What I learned from the Innovate Finance Powerlist celebration...
Updated: May 31, 2022
Grey suits, itchy material and old man smells. What am I talking about? A finance convention, of course! So imagine my surprise when I was greeted with a sea of bold prints, fabulous silks and every note of gorgeous perfume imaginable at the Innovate Finance Women in Fintech Powerlist event.
Prosecco in one hand, notepad in the other, here's everything I gleaned from the evening.
These boundaries are made for smashing 💪
CEO of Innovate Finance and all-round legend Janine Hirt got things going with some punchy lines.
"Not only have we pushed through boundaries, we've broken them", she declared.
Hirt was speaking through a giant screen in the wall like Zordon of Eltar. I felt like we were all Power Rangers about to ping off on a mission. (I don't get out much). Her speech was impassioned and authentic. Best of all, it wasn't just about women.
"Diversity is more than gender", Hirt continued. "This is the community that's going to ensure we all have a brighter future".
I was sat next to Lucy Heavens, marketing guru at 10x Banking and founder of RegTech Women. She's one of the greatest advocates for diversity, equity and inclusion in the industry. As well as one of the 50 new powerlisters. Good seat, right?
Laughs, tears and huffs with the panel speakers
The evening continued with a lively panel. And like any banging Greatest Hits album, there was a generous mix of everything. We snorted with laughter (well me and one other women, everyone else just laughed normally). Shook our heads in disbelief. And rolled our eyes so high, we went into another universe.
"I'm not nervous! ... But I make one hell of a cocktail!"
☝☝ This was my FAVOURITE quote of the night. Coming from EY's legendary Deborah Womack, about the occasional tremors she experiences as part of her disability. This one-liner set the room on fire🔥. It was brilliant.
Hearing her stories about overcoming racism, homophobia and ableism in finance was awe-inspiring. Iconic.
Another person who got the room knee-slapping with laughter was, of course, the hilarious Louise Smith, Chair of the Board at Innovate Finance. To my shame, I was too busy laughing to write down the jokes. And to my double-shame (Can never have enough shame ...Catholic upbringing), the event was over two months ago🙈 . So whatever memory wasn't blasted away by the free Prosecco has now been naturally obliterated. I have the same kind of memory for good jokes that a 90s mobile phone had for storing more than ten SMS messages. But take my word, the chat was funny.
Despite the free prosecco, there were sobering moments 🙏
I did, however, make a note of something which hit me hard. "I came out, because I didn't want anyone to use it [against me]", Smith said in a moment that broke my heart. Finance can be so toxic honestly. Coming out should be a celebration, not a defence mechanism. 😣
"I came out because I didn't want anyone to use it against me" 😳
Listening to her made me reflect on my LGBTQIA+ colleagues and friends in Zurich, in wealth management.
I remember one of my best friends sobbing about the relentless bullying she faced. I don't know if it was because of her sexuality, but I have strong suspicions. It wasn't little tears either. It was the kind of guttural wails that send shoots of panic hurtling down your spine. She was really, deeply hurting every single day.
I remember how my work husband (please tell me this is a common expression) was guarded when it came to personal conversations. Especially with senior managers. And I knew why. The thinly-veiled micro-aggressions. References to the colour pink when his name came up. The fake alpha-male bulls**. Getting passed over AGAIN for a promotion.
It's so unfair, stupid and unnecessary.
There were moments of anger and outrage too at the event too. Smith spoke candidly about how colleagues told her not to "put herself down", when she came out to them as gay. Uhhh... excuse me?! 😡
Every eye-brow in the room hit the ceiling. A cascade of tuts, groans and huffs of disbelief flooded the room.
If that person is reading this now, know that an entire room of powerlisters agree you're a d***head.
Battling coercive misogyny is still a major concern
There's a feeling of taboo when the word "misogyny" comes up, right? This quake that trembles through your body saying, "Ahh! Don't do it!". You brace yourself for instant criticism. It feels like someone is about to shout "NOT ALL MEN ARE LIKE THAT" in your face. Like it's more drama than it's worth.
But, you know, we've got to get over that. That's part of the problem. And one of the best ways is by talking about what's really going on, without prejudice. Openly and fairly.
Managing Director at nCico, Jennifer Geary - who has the kind of voice that makes you feel instantly safe - was also a panellist. Geary is a journalist's dream because she's full of stats.
"11 million women in the UK lost their jobs [over COVID], compared to 9 million men!", Geary began. "And women experience higher stress, more childcare. 56% reported feeling ALWAYS ON""
Pfftt. Why do we STILL have this? Parents are equal caregivers. AREN'T they? Why is it acceptable that one should do more than the other? 🙄
Although we need to improve across the board, the lack of women in financial senior positions is still HUGELY concerning. There's so much talk about fixing it. And so little action.
"As women, we go through periods, babies and menopause. But the office is not built for that", Womack elaborated. "And it's SO WRONG!"
I couldn't agree more.
There are BIG things like equal maternity and paternity leave. Support for parents who are adopting. Help for women facing IVF. Fair pay structures. Fair workloads. Extra personal days in case someone needs it.
And then there are the really f**king easy things. Things that we could all implement TODAY, but never do.
My obvious ideas:
👉 Always have enough chairs in the meeting room. Cramps are really painful.
👉 Put a break between meetings, in case some of us need to pop to Boots or to the loo quickly. You don't need to know why exactly.
👉 Pads and tampons should be provided for free in office bathrooms. (At the very beginning of my career, when I didn't have any money, I sometimes had to pick between lunch or tampons. FYI - lunch always won. But it was uncomfortable).
👉Dedicating a room for nursing mothers so that they don't have to express in the disabled toilet. Obviously, right?
👉 A quiet room to breathe or relax. I still don't really know much about the menopause, but I have had a hot flush before and it sucks.
And, one of the most important... Give women a decent job title before the age of 30-something. If you can't afford a pay rise, at least provide a good title. For mothers returning to work, these CV improvements make such a difference. I actually stole this idea from a book called The Panic Years, by Nell Frizzell, which I highly recommend! 👇👇👇👇👇
We ALL need to speak up! 💪💪
So, what can we do to level out the playing field? Not just for women, but for everyone....?
To help get this equality ball rolling a bit faster, Smith encourages us to be proactive. "When you can't see [change happening], challenge it!", Smith continued. "Have conversations about it! Be WITH US in the fight!".
This starts with recruiting. "If you have a mono-culture", explains Womack, "Bringing more of the same people in is going to be hopeless". This is true. Group-think is really bad in tech and finance.
"What we need to do", explains Geary, "... and I know it sounds obvious, is ATTRACT, RETAIN and PROMOTE".
"Cast the net as far and wide as possible. After that, just go for the talent and may the best person win".
"Be open and accessible", recommends Smith. "Think WHO ARE YOU LEAVING OUT OF THE ROOM? And ask yourself, does your organisation actually employ the people you serve?"
"When people are fearless, they do INCREDIBLE things!", Smith exclaimed.
The event was amazing ... But just a teeny tiny criticism ...
The event was great. Of course it was. Refreshing, inspiring and full of delightful people. But I do have just one little criticism. And I hope Innovate Finance will forgive me, because I would like to be invited back.
The event was supposed to be about women in fintech.
But ... ( and I would love to be corrected on this) ... there were no female fintech founders on the panel...? 🤷♀️😳
Which is MADNESS to me. Because I was sitting next to one. Lucy has been in more fintechs than you could shake a stick at.
I looked to my left and I saw Nina Mohanty. NINA MOHANTY you guys. She has literally founded her own fintech. You couldn't miss her. In a canary yellow blazer, lighting up the room. Sitting there politely listening to people talk about how to get more women in fintech.
Straight ahead, there was Sarah Williams-Gardener. She's only the CEO OF FINTECH WALES. Williams-Gardener works directly with basically every fintech in the whole country, finding them the funds and expertise to scale.
Half the room seemed to have worked with Anne Boden, founder and CEO of Starling Bank. And famously, the first challenger bank to turn a profit.
To be honest, probably the only companies present who DON'T have women in power were the ones that the panellists are part of. (...The same companies who were sponsoring the event). 😳😳
So, in the ultimate twist, I'm turning the chair around to YOU, Innovate Finance.
Next time, will YOU "Cast the net as far and wide as possible. After that, just go for the talent and may the best person win"?
... Or will you simply put the sponsors' choice of speaker onstage? 🤔
I look forward to finding out!! (If I get an invite!)🤗