Many people think of fintech as a progressive, forward-thinking industry, led by bold thinkers who like to do things differently. But claims of diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) fall apart easily when you drill into the data. Overall female representation remains astonishingly low, from the ground up to leadership level – women account for only 17% of people working in STEM roles across Europe.

As global fintech funding fell by 60.8% in Q2 of 2023 compared with 2022, all the data shows that companies with more gender and ethnic diversity have a higher probability of innovating with products that cater to a more diverse audience – and yield higher revenues.

As awareness of diversity issues in the workplace increases worldwide, business leaders are quickly realising that diversity programmes are not just tick-box exercises but are a core strategic priority that can help to future-proof their growth and success.

Things are already changing for the better in the UK, where 34% of companies stated that they now have at least 50% female representation on their senior leadership teams, and 82% of companies stated that they specify gender diversity in leadership succession planning in Dial Global’s Diversity Review UK 2023.

If fintechs want to deliver on their widely held briefs of becoming a force for good and improve financial inclusion, then they must start representing the societies they serve.

Tackling exclusion and inequality from the ground up

So, what can the fintech industry do to reframe DEI initiatives as a core growth priority? They must tackle inequality at every level of the system – all too often, it starts at ground level – and they must do it early.

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Research from PwC, which surveyed over 2,000 A-level and university students in the UK, found that the gender gap in STEM starts at school and carries on throughout girls’ and women’s lives. Even today, more than a quarter of female students stated they were put off a career in tech as it’s too male-dominated. With the UK now struggling to fill 43% of available STEM jobs, the fintech industry will suffer sluggish growth without efforts to improve DEI initiatives linked to STEM skills development programmes and subjects. And the earlier these efforts start, the better.

Another way that fintech companies can encourage women, ethnic minorities, the disabled and other marginalised groups into the industry is by getting involved in groups, schemes and apprenticeships that enable access into STEM roles. Great examples include the Generation Programme, which runs in the UK and offers valuable guidance on mindset, time-management and more. Also, the Code Nation master coding course teaches everything that a developer should know.

There are also mentor groups, such as the Girls Network in the North of England that I mentor for, which aims to inspire and empower girls from the least advantaged communities by connecting them with a mentor and a network of professional women role models. STEM meetings take place across major cities, enabling girls to find a mentor who can guide them through their journey or discover which STEM role would be right for them. Some fantastic organisations that facilitate meetups in person and online are The Prince’s Trust and Code and Stuff in the UK.

As well as kickstarting STEM skills development at school age, it’s also vital to maintain those efforts as people approach university education. Great strides in this area have been made in my hometown of Newcastle upon Tyne, where local universities such as Northumbria University and Teesside University have started fintech courses as a way to attract top talent to the region and connect them with local fintech companies. In addition, I recently arranged for Kani to sponsor Durham University Women in Business (DUWIB), which helps its members to gain access to internships and graduate schemes with some of the world’s most prestigious firms

Be the company that people want to work for

When competition for skilled graduate and senior talent is so ferocious, fintech companies need to make sure that people will actually want to be employed by them and made to feel welcome. It sounds straightforward, but ensuring that you are becoming a diverse company that talented people want to work for is often overlooked.

For a long time, many companies lacked the foresight to make clear and public commitments to DEI policies in place, inadvertently deterring women and minorities from applying. Thankfully, this is changing, and these days the company without a clear DEI policy is the exception to the rule. But it’s not enough to just highlight such policies, fintechs need to show continued commitment.

One important way to attract top talent is by looking into local or national requirements to officially become a great place to work. For example, Kani Payments recently signed up to the North of Tyne’s Combined Authority ‘Good Work Pledge’ to make low-paid unemployment a thing of the past. We have also been accredited as a Living Wage Employer, which is the only rate calculated according to the costs of living. It provides a voluntary benchmark for employers that wish to ensure their staff earn a wage they can live on, not just the government minimum.

Companies should also champion strong diverse leadership so that employees can see other people like them in these roles, and help them understand options, pathways and the experience/skills required to develop in their field.

Kani Payments practices what it preaches. Its inclusive and collaborative culture was a big draw for me when I was approached by CEO Aaron Holmes to join the company in 2020. I’m proud to be the Chief Marketing Officer for such a dynamic and innovative company, one that thrives because of the differences and the diversity within our team.

Kani Payments is a great example of how, when people of all backgrounds are empowered to contribute to the fintech decision-making process, it creates positive ripples across the whole enterprise, and beyond into wider society.

Many of the barriers that prevent all genders, races and those with disabilities from achieving their aims are built from outdated attitudes and beliefs that we can all do our part to tackle. When half of the world’s population is female, and minority demographics across race and disabilities are growing, understanding their needs will be crucial to the future success of fintech. 

Melissa Beckett is Chief Marketing Officer at Kani Payments