Following a degree in chemical engineering, Birce Ciravoğlu has achieved a stunning global career in finance. She is currently working in Turkey as M&A and Expansion Director at Papara.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role? 

Even though my career has largely revolved around the financial services sector, my background is in chemical engineering.

After graduating with a BEng from Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, I briefly worked in consulting before realising my passion for quantitative analysis which encouraged me to move into finance. To gain further expertise in this area, I pursued an MBA at Columbia Business School in New York City, where I was recognised with the prestigious David L. Dodd Scholarship for Excellence in Finance. During my MBA studies, I gained valuable experience working at a private equity firm, whilst also serving as a teaching assistant for prominent finance courses such as Capital Markets and Investments by Mark Zurack.

My long-held dream of working on Wall Street led me to work in investment banking at Deutsche Bank and later as an investment analyst at Suffolk Capital Management. However, my desire to explore the exciting world of fintech led me to join Papara, Turkey’s largest neobank, in 2020 as the Chief of Staff to the founder & CEO, Ahmed F. Karslı.

My current role – as M&A and Expansion Director – involves spearheading the company’s global expansion strategy, scaling operations, and identifying new investment opportunities to fuel growth.

On top of my professional endeavours, I have always been an advocate for diversity and inclusion in the tech industry and have spoken at various events and conferences on the topic. Throughout my professional journey, I have consistently championed diversity and inclusion in the technology sector, advocating for these values at multiple speaking engagements and conferences.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes, I do it all the time. Planning your career can be a useful exercise to set goals, create a roadmap, and take steps to achieve those goals. My planning constantly evolves alongside my skills and experiences; therefore, it always involves identifying my strengths, interests, exploring potential career paths, and creating a plan to acquire the necessary education, training, and experience. Once I have a clear plan, it’s important to put in consistent effort and stay motivated even in the face of setbacks or obstacles. This might involve working longer hours, taking on additional responsibilities, or finding ways to stay engaged and focused on my work.

However, it’s important to be flexible and open to opportunities that may arise along the way, as well as to continually reassess and adjust the plan as needed.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Throughout my career journey, I have encountered numerous challenges that have tested my resilience, and I managed to overcome them by being persistent and adaptable. However, these obstacles have ultimately taught me valuable lessons and helped me to grow and develop the necessary skills to overcome future ones. I have learned to be resourceful and determined, which enabled me to navigate my way to success in both the tech industry and on Wall Street.

I firmly believe that as a woman in the professional environment, it is essential to assert oneself and address one’s needs in order to overcome career obstacles. Women should advocate for themselves as much as possible, which may include negotiating for improved compensation and benefits, pursuing opportunities for career advancement, and speaking out about matters that impact themselves and their coworkers.

Another way I overcome career challenges is by seeking out support from mentors, peers, or professional networks. I encourage others – men and women – to develop strong networks of peers and allies. Connecting with mentors can provide valuable guidance and advice on navigating the industry, while peers can offer support, encouragement, and perspective on shared challenges.

Overall, while career challenges are common, I think women can overcome them by developing a strong sense of their strengths and goals, seeking out support from mentors and networks, and being resilient and adaptable in the face of changing circumstances, whilst also putting in the necessary effort and hard work combined with strategic thinking and creativity.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date? 

Helping Papara, one of the leading fintech startups in Turkey, grow substantially has been a major accomplishment for me. I am proud to be a part of the growth of a company that prioritises its users while delivering improved financial services that are accessible to everyone, irrespective of their socioeconomic status. My drive to cultivate a culture that prioritises driving results and advancing growth played a vital role in contributing to this advancement.

During my time at Papara, I have established well-defined objectives and performance indicators, motivated and inspired team members to aim for excellence, and consistently searched for new expansion and development prospects. Having identified opportunities for growth, I worked relentlessly towards implementing strategies that helped Papara achieve its goals. I am always looking for ways to improve operations, increase efficiency, and drive profitability while serving our users with the best products and exceptional services. Throughout the growth process, I remained focused and determined, never losing sight of Papara’s founding goals.

I have also focused on building relationships with clients and partners and worked tirelessly to establish Papara as a trusted brand in the fintech industry.

What’s one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

The key to success can vary depending on individual circumstances and goals, and often requires a combination of factors and actions such as hard work, dedication, resilience, adaptability, creativity, and the ability to learn and grow from failures and setbacks. Additionally, having a clear vision, setting goals, and developing a plan to achieve them have been important factors in achieving success for me.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

First and foremost, I think you need to be bold in your career ambitions. Don’t let the myth that “technology isn’t for women” steer you away from doing something you love and doing something you could excel at. Secondly, it is important to remember that it is never too late to change your career. When When I started my degree, being in tech never really crossed my mind, but I think people can forget that they can change their path no matter where they are in the process. Always know that there are different ways to get into tech, rather than just the ‘normal’ route.

Technology is a dynamic field that requires individuals to stay up-to-date with the latest trends and technologies to excel in their careers. Whether you are just starting out in your career or looking to advance to the next level, these are my top tips to excel in this ever-changing industry:

  • Primarily, it is crucial to develop strong technical skills. This involves staying abreast of the latest technologies and trends in your field and continuously working to develop your technical skills. This can include taking courses or attending training sessions to learn new programming languages or tools, attending industry conferences or meetups, or participating in hackathons or coding challenges.
  • Another important skill in technology is problem-solving and effective communication. Technology professionals must be adept at identifying problems and developing creative solutions to address them. Therefore, it is crucial to focus on developing your problem-solving skills, including critical thinking and analytical skills, to excel in your career. Effective communication – whether verbal or written – is key to successful collaboration with colleagues, clients, and stakeholders.
  • Building a strong network will also excel your technology career,providing you with opportunities to stay up-to-date on industry trends and best practices, as well as to connect you with potential mentors, collaborators, or job opportunities. You can network through industry conferences, online forums, meetups, or other professional events.
  • Being adaptable and open to change is also important. The industry is constantly evolving, and technology professionals must be willing to learn new skills and adapt to new technologies and methodologies as needed. Developing a growth mindset, where you are open to learning and willing to embrace change, can help you stay ahead of the curve.
  • As you progress in your career, leadership skills become increasingly important. Therefore, it is important to focus on developing your communication, delegation, team and project management, and decision-making. Strong leadership skills make you a valuable asset to your organization.

In conclusion, excelling in a technology career requires a combination of technical skills, problem-solving abilities, communication skills, networking, adaptability, leadership skills, and continuous learning and feedback. By following these top tips, individuals can develop the skills and attributes needed to excel in their technology careers, and achieve their goals in this exciting and dynamic field.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech?

Yes, there are still barriers to success for women working in tech. Despite progress made in recent years, women continue to be underrepresented in the technology industry and face challenges such as gender bias, discrimination, and a lack of advancement opportunities.

To overcome these barriers, there are several strategies that can be implemented:

  1. Address unconscious bias: Unconscious bias training can help raise awareness of unconscious biases and help people recognise and overcome them.
  2. Increase diversity in hiring: Companies can actively recruit and hire women and other underrepresented groups in tech, and create a more inclusive hiring process.
  3. Create an inclusive workplace culture: Companies can foster a culture of inclusion by promoting diversity and providing equal opportunities for career growth and development.
  4. Provide mentorship and support: Women in tech can benefit from mentorship and support programs that provide guidance and help them navigate the challenges of working in a male-dominated field.
  5. Offer flexible work arrangements: Flexible work arrangements, such as remote work or flexible hours, can help women balance work and family responsibilities whilst improving work-life balance.
  6. Advocate for change: Women in tech should speak out about the issues they face and advocate for change within their organisations and the industry as a whole.

It’s important to note that overcoming barriers to success for women in tech is a complex issue that requires sustained effort and commitment from individuals, organisations, and the industry as a whole.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

Companies can take various actions to support and progress the careers of women working in technology, including creating a supportive and inclusive workplace culture, promoting mentorship and sponsorship programmes and providing training and development opportuities to help women acquire new skills and progress their careers.

Many of the actions companies should take go hand in hand with the barriers that need to be overcome, but ensuring pay equity, creating leadership opportunities and encouraging work-life balance – not just toward women, but men too – are fundamental in making sure the tech industry is representative.

By implementing these strategies, companies can help create a more diverse,inclusive and representative tech industry and support the success and advancement of women working in technology.

In an ideal world, how would you improve gender diversity in tech?

One critical path to accelerate the pace of change for women in fintech is through elevating and empowering women in the workplace into senior and middle management positions – something which is central to my own personal goals and is also one of Papara’s founding aims. Currently, 46% of employees at Papara are women, while in the industry, women currently only represent 10% of fintech leadership roles, according to the IMF, and just 30% of the sector’s overall workforce. While I’m extremely proud to work at a company bucking the trend, there is a lot more work to be done. For example, in Turkey, only 19% of Senior and Middle Management positions are held by women but this is cannot solely be attributed to a lack of labour force participation. In fact, over 25% of women who have an advanced education are underutilised, and that is why encouraging women and girls into finance and tech is central to achieving gender parity in these sectors.

To do so, companies and organisations should provide more opportunities for women in tech, such as internships, job shadowing programs, and other career development initiatives. It is important to increase awareness of the benefits of diversity in the tech industry, including the fact that diverse teams are more innovative, creative, and successful. By highlighting these benefits, we can help shift attitudes and increase support for women in tech. We must also hold companies accountable for creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace. This can involve setting diversity goals, monitoring progress, and implementing policies and programs that support women in tech.

Overall, accelerating the pace of change for women in the tech industry will require a multi-faceted approach that involves opportunity, culture, awareness, and accountability. By taking these steps, we can work to create a more inclusive and equitable tech industry for the benefit of everyone.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

There are a whole host of resources women can make the most of to gain inspiration and knowledge to aid their tech careers – and they aren’t just ones that are focussed on women.

Podcasts that I’ve found useful have been Ellevate and the Women in Tech podcast, which both focus on interviews with female leaders in the industry who draw on their experience and learnings, challenges and successes.

I’m a big fan of networking events, including the likes of Sifted’s Summit and Finovate in Europe which always have panel discussions about DEI in tech, but I’ve also heard great things about Girls in Tech – an organisation which offers events and workshops to help lower the barriers for entry for womern in the sector – as well as the Women in Tech Global Conference.

Books are also a great way to learn more about the challenges women have had to overcome in their respective sectors. A classic for women in the workplace, I always recommend Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg – her anecdotes and learnings offer practical advice on how best to navigate challenges and advance one’s career. It’s a tried-and-tested read, but for good reason! Other practical reads include Brotopia by Emily Chang and Cracking the Tech Career by Gayle McDowell.

These are just a few examples of the many resources available for women working in tech. By seeking out these resources and engaging with other women in the industry, women can find support, inspiration, and opportunities for growth and advancement in their careers.

These are just a few examples of the many resources available for women working in tech. By seeking out these resources and engaging with other women in the industry, women can find support, inspiration, and opportunities for growth and advancement in their careers.