Three African women in Fintech share tips and lessons on rising and staying at the top of the industry

Fintech recruitment firm Talent in the Cloud, interviewed three women in the industry to get their perspective and experience working in the industry as part of gender representation and equality survey.

“We surveyed women in Africa to find out how they believed their companies were doing on gender equality from and received responses from 740 women. Overall the results were relatively positive,” noted Darren Franks, CEO of TalentintheCloud.

However, respondents feel that companies still have work to do in ensuring women feel empowered and respected in the workplace, bolstering the number of women in senior and board positions and giving women access to the same professional resources as men.

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According to the study, the top three challenges that women face in a Fintech workplace were equal pay, equal opportunities and gender equality.

“Companies were considered to have made most progress in achieving gender equality at the lower levels. A third saw companies as having achieved diversity in entry-level jobs. This was in stark comparison with the less than 10 percent of respondents who felt the same degree of success had been achieved as executive and board levels.”

Over half of the respondents (54.3%) said companies did not support working mothers, something that is crucial for those women who want to continue advancing in their career alongside their role as parents.

The report highlighted three women: Agnes Gathaiya, Chief Executive Officer at Kenya’s Pesalink, Shelley De Reuck, Head of Strategic Development at S.Africa based Wirecard and Cameronian Viola Llewellyn, co-founder and President of Ovamba Solutions, a US-based fintech company that provides micro, small and medium enterprises in Africa and the Middle East with microfinance through a mobile platform.

“Although they have taken different paths to get to this point in their careers, there are certain commonalities in their journeys to becoming powerhouses in Africa,” notes the report.

“What they have in common: they have worked in a wide variety of roles throughout their career, they have never been shy to learn from the best in the field at the time, often men in their traditionally male-dominated fields; and they always show up and speak up so that the value they add is always evident.”

Agnes Gathaiya: Secret to success – Content is king

Agnes says she has never walked into a job as a woman. “I have always walked as Agnes, who is infinitely qualified and has a lot to offer.”

“Don’t wait for permission to be who you are and whatever space you are in, always demonstrate the immense value you offer the organization.”

“If you don’t speak up you are never going to be top of mind if people are thinking about who to approach when opportunities open up.”

“How do you get heard? You get heard if you have content. Once you get into the habit of building up your content database, then it is very easy to have conversations that add value to other people.”

“The first thing you need to do is get into the culture of saving. When you have built up enough liquidity to fall back on, you then need to get into the culture of investing. That will give you the freedom to make decisions you need to make for you. It takes away the desperation of being locked in situations that are not optimal for you, your family or anyone else. The power to ‘walk’ is a woman’s greatest asset.”

She says Kenya has better gender diversity on boards than the global average. Whereas worldwide women held 15% of the board seats in 2018, in Kenya that number is 20% – double what it was two years before.

“While the number is still small, we are making huge strides.”

“Although women are culturally conditioned to be pleasers, they need to be strong and assertive if they want to succeed in the financial services industry.”

“It is important that you find your voice and your value proposition and make sure that is visible.”

“Often the best learning and success comes from stepping out of one’s comfort zone and doing new and uncomfortable things – that has certainly been true for me.”

“It’s important to find people who support you, see your potential and push you forward in the organization. I was fortunate enough to have that.”

She says men tend to be greater at grabbing opportunities, whereas women run the risk of stepping back.

“Women need to understand that gender equality means you will be measured by the exact same standards.”

“Don’t be afraid to grab opportunities that come your way, even when you are afraid and feel unprepared for them. We are capable of so much more than we think we are!”

Note: A well-known research, initially quoted in Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In – Women, Work and the Will to Lead, finds that women won’t apply for a job unless they have 100% of the qualifications listed in a job spec. In contrast, men will apply for the job even if they only have 100% of the qualifications listed in the job spec.

Viola Llewellyn: Know the extent of your power and talent

“The main challenge for women is they don’t know how much talent, experience and skills they offer a company. Step back and consider how much power and talent you have and recognize that these stack up against any successful man in a similar position.”

She believes the main challenge for women is “the obscurity in your own life.” She points out that even though many of us have all of the same skills and characteristics of any successful, globally-minded man, we undersell ourselves.

“Glue yourself to whoever the smartest person is in the room and build great relationships. That will allow you to succeed in an environment where you don’t yet have the toolkit. It’s up to you to use that information to help you achieve your goals and ambitions. And don’t forget – don’t let failure intimidate you! It will teach you far more than you could ever imagine.”

 

Bonus: Kenyan-born Martha Mgendi-Fisher is the founder of the European Women Payments Network (EWPN) and African Women in FinTech & Payment (AWFP, a collection of women working in the fintech and payments industry.

Martha’s passion for collaboration also stems from wanting to change the environment in which women view interacting with fellow professionals from a perspective of scarcity, believing that there are not enough jobs to go around.

“When I first started building EWPN, there was a lack of trust in collaboration but things are changing. In making business and personal connections, women are seeing the benefits of collaboration and the partnerships that come out of them. Everybody feels they can put down the heavy burden of doing it alone.”

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