The question of whether fintech is a “male-dominated” industry is a complex and multi-faceted issue that has gained increasing attention in recent years. I have lost count of the number of times I have been asked, 'what's it like being a woman in fintech?. I don't really enjoy being asked this question, but I acknowledge it's an important issue that people rightly want to discuss. While the numbers alone do suggest that fintech is still largely male-dominated, with fewer than a quarter of companies being founded and led by women, it is important to recognise that this is a wider trend across the start-up ecosystem.
Numbers aside - in my mind being ‘male-dominated’ comes with the implication that female participation in the industry is limited in terms of impact or contribution. This couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, women already working in fintech are making significant contributions to their companies and the industry as a whole. I would argue that, the perception of the fintech industry as a ‘male-dominated’ sector is increasingly being challenged by the sheer force of impact of individuals like these all over the world.
However, it is essential to attract more women to the sector, particularly as the industry and companies within it mature. Factors such as growth, stability, and carer progression are key to making fintech a more attractive option for women. Although there is a general belief that women are more risk-averse than men, which could be one of the root causes of the lack of women in fintech, the increasing maturity of companies, inflows of more capital towards female-led ventures, and wider adoption of fintechs by consumers and enterprises should continue to position fintech as a stable and career-progressive choice.
One of the underlying reasons for the low numbers of women in fintech could be attributed to the broader financial services industry, where there are far greater numbers of men than women in C-Suite and upper management roles. Given that most fintechs are founded by individuals who have had years of experience within the financial services industry, it is easy to see that there may be a correlation between the number of women in financial service and the number of women in fintech.
While the focus in this article has been specifically on fintechs, it is important to note that this is an issue amongst all industries globally. According to the World Economic Forum, when examining female representation in leadership positions, the Gender Gap Report finds that only 19% and 16% of leadership roles in manufacturing and infrastructure, respectively, are occupied by women. However, in sectors like non-governmental organisations and education, women hold over 40% of leadership roles. While there has been progress, among Fortune 500 companies, only 8.8% of the CEOs are women.
In recent years, there have been positive developments in female involvement in fintech. According to the Australian EY Fintech survey, female-founded fintechs accounted for 28% in 2022, up from 26% in 2021, and in leadership roles, accounting for 28% in 2022, up from 24% in 2021 with the overall representation of females in the sector at 34%. However, this is still a long way from balanced representation, and these numbers may be challenged as global economic conditions tighten in 2023/24.
Another factor that points to a positive outlook for female involvement in fintech is that female-led startups perform better for venture capitalists (VCs). A 2016 Kaufman Fellows Report found that privately held tech companies headed up by women “are more capital-efficient, achieve 35% higher return on investment, and, when venture-backed, bring in 12% higher revenue than male-owned tech companies.” With more women involved in VC, this data may help direct more capital towards female-led fintechs.
Looking to the future, the number of girls involved in STEM at school and tertiary studies are increasing. This engaged and motivated cohort may drive more female numbers in fintech from the engineering floor up. These trends are especially promising for the future of fintech and could lead to greater female representation in the industry in the years to come.
It's difficult to discuss this topic without mentioning board quotas. Many companies and industry organisations have invoked quotas that dictate how many female directors should be included on the board. FinTech Australia’s constitution calls for 30% of directors to be female (it should be noted that the constitution also states this is not the goal – the organisation's goal is 50%). Whilst quotas are not without faults and not universally popular, they are an effective (ideally short-term) mechanism to drive focus and efforts towards achieving parity of representation. The hope is that these quotas will fall away overtime as they will no longer be necessary – parity of representation will be naturally achieved. That's th dream!
Overall, while the fintech industry (the industry nearest and dearest to my heart) still has a long way to go in achieving gender equity, there are positive trends that suggest that the industry is in transition. With more efforts to attract women to the sector and more female-led fintechs and startups and even VCs, there is reason to be optimistic about the industry’s future.