Topical Focus – Charting Female Representation in Fintech

Phoebe Harper
By Phoebe Harper  - Editorial Director

In a sector where just 30 percent of the workforce are female, we explore gender diversity in FinTech with Chief Communications and Marketing Officer at Sokin, Vivienne Hsu 

Introduction

After entering the realm of brand marketing and advertising 20 years ago, Vivienne Hsu has gone on to pursue a meteoric career trajectory. Working her way up the ranks of finance and FinTech, Hsu’s career has spanned multiple markets, across the US, Canada, and London.

Moving on from a consultancy role, Hsu went on to join the FinTech start-up Sokin, as Chief Communications and Marketing Officer. In the traditionally male-dominated sector of finance, Hsu is a passionate advocate for improving gender diversity in the industry, with Sokin itself working with a 50-50 gender split. We speak with Hsu to find out more.

What is your current take on the state of gender diversity within the finance sector? Do you think there is still progress to be made with female representation in this space?

Vivienne Hsu (VH): I have been working in the finance and technology industry for more than 10 years now and I can say that I have seen progress when it comes to gender diversity and representation. However, there is still more to be done.

Finance, as it is such a traditional industry, has been dominated by Western banking systems, and therefore has generally been very closed, which not only shuts out women, but others in regions who have not been able to easily access parts of the financial sector. This has started to change in the last generation. The impact technology has had on driving the speed of change in finance can be seen as a catalyst for driving a faster and greater need for change and diversity in the industry.

How this has impacted gender diversity is enormous. There are a lot of great women and leaders out there who are championing greater diversity and equality, particularly in sectors that have been very conservative and traditional, but these industries are also typically very difficult for women and minorities to have longer careers in. You have people like Helena Morrissey who started the ‘30% Club’, a global campaign led by Chairs and CEOs taking action to increase gender diversity at board and executive-committee levels which has driven a lot of visibility on this topic. There are also mandates to get more women appointed to FTSE companies. Change has been positive, but progress remains to be made. 

Recently, there was a study done by McKinsey that revealed the banking and finance workforce starts at around 50 percent female, but when you start moving to senior levels it drops to less than 30 percent. More than 20 percent of these women are therefore not making it to the more senior roles, so we need to tackle this issue head on and focus on getting more women into senior positions where they can most influence and drive changes. The fact that we are having open and honest conversations about diversity and female representation in the workforce, is certainly a step in the right direction.

“The fact that we are now having open and honest conversations about diversity and female representation in the workforce, is certainly a step in the right direction”

Vivienne Hsu, Chief Communications and Marketing Officer, Sokin

Could you expand on your own career journey and the challenges you have encountered as a woman in a male dominated sector?

VH: When I began working in the mid 2000s, there was still a huge percentage of men in very senior roles, with all the PA and executive assistant positions being filled by women. When I moved into finance and technology, I could see a high level of sexism and a lot of gender bias. It was a traditional, very male-dominated environment, and many times I would be in a meeting where I was the only woman in the room.

There is one scenario which has always stuck with me that happened more than once… I would be in a meeting and would get asked, “Are you taking the notes?” It was quite shocking for me the first time it happened, but then I started to respond with, “No, I’m running the meeting.”

What I learnt is the importance of women finding their voice and standing up for themselves. We should be proud of the work we’re doing and the responsibilities we have. It was an important lesson for me, that as a young professional, I needed to speak up and challenge those assumptions. That didn’t mean I had to be rude or aggressive, I just needed to state the facts.

I have had my fair share of challenges, whether people presume I’m there to do a job that I’m not, or that as a young woman who is in a senior role I must have got there in a way that wasn’t above board, or having people who are more senior approach me and create awkward situations. These are all scenarios which have affected how I manage my own reputation. You learn from them, but you also realize that it’s not an individual’s fault; it’s just the way that society has these constructs which lead to incorrect conclusions.

The biggest lesson I have learnt is that the more senior you become, the more people are looking to you to set a good example, and to be a leader. If you don’t speak up, it doesn’t create a safe space for others to speak up, or it doesn’t foster an environment where others feel comfortable coming to you if they have an issue. This starts with charting your own path, being clear about your own values and what you represent as an individual.  

Since approximately 30 percent of the FinTech workforce are female, why do you think more women aren’t involved in the cross-border payments and remittances space?

VH: I think it’s because women haven’t had as much access to the cross-border payments and remittances space. A large reason why the finance and tech sectors are male-dominated goes back to what courses women are taking in school. There is now a big push for women in STEM, but when I was in high school and university, this type of programming didn’t really exist, like it does now.

Additionally, if a woman goes into a sector knowing that she may already face an uphill struggle to progress, she may choose an area that is easier to access with a clearer career trajectory. In finance, cross-border payments and remittances aren’t necessarily the most direct areas of finance to go into after school compared to investment or consumer banking, so this could be a reason as to why we haven’t seen as much interest in these areas.

Also, remittances up until the last 10 to 15 years hadn’t really changed much. It was ultra-traditional, and therefore people weren’t that interested in entering into it because it wasn’t particularly innovative, whereas now, there’s a huge amount of innovation happening in cross-border payments and remittances. Sokin is a great example of that. Not only is it more interesting, but there are also more avenues for people, especially women, to enter the sector, whether it’s on the technical side, operations, sales, or marketing.

How does Sokin promote diversity and inclusion as a FinTech with people at the heart of its operation?

VH: Sokin’s foundation has always been around accessibility and diversity. Because we are a minority owned and led business, diversity is incredibly important, it’s in our DNA.

Diversity and inclusion are a massive part of what makes Sokin really special, and I think it has elevated our team’s sense of belonging. Feeling like they’re part of something that is not just about the product, but at its core is about accessibility. We also have an open culture where we encourage people to share their opinions, so we can collectively improve how we build the product and how we grow as a truly global business. We have an entirely remote workforce which means we can choose talent that is based all over the world, making Sokin incredibly diverse.

It also helps us dispel a lot of assumptions that we have about different markets. If I’m sitting here in the UK, and I think an idea is going to work for the Indian market, having people in India that I can test those hypotheses with is the first step in trying to validate what we’re doing and understand how we do it better. That kind of diversity and inclusiveness across different departments and functions is very unique.

However, we are not just diverse in terms of ethnic background, as we’re also very aware of how people live their lives across different cultures, and we cater to their needs and embrace those differences.

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