Rossana ThomasTell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

Payments and financial services have been an integral part of my career for over thirty years. While I am located and spend a significant amount of time in the United States, I have a global role and lead a very talented team across regions. I came to Fiserv two years ago to build and lead the product management function for our flagship product – Enterprise Payments Platform. Our focus is to consolidate all payments channels on a single platform, grow our offerings in North America and EMEA and expand to LATAM and APAC.

In the wake of the pandemic, across the industry we’ve seen an accelerated shift towards digital channels, and it’s our job to enable banks and their customers to do so as seamlessly as possible. It’s interesting to see the innovation happening in fintech and payments right now.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Once I graduated from the University of Connecticut (with a liberal arts degree in psychology), I secured an entry-level job with the New York Clearing House. In all honesty, I fell into the payments space completely by accident. However, I was quick to grab the opportunities and was willing to learn and adapt. At the Clearing House, I worked my way up. Starting with an administration role in the training department, conducting surveys and research, then moving to head up marketing and communications, and strategic marketing, until ultimately, I was running the Automated Clearing House (ACH) business and the whole of product management. Overall, I was at the Clearing House for almost twenty years. The organisation played a significant role in my career trajectory, paved the way for consultancy and in the end, led to my role here at Fiserv.

The only thing I would say I did plan was to never be afraid to take an opportunity.

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

Of course. There were times when I was given responsibilities and projects, and people didn’t always agree with my position or the way I did things. However, I just continued to do my job. It’s important to rise above any pettiness and, although hard, try not to take things personally. Things aren’t always going to go your way – learn from mistakes, continue to always do your very best and most especially learn to move on.  Don’t dwell on what you did wrong.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I am proud of the work I achieved at The Clearing House, however my biggest achievement has to be my involvement and work in Bangladesh. My husband and I were part of a group of independent contractors working with the Central Bank to help with image exchange cheque clearance and to get their Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) system up and running for forty-eight banks – domestic and international. My role was to strategically evaluate the business, advise the Board on the benefits of moving to electronic payments, and provide payments training for the banks.

The country’s payments clearing platform at the time was completely manual. In two and a half years, they were up and running with cheque imaging and ACH. You could really see what a difference moving to electronic payments can make, and how quickly the transition from paper to digital can be made. I truly felt I was making a difference, helping the country move forward, and that makes me immensely proud.

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

The major overriding factor has been my work ethic. I will work hard and do what needs to be done. There is never going to be a 100% right fit, it’s about taking the chance and delivering your best and learning as you go. Now it’s easier because of the resources available online, but back in the 80s we didn’t have access to the internet, so it was a lot harder. The main way to learn back then was to cultivate relationships. You needed a network of people across disciplines to support and guide you and help you succeed. I think this holds true even in this digital world. You need people, relationships and a good network to succeed.

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

Don’t be afraid of not being the smartest person in the room! In my opinion, you’re the smartest person in the room when you have smart people on your team. Some people just don’t accept that it’s okay not to know everything. But it is. Don’t be afraid to have someone on your team who knows more than you do – they’re the experts, that is why you hired them.

As I’ve mentioned before, have a solid network of people and good mentors you can trust. Throughout my time at The Clearing House, I met several dynamic women bankers and payments experts who were inspirational and became mentors to me. In addition, some male leaders saw potential in me and helped coach me on my way up.

Finally, make sure you are positive in the workplace, even under adversity.  For example, never vocalise any discontent about work to colleagues. It can be counterproductive to your career. You don’t always have to be friends to work well together, but you need to respect one another and value different perspectives.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

I think so. You still don’t see as many women in senior management and board positions across most sectors, especially in technology. However, this is changing and more is being done to help young women understand the opportunities in tech. STEM programmes are more prominent and bring more awareness of the opportunities.

When I was graduating high school, you didn’t see as many women exposed to this path in life. I didn’t have a tech background, but I used the background I did have to grow and learn and find a role I’m passionate about. I think an important thing for young women to remember is that you don’t have to be a developer to be involved in technology. You don’t have to pick one passion over the other, but instead look where you can apply your passions into different areas of technology.

One of the things I’m proud of in our department at Fiserv is the number of internships and rotational entry level positions (not specifically for women) we offer across departments. This gives the young people who join us a fantastic opportunity to be exposed to what our company does, see what roles might interest them and help unlock their passion.

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

Organizations worldwide are incorporating several inclusive policies and programs to ensure women get the opportunities they deserve. At Fiserv we have a history and passion for creating a future powered by a diverse and engaged workforce. We are committed to creating opportunities for women to grow and elevate their careers in payments and fintech. We were recently recognized for our commitment to women and gender equality, as part of the 2020 Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index (GEI).  All our women associates are encouraged to be part of our Women In Leadership and Women’s Impact Network group and I am #FISVProud of our CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion Pledge, the largest CEO-driven business commitment to advance Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) in the workplace.  Such programmes encourage collaboration, leadership, bring together people and expose them to different aspects of the business.

Normally organisations operate in siloes, but if that continues people don’t expand, they don’t grow. Being able to bring women together is great for not only them but also the overall organisation. Inclusion programmes help others participate too. For example, men in these programmes can understand some of the challenges that women face and how they can become better champions for everyone.

I’ve mentioned it a couple of times before, but internships and mentoring are a huge part of this. Having internships lets people learn on the job, and mentorship programmes – formal or informal – if recognised by management, can  further inclusion in a multitude of ways including helping women to become aware of external programmes, understand financial support and networking events.

There is currently only 17% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

There is no magic wand. However, what we can do is empower women. Get them in, get them trained, get them exposed. We need targeted programmes earlier on in education, such as at college, or even earlier at the high school level, to accelerate the growth. In technology, it’s all about trying to make it more balanced, and give more women open opportunities. It is also our responsibility as women leaders to be actively involved in promoting, being accessible as well as being the role models these young women need.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Today, we are very lucky that there are a number of different networking groups for women to investigate, and for those earlier in their career, a number of University/College networks in which to takepart. Additionally, there are a lot of training opportunities. Women who are part of these groups have a multitude of different coaching and mentoring sessions available.

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