This October at The Fintech Times we are championing the fantastic females in the fintech industry. Around 30% of the fintech workforce are women, and we want to spotlight those who have not only made it to the top, but those who have overcome hurdles, bulldozing a path for the women to follow.
Here we hear from Vivienne Hsu, Rakefet Russak Aminoach, Nabilah Hussain, Sarah Walker, Lili Metodieva and Ioana Frincu,as they share with us how they smashed the glass ceiling.
Vivienne Hsu, Chief Communications and Marketing Officer, Sokin
When I first became MD, I was approached by women who told me that having a young female in a senior position was inspiring and changed how they saw the business. I became someone others could relate to in a role they could now see themselves having in the future. Before this, I never thought of myself as an example or a point of reference in someone else’s career. Yes, it was daunting at first, but I turned away from the inevitable imposter syndrome women commonly experience and forced myself to trust my own ability to do the job I was appointed to do. I was tenacious and quickly learned from my successes and failures, and I soon realised regardless of how we see ourselves, other people see you in a completely different way.
I feel fortunate to be in the position I am in as working in finance as a woman in a senior position while being 40 and below and a minority is still very unusual, even though there is no denying diversity builds stronger businesses. Therefore, smashing the glass ceiling is less about you as an individual and much more about the people around you.
Having a glass ceiling to break is a privilege. To break it, we must first have access to such opportunities and be given the space to showcase our skills. Unfortunately, for women and minorities, this isn’t always the case and the most marginalised are left behind. What may be a glass ceiling for some is also a steel roof for others. It is our responsibility to ensure that the next generation of leaders has the tools available to fulfill their potential.
Rakefet Russak Aminoach, Managing Partner, Team8
I would like to think the theme of smashing the glass ceiling has defined my career trajectory to date. My story gives expression to a strong desire to push boundaries and challenge convention.
I remember those early days, in conference halls, surrounded by bankers who looked at me somewhat quizzically, doubting my strong belief in technology as a disruptor to our industry. I was energised by this potential, and found myself acting as an agent of change, while promoting the ‘digital imperative’.
During my tenure as President & CEO of Leumi, Israel’s largest banking group (by total assets), I had the opportunity to work with some truly brilliant colleagues and grew to understand how legacy infrastructure was placing a glass ceiling over the industry’s future prospects. Throughout my career and even as a CEO, I was never afraid to immerse myself in new domains and seek counsel mainly from tech leaders on topics that were foreign to me. Successful transformations do not happen if ego gets in the way.
Under my stewardship, Leumi became Israel’s leading bank in profits, market cap and innovation – spurred by my ambition to instill a culture of innovation within the bank. While broadcasting my vision at international forums, many financial and business leaders questioned the viability of such lofty objectives. Even within the organisation, there were many difficult and frank conversations with my colleagues in order to convince them of the merit of adopting a digital-first strategy.
This war of attrition underscored the magnitude of my ambitions, and the resistance I would be facing along the way. Undeterred, I took a bet on myself (and my career) as an outspoken critic of conservative incumbent culture and processes, and went on to launch LeumiTech – Leumi’s Hi-Tech arm – and PEPPER – Israel’s first neobank. Not allowing the industry’s risk-averse DNA to halt my progress, I set about digitally rewiring a static and archaic infrastructure – smashing the double-pane glass ceiling in the process.
I’ve been humbled by media recognition of my contributions to banking innovation, and had the distinct pleasure of speaking at a range of global CEO forums. Reflecting back on my career, the transformation I led at Leumi is parallel to the profound professional transformation in my own career. From a background in accounting and banking, I embarked on my own digital pivot, and today I am a Managing Partner at Team8, a leading Israeli venture group, where we build cutting-edge fintech companies that aim to redefine the global landscape of banking and financial services.
Nabilah Hussain, Head of Financial Crime, 3S Money
Being raised along with my three sisters in a single-parent household by my mother, I always had a shining example of a strong, independent, hardworking and resourceful role model.
My mother always instilled in my sisters and I the value of working hard, being ambitious and striving to overcome adversity in all its forms. Today, as four successful professional women, my sisters and I credit much of our success to the values and work ethics that were instilled in us from a young age. These values have in turn shaped my motivations and ambitions, and ultimately how I work and interact with others in my personal and professional life. I’m now an advocate for female empowerment and leadership as I’ve experienced first-hand, the positive influence strong female leadership and coaching can have on others. I strive to channel these values in my professional life by coaching and mentoring others to share my experiences and help my peers to grow.
As the Head of Financial Crime at 3S Money, I’m empowered to know that I have the ability to lead by example and influence a wider culture that strongly advocates and encourages inclusivity, diversity, and growth.
Sarah Walker, VP of Engineering, Ribbon
At the start of my career, I realised that I would be one of the only women in the room. As technology jobs pushed offshores during the early days of the Internet, many women around me gravitated towards business and sales roles. During this time, I shifted my focus to product roles. However, I missed the engineering side of things. When I got back into my role as an engineer, I started building my network. I actively engaged in women tech leadership groups and events to further build my circle and realised the need for a women’s network that didn’t yet exist in engineering.
I went on to be part of the founding class of Chief, a private network focused on connecting and supporting women leaders. Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to be connected to mentors and leaders who are passionate about giving people the opportunities they’ve earned without discrimination or barriers. I’ve paid it forward during my career; I built leadership teams in previous roles that were at least 50% female, enabling me to train, coach, mentor, and train the female tech leaders of tomorrow. Chief allows me to pay it forward and help other women break the glass ceiling.
In my current role as VP of engineering at Ribbon, I’ve introduced recruiting practices that focus more on people, DEI, and mission-driven traits, on top of technical and professional accomplishments. Through inclusive, mission-driven companies such as these, it’s possible to pass the baton, lift other women and empower them to continue smashing the glass ceiling.
Lili Metodieva, Managing Director, Monneo
As a female MD of a European fintech, I have had my fair share of challenges. Beginning my career more than 15 years ago in eCommerce, I always had to put in extra work to reach the same level as my peers in the industry. It was even less diverse than it is now. That said, even today, representation of women in fintech languishes at around 20% of the workforce – there is still a lot to be done to address this gap.
But being in a minority hasn’t deterred me. If I reflect honestly on how I’ve smashed the glass ceiling, I would say it comes down to three key things: a willingness to learn, a strong work ethic, and a commitment to succeed.
When I first entered the fintech industry I found it tough. No one is taught about fintech in school. In fact, I don’t think the word had even been coined when I was studying. My first major hurdle was to educate myself about the industry. I had to start at the very beginning and learning everything from the ground up.
Importantly, I made a conscious choice that throughout my career, I would not slip into any tokenist role – or accept that I was successful just because I was a minority. I wanted to craft and find my own path throughout my career, by making decisions and taking ownership of my own growth and development, and where I wanted to get to.
Being ambitious and hard-working have been vital to my success.
Sometimes, getting caught up in the day-to-day means there’s little time to see the bigger picture. I have learned that it’s vital to take a step back to review all the hard work you’ve put in, and the achievements that you’ve made over time. This is especially important if you’re self-critical, which I can be!
A key to learning is to celebrate each success and congratulate yourself and those who helped you get there, especially when you overcome a hurdle. Celebrating successes is incredibly important for growth.
Smashing a glass ceiling is not an individual effort – I couldn’t have achieved what I have without the support of others. That’s why this year’s announcement that Monneo are finalists in three categories at the Payments Awards is such a privilege for me and the team. It demonstrates the power of what can be achieved together, through our joint hard work and commitment to succeed.
Ioana Frincu, CTO of EQIFI
“I started my professional career while still in college so I could advance faster and benefit from the extra years of experience. In 2015, while working as a Data Specialist, I realized that I had three options to advance my career: One was to climb the ladder in my current department, two was to change companies every few years, or three, become an entrepreneur. I tried the third option and eventually sold my part of that business.
“I believe setting objectives and working towards them is key. I sincerely believe that one of the ways to break through a glass ceiling is by creating your own context of what that ceiling is. Success is not the same for everyone and realizing what your own version of success is will motivate you to work towards it.
“Not looking or acting like the stereotype everyone expects is challenging. It took me some time to establish myself as an expert in the crypto industry as, at that time, 98% of people invested in this field were men. The only way for success was, for me, perseverance and openness to connect with like-minded individuals.
“Making yourself available for opportunities, involving yourself in initiatives (such as startup events and conferences) and being consistent in your work are the best assets you can have. Having organized Startup Weekend events for three years, I have grown my network and developed meaningful relationships with other entrepreneurs. Going to conferences and speaking about the innovative work I perform has boosted my popularity in the field and brought numerous projects to my doorstep.
“I have also helped my peers develop their projects and helped them connect. As I do not support working for free, I still believe that helping others build their projects as well will benefit you reputationally in the long run.
“Each time you break through a glass ceiling, there is another one waiting for you. Moving between different companies and roles I have learned that perseverance and consistency are keys to success. You may get rejections or be skipped a promotion, but as long as you do your best in your job role or in leading the team you are responsible for, you will have a clean reputation and you can always adjust and make changes to achieve your objectives.”