Meritocracy matters for women in fintech

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Amid the controversy over ex-Google engineer James Damore’s anti-diversity “manifesto” and his assertions about women in the technology industry, one thing was clear.

I vehemently disagree with ex-Google engineer James Damore’s view that the underrepresentation women in technology is down to biological differences, namely 'our' attitudes towards people rather than 'things' and men’s alleged higher drive for status.

However, there is no doubt that women face a harder choice when it comes to their careers.

From my experience – as a woman in her early 30s who came to Australia at the age of 18 with limited English and overcame language, cultural and social barriers to achieve my dream of becoming a CFO – females have to work damn hard even today to get to where they want to be.

Despite the significant steps taken to promote diversity in the workforce in recent years, women still have to prove themselves to be better than men. And even when we do and reach the positions of responsibility, we then find we get paid less than our male counterparts!

Nonetheless, there is still a great deal to be said for our hard-working, determined, crash-through approach that has made women more resilient, better leaders and all-in-all truly impressive people in my view.

There is nothing like adversity where you don’t take no for an answer and, dare I say it, where a glass ceiling exists to spur a woman on to achieve things that may be beyond the normal hurdles faced by a man.

To me, that provides an opportunity for real reform and change while clearing the way ahead for those who come after you.

The key challenge then is what you do with the power and that chance to make a difference – a duty and a responsibility which we owe to all of those around us, both women and men.

What is also clear to me after working in large corporates, emerging global companies and now a scaling up fintech, is that women can’t achieve these things by themselves.

Remember the saying that “behind every successful man there stands a woman”? Well, the same applies to women if my experience is anything to go by. As I have progressed through the ranks, that has become increasingly more important, such as the CEO – an outstanding woman  at Virtus Health, my last corporate job, and a couple of key men also there and here at SocietyOne.

So, whether it is as partners at home, colleagues at work or bosses at executive level and in the boardroom, the support of someone standing back-to-back with you is absolutely critical to women getting ahead in life.

Women supporting women is no surprise. What I do think is critical are those modern, progressive men who are influential in helping to drive change.

That’s why I applaud initiatives such as the “Male Champions of Change”, that group of forward-thinking senior executives who by their words and their actions are leading the way in changing corporate culture from the top-down, which then helps make that happen from the bottom-up.

But there is one area of reform with which I don’t agree. That’s the issue of quotas, targets and the so-called 50-50 rule. I just can’t accept that women should get into positions just to make up the numbers even though I understand the argument that such “goals” are required to measure our progress.

I’m all for being given an equal chance to succeed, but I want to do that because I’m good enough, intelligent enough and well-qualified enough to get the job I aspire to do.

That’s what drives me – and harder than many men that I know – since being a member of a meritocracy really matters to me. It’s the recognition I strive for and the recognition I believe women deserve. No more, no less.

This has a lot to do with my background as a new Australian who came from the former Soviet Union. In Russia, it was just accepted as normal that girls, just like boys, would get the same education at school, go to same universities and come out with the same degrees that would qualify them for a variety of different but the same jobs.

Women like my mother always worked and occupied positions alongside their male counterparts in a whole range of industries, whether that was in engineering, construction, medicine, law, finance, etc.

It also helped that the “system” (and by that I mean supportive childcare and educational services, not the communist political one) was geared towards working parents, both mothers and fathers – hence my earlier point.

What I remember most is that women and men were, by and large, treated equally. For a woman to get ahead still required drive and the hunger to succeed. But at least that was down to the ability of the individual woman.

The great thing is that many Australian men now “get it” as far as women are concerned – all things being equal of course!

Anna Harper is Chief Financial Officer and Head of Markets at Sydney-based Clearmatch, the world’s first, multi-asset class, fully fractionalised transparent financial marketplace in the cloud. First appeared on Fintech Business: