certainly addresses the underlying and often unintentional bias of head hunters and employers, but it could also be construed as an avoidance strategy. Shouldn’t companies work towards addressing bias itself, rather than taking away the ability to show prejudice? Celebrating diversity itself is one way in which to fundamentally challenge attitudes, which was part of the motivation behind DueDil’s event. But what about organisations outside of the UK?

“I think the UK is one of the more progressive countries,” says Umar. “There are loads of initiatives out there but there is less diversity in countries that aren’t as democratic. There are places like India and China where there are still oppressive policies.”

P2Binvestor is one marketplace lending platform outside of the UK that is taking a head on approach to solving diversity. CEO Krista Morgan recognises that the financial community still suffers from a lack of varied demographics and backgrounds, and has suggested that more funding should be allocated to companies with female CEOs. P2Binvestor makes a point of employing a 50/50 split of men and women.

The push for diversity in FinTech is a promising beacon for the encouragement of demographic variety in all its forms. Finding tangible ways to implement it, though, is much easier said than done. Humans are inherently prejudiced, but by breaking down narrow mindsets and unhelpful attitudes, organisations can create complex teams that thrive on a constant flow of differing ideas. While diversity has received considerable recognition, this focuses primarily on bridging the gap between the sexes. More needs to be done to encourage female involvement in technology, but this is only the beginning. The problem of diversity goes far beyond gender. Recognising this, and celebrating it, is key to challenging entrenched stereotypes across the board.

How important is it for organisations to encourage diversity? Do you consider your business to be diverse? What more could be done to encourage diversity in the technological community? Share your thoughts and opinions.

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