Women are the Real Unicorns When it Comes to Fintech

by Holt Accelerator | June 13, 2019

Here at Holt Fintech Accelerator, we’ve spent the past 3 months recruiting early-stage fintechs to apply to our program. With the application period officially closing tomorrow, we’ve been able to get an overview of the challenges in recruiting female-led fintechs into our ecosystem. We believe that closing the gender gap in fintech depends on us having honest conversations about the numbers.

After our team performed a high-level analysis of the make-up of the startups who have applied to our program, we are confident that we still have a way to go to close the gender gap with an astoundingly low number of female-led companies applying to our program. Only 6% of applications came from a startup that is solely founded by a woman; only 2% of the startups who applied have a woman co-founder; and 14% of women make up the core team (where none are founders or co-founders). Therefore, roughly 1 in 5 teams have any sort of female representation within their startup.

With this information, we went to the fintech ecosystem experts, both Sue Britton and Kristy Duncan, to get their take on the challenges we all face when trying to build diverse products and services.

Sue is a Holt Advisor

 “FinTech is positioned between two historically male-dominated industries, finance and technology,” says Sue Britton, CEO and Founder of FinTech Growth Syndicate. “Though women have gained some momentum as CEOs and founders over the last 15 years, research by FGS shows that only 9% of the FinTechs in Canada have at least one female founder or CEO/C-level executive. That is just not acceptable.”

“There are many ways people are trying to address the issue, through education, awareness and advocacy led by organizations such as Move the Dial and #MeToo social conversations; launch of VC funds focussed on female founders such as BDC Women in Tech or Female Funders; but I think we need to be more deliberate and push for tougher employment laws to address gender issues in the workplace where the majority of gender inequality plays out.” Says Sue Britton. “And on a personal level, I hope to collaborate with others to reach more young women before they leave school to start their careers, and give them the tools to address gender related workplace issues from impacting their ambition to be CEOs and founders of their own companies.”

Kristy Duncan, the Founder and CEO of Women in Payments has this to add: “I’ve seen the struggle to attract women into the fintech space. Just take it from my past experience, having run the Unicorn Challenge in Canada for 3 years, the UK in 2019, and Australia in 2016, we aren’t the only countries struggling to find talent and promoting female-led fintech startups.”

Kristy Duncan, another Holt Advisor.

The Australian Unicorn Challenge was run by Visa as part of their Visa Everywhere initiative, and the obvious challenge came when it was time to find women fintech leaders to deliver the pitches. Ultimately, they removed the criterion that it must be a leader from the firm and allowed any woman from the firm to deliver the pitch. There were 6 finalists, but with $50,000 in prize money, there was more incentive for startups to participate.

In Canada in the past, Women in Payments has scrambled to confirm women fintech leaders to pitch (seed or pre-seed), and were only narrowly able to confirm 4 contestants the past 2 years. In 2016, they opened it to both men and women. In London this year, they confirmed the fourth pitch contestant three days before the event.  This experience matched Holt Accelerator’s experience in Tel Aviv this past spring when Fintech Week fell on International Women’s Day, where they could only recruit 4 female-led teams to pitch. Some of the startups didn’t even include founders or executives performing the pitches.

In Kristy’s opinion, we need to be encouraging female entrepreneurship at a much earlier stage, even at the university level or perhaps even high school. She feels we need to have programs to mentor, encourage, and teach young women how to become entrepreneurs.  Our ecosystem also needs to balance our infrastructure, to provide better funding support to women. Innovate Finance has a Women in Fintech group that offers support, but not funding.

Kristy goes on to point out that with so few women coming out of the STEM education streams, and much of the nation’s innovation coming from people with STEM backgrounds, we are only innovating with half their population. The problem is not isolated to Canada; she has also seen it first hand in Australia and the UK.

Organizations like Canada Learning Code (with a specific Ladies Learning Code program) and Girls Who Code are helping us to close the gender gap in STEM.

Alison Rose in the UK headed up a study and published The Rose Report. This report states, “From our detailed research we believe the biggest opportunities to help female entrepreneurs fall in three areas:

– Increasing the funding directed towards them;

– Greater family care support; and,

– Making entrepreneurship more accessible for women and increasing support locally, through relatable and accessible mentors and networks.”  

You can find many UK-based challenges and statistics in The Rose Report.

An article was produced in February 2019, by Forbes Magazine, that interviews women in fintech and asks how the gender gap is being addressed.

Women in Payments has found success in bringing senior female leaders who have opted for a career change, into their early-stage companies where they can join as advisors, executives or co-founders.

As leaders in this space, we will continue to build alliances, to help promote women in fintech and find ways to address these challenges. We encourage any senior leaders or any female professional to reach out to us if they have an interest in working with early-stage fintechs.

About FinTech Growth Syndicate

FinTech Growth syndicate was founded to help their clients push the boundaries, collaborate, and help organizations grow their bottom line.

They help FinTech organizations of all sizes accelerate a new product or idea, transform something that is not working into something exciting that is, expand awareness, increase their company’s footprint, or dive into a new market.

Their research can be found here.

About Women in Payments

As founder and CEO of Women in Payments, we connect, inspire, and champion women working in the global payments and fintech ecosystem. We offer a career development platform via speaking opportunities at our annual conferences, participation in our awards and global mentorship programs, and networking at various events.

For more information about Women in Payments, you can visit their website.

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