Are financial products built with a masculine sensibility? - Hindustan Times
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Are financial products built with a masculine sensibility?

ByHindustan Times
Aug 18, 2023 04:37 PM IST

This article is authored by Rama Tadepalli, Co-Founder and CPO, Mintoak.

A few years ago, I asked the CEO of a large MNC payments company if he thought that the product teams in the organisation were gender balanced? Why does it seem like the products are built with a masculine sensibility? Why do the products look less appealing to women? It turned out, he did not really grasp the gravity of my question and thought I was messing with him. But we cannot wish away the problem.

Gender equality(Getty Images/iStockphoto) PREMIUM
Gender equality(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The financial services industry, in general, and fintech, in particular, have a gender diversity problem and the stats bear witness. There are very few fintechs with female founders or women at senior leadership levels. Perhaps digital payments is the only area which has seen a reasonable adoption across genders.

While 30% of the fintech workforce is female, only 17% of senior fintech roles are held by women. Look at the founders of such companies. If we look at all the founders of the companies that were selected for fintech 50 for the year 20173, 118 were men, and just six were women. A tad bit above 5%.

The gender imbalance in fintech founder teams and in the workforce starts reflecting in the end user base as well. How many fintech companies (large or small), publish data on the gender split of their user base? Unless fintech companies consciously watch this crucial metric, there will be a wide gap, and companies will remain blissfully ignorant of the lost opportunity of serving a segment with evolving purchasing power.

Additionally, large organisations have a challenge of legacy thinking. It will take a few years for the mix to change, and it will not happen on its own. The change requires a conscious drive and focus at every level and a deep appreciation of how innovation will grow with more diverse perspectives. Forcing a gender diversity metric will seem like another number game gimmick and alienate both genders. One group feels they are victims of affirmative action, and the other group feels that they are just an improvement in stats, and their true talent has not been recognised.

Senior leaders at fintechs and other financial institutions should observe the team constitution and team dynamics, especially in product management and business meetings. I have seen global product teams which are highly skewed towards males. Sure, there is cultural diversity, but gender represents nearly 50% of the user segment. I am aghast at how little the teams focus on the user base of the solution. The understanding is so limited. What makes the entire approach even more disappointing is that there is very little sensitivity to the existence of such bias. Even when we refer to the end user, the pronoun is always a “He”. In our teams, we are trying to change the vocabulary to be more inclusive. If one cannot think of the end-user as “She”, one can never design a solution for her.

According to the World Economic Forum Gender Gap report in 2023, financial services is one of the industries where women continue to be under-represented. The Financial Services industry presents the toughest conditions for aspiring female leaders, with a ratio of C-suite to entry-level representation of less than 50%. Some governments are taking an equity and inclusion lens to economic policy-making, with recent gender mainstreaming efforts explicitly recognising gender parity as critical to economic growth and financial stability.

The lack of gender diversity is a systemic problem. It starts at the entry-level of the educational system. Frail social support further hampers the ability to nurture curiosity for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The bias which takes root in the educational system continues to grow and widens the talent gap. The issue is far too deep-rooted to have a silver bullet kind of solution.

As young fintech start-ups, we can be more enlightened. We should make an honest effort to bridge the gap. There is always a huge pressure to hire at a fast pace and the readily available talent pool is largely male. It will take extra effort and dedication to ensure that the pipeline is at least diverse. Thereafter, let the talent, capability and profile fitment guide the hiring decision. However, if the funnel of candidates itself has an inherent bias, the hiring will reinforce the bias. The road to gender balance is arduous and requires loads of commitment, but if we do not walk the path, we will forever design financial products that will leave out a significant section of the opportunity pool. Fintech companies need strategies to transform organisational culture and design products and services to serve a broader range of consumers by making innovation processes more inclusive.

We need to put gender parity at the heart of economic recovery and transformation. A diverse perspective will spur innovation. Participation of more women in the workforce and in the user base will only drive the adoption of technology and financial services. Empowered women with a good understanding of technology and investments will ignite growth, resilience, and economic stability.

This article is authored by Rama Tadepalli, Co-Founder and CPO, Mintoak.

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