Promoting women in fintech

Bonu Hafizova is Director of Alif Academy

International Women’s Day is a day for celebration, reflection and action. Not only does it allow us to celebrate the achievements made by women in their respective fields; it also encourages a wider conversation about the persistent challenges women still face in the workplace. While the day might have passed, promoting gender equality must remain a constant objective throughout the year.

One of these challenges is the disproportionate weighting of men over women in senior leadership positions. According to research from Fortune in 2020, women account for just over 7% of all CEOs that make up the Fortune 500 companies. What’s more, a study featured in the Oregon State University’s Journal of Management has revealed that implicit bias can result in female candidates being overlooked in favour of male candidates during job round for executive positions.

That is not to deny that progress hasn’t been made in recent years. If we look at the gender parity figures released by the World Economic Forum, figures for males in senior leadership positions  has steadily decreased to now sit at 68.6%. However, a further 99.5 years would need to pass should gender parity be reached at its current rate. The point is that while progress has been made, more needs to be done through public and private policy initiatives to empower women and promote gender equality.

The performance of different sectors in promoting female leadership varies. Yet when it comes to fintech, there is a clear gender diversity problem. Firms founded solely by women attract 1% of fintech venture funding, according to a study by findexable.

Bonu Hafizova

It can be argued that part of this comes from its origins. Traditionally, finance and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) have not ranked highly when it comes to equal representation in both senior leadership positions and more generally across the sector.

Given the volume of investment and opportunities on offer through the rise of innovative new fintech companies, what needs to be ensured is that women are also able to access this sector and bring about a new perspective to help fuel growth.


Encouraging greater gender equality in fintech 

The fintech sector prides itself on addressing the emerging needs of consumers and providing a responsive, tailored service that mainstream institutions like banks cannot deliver. On this basis, fintech companies want to position themselves as inclusive and empowering solutions. Yet a working paper featured in the Bank for International Settlements shows that while 29% of men use fintech products and services, only 21% of women do.

Herein lies the first solution. If we want to promote more women to pursue careers in fintech, we need to first make sure they are engaging with the sector by using its products and services. The reason for this low engagement could range from lacking financial literacy in emerging markets to a general lack of knowledge about what fintech actually is. Addressing this knowledge gap should help spark interest.

Female leadership is also vital in promoting greater gender equality in fintech. Simply having a visible female leader in place can provide that inspiration and mentorship needed for women to not only take note of the fintech industry but also consider how their skills could be applied to support high-growth companies. It also dispels misconceptions that fintech is a male dominated arena, but rather one that is inclusive.


Taking a global perspective

The fact of the matter is that while the goal of empowering women across all sectors is global, the means of achieving this differs from region to region and country to country. International Women’s Day will be rightly championed in renowned, cosmopolitan cities like London and New York where some fantastic initiatives are in place to promote females. However, we need to also ensure attention is also being placed in regions where there are still important developments to be made.

Take Tajikistan as an example. While it is a country paving the way for new fintech innovations in Central Asia, there is hardly any awareness of the obstacles women are facing in the country should they wish to  pursue a career in finance or tech. It is a topic we are well aware of here at Alif Academy.

Established by Alif Bank (a leading Fintech based in Tajikistan) in 2017, the Alif Academy offers a combination of face to face, and online training courses for Tajikistani residents seeking to pursue a career in IT and Tech, free of charge. Once students have successfully completed and passed the courses, the academy will also assist with sourcing job opportunities and placements.

At the moment, around 30% of our graduates are female and we are actively pursuing new initiatives to ensure more women enrol and complete our courses. Importantly, there are barriers which prevent this uptake, from a lack of awareness about fintech and STEM as industries to family pressures which deter women from pursuing  careers in male dominated fields. I’m pleased to say that perceptions and stereotypes are changing, but there is still plenty of work to be done.

Overall, International Women’s Day should not be confined to one day. It is a movement that should consistently and constantly strive to empower women across all sectors and regions. Fintech is a clear example of this – a fast-growth industry with the potential to champion the role of women.


Bonu Hafizova is Director of Alif Academy – a Tajikistani-based training centre offering free tech programming courses, from coding to quality assurance and project management. It was founded by Alif Bank – one of Central Asia’s leading fintechs.


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