Financial technology ("fintech") is an up-and coming industry that is rapidly changing finance as we know it. With new and improved online banking platforms like PNC Virtual Wallet, robo-advisor investment software like Betterment, and cryptocurrency disrupters like Ripple, there are billions of dollars floating around in fintech. But sadly, women get only a tiny sliver of the pie.
Women account for fewer than 5% of executive positions in fintech. As Innotribe points out in their report called Power Women in FinTech Index: Bridging the Gender Gap, this is a huge issue, considering that women control 70% of household finances throughout the world. Women are the main consumers of fintech services, and yet they aren't represented in leadership roles.
I believe the reason why there are so few women in leadership roles in fintech is that the field requires leaders to be familiar with both finance and computer science. This isn't just a fintech problem. It's an issue across all science, technology, engineering, and mathematics ("STEM") fields. Very few women hold jobs in STEM, and when they do, they're often stereotyped or made to feel that they're not welcome.
There was a nasty internal memo that circulated interally at Google titled, Google's Ideological Echo Chamber. It was written in response to Google's diversity efforts to get more women involved in the company. Some of the main points of this argument were that women are "genetically inferior" at math, and that they are too anxious to deal with a high-stress work environment; hence, we don't see more women in tech. Google promptly fired the software engineer for his sexist comments.
According to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, boys and girls score equally as well as each other on standardized tests in primary school, with the exception of reading and writing where girls tend to have higher aptitudes. Essentially, girls are awesome at everything!
According to the National Academy of Sciences, girls start out on an equal footing to boys when they're young, but their equal footing slides over time. Research suggests female students are negatively impacted by female teachers who show apprehension and anxiety in mathematics.
Many elementary school teachers have a general Bachelor's degree in education, which only requires a basic understanding of mathematics. I have personally heard multiple female teachers casually mention to their class that they "aren't good at math." Female teachers are unknowingly perpetuating this stereotype that "girls are bad at math."
When I worked at a college, I would tell my students, "math isn't my best subject, but I practiced a lot when I worked at a bank, so I got better. It just takes a lot of practice."
I tried to compare mathematics to the sports or hobbies my students enjoyed — whether it was basketball or ballet — reminding them that forming skills doesn't happen overnight. Once I began use this sort of language with my students — combined with tutoring them in the necessary study skills — the girls who were testing in extremely low percentiles quickly improved!
Personally, I fall into the cohort of girls who just barely missed the boat getting involved in the STEM field. During state-standardized testing, my math skills were always in the 98th percentile. I was learning how to code basic websites using HTML from home since I was 12 years old. Throughout school, I told people I was "bad at math" because I incorrectly believed women were as a rule bad at math.
Looking back, I realize I was actually very good at math, especially when compared to a majority of the population. If coding was an option for me in elementary and middle school, I would have jumped on the opportunity to take those classes, but the opportunity simply did not exist. I know I am not alone.
During the Obama Administration, the White House created a movement called "Computer Science for All". They helped to raise billions of dollars for computer science education and the introduction of computer science into standard school curriculums. New studies demonstrate early success. General awareness of computer science careers as an option for girls is on the incline.
One thing we can do today to see more women in fintech leadership roles is to continue to remind young girls that they are, in fact, good at math. It's also important recognize that improving financial education for children is extremely important for everyone, regardless of gender.