Roxana Mohammadian-MolinaRoxana Mohammadian-Molina is Chief Strategy Officer at FinTech company Blend Network.

She also sits on the Advisory Board of Women In Finance and has been selected as Woman in FinTech powerlist 2019 and 2020. She is also a member of the University of Essex’s Employer Advisory Board.

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

Well, I have somehow of a rare background because I have built myself a portfolio career before even portfolio career was a thing. I started my career in the City at Barclays and then at Morgan Stanley where I was a metals and oil strategist in the commodities trading desk. However, I always had an entrepreneurial streak and back in 2015, I decided to leave the City for the world of tech and start-ups. My first venture was a BeautyTech business that would allow customers book beauty treatments and services on an app and the beautician would come to them – ‘Uber of Beauty’ it was dubbed. Following a successful exit from that venture, I joined a former colleague from the Morgan Stanley days who had just launched Blend Network, a FinTech company that operates a peer-to-peer property lending platform where investors can invest in property-secured loans from only £1,000 and earn 8-12% return p.a. Blend Network is currently my main focus as we grow the business. We’ve built a great business that is going from strength to strength, and last year amid the pandemic we were able to double our lending while keeping a 10%+ return p.a. track record to our investors. I am also involved in a whole range of mentorship activities and I sit on the University of Essex’s Employer Advisory Board where I support and advise last-year students with career choices.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, not really. I always knew that I wanted to get to the top pf whatever I did, but it is always hard to plan out the exact path you will follow. My approach to career planning has always been one of having a broad idea of what I wanted to do and where I wanted to get to, but allowing myself to deviate from my plan and grab all the opportunities that came my way. For example, I never expected to be working in FinTech – in fact, FinTech was not even a thing when I was growing up – because I am actually not very good at tech. But of course I am very lucky and happy to be working in such an exciting sector which is full of amazing opportunities.

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

Yes, of course, I have faced many career challenges along the way. I like the quote from Churchill: ‘You have enemies? Good. That means that you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life’. I believe the most important thing is to always stand true to yourself, to your values and to what you believe in, and to always, always speak up when you don’t agree with something or when you believe something is not right or not fair. The industries I have been lucky to work in are notoriously tough, aggressive, and male-dominated industries. So, some of the challenges I have faced have been around standing up for myself and getting my voice heard among a room full of suits. And of course, I’ve also had to fight very hard for a fair pay – at one point, I was called a bulldog when fighting for a fair pay because I would just not let go, but frankly I’d rather be respected as a fighter than let go of an unfairness.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

There have been many proud and happy moments throughout my career and I struggle to pin down a single biggest achievement because in contrast to what we often see portrayed on social media or on interviews, success does not come overnight. Instead, success is built one small step at a time, steps so small that often we don’t even realise it was a step. I have felt big achievements when I was selected to the Women In FinTech powerlist for 2 consecutive years in 2019 and 2020, when last year we doubled our lending amid the pandemic and every time that a happy investor calls me to relay their delight at another investment bring repaid.

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

Persistence, tenacity and having a good network of people around me. It may sound trivial, but in the busy world we live in which is full of distractions, it is very important to stay focused and keep your eye on the ball – in this case, the ball being one’s ultimate career goal. It is very easy to get distracted, try to do too many things at the same time and end up not doing anything at all. So, for me it’s been key to stay focused and chase a goal like a dog with a bone.

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

Well, ironically perhaps my top-tip advice would be to make sure they don’t only focus in technology and they don’t put themselves in a box. Instead, I would advise them to ensure they can excel in other areas as well such as strategy, sales and marketing, management, and compliance. The reason is that to get to the top in any field, one needs to have a holistic understanding of the business and the sector they are in. It is not enough to be the best programmer or the best coder to become a Chief Technology Officer. A CTO needs to understand the business and have the skills to drive the team in line with the business’ goals.

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

Yes, I do believe there are barriers but I also think that there are many ‘self-erected’ barriers perhaps due to the perceptions of what a career in tech may look like or the skills required to succeed in tech. For example, Innovate Finance have a wonderful initiative called FinTech at Schools which aims to promote awareness of FinTech in young people and to showcase the very diverse range of ways to get involved and to inspire the current and next generation of innovators. I believe one way to overcome the challenges faced by women in technology is to create more awareness of what a career in tech looks like and the fact that this is a career open to many skills and not only technology skills.

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

I believe implementing mentorship programs is an important initiative to help support the careers of women in technology. There is something extremely powerful about being able to learn from other people’s experiences and knowing that the challenges we face are probably the same challenges that other people have also faced and overcome. So, my one advice to companies would be to implement a mentorship program and actively encourage their more senior employees to take part in such programs to support younger generation of employees.

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?

That is a very good question because things are often not that easy and there are more than one thing that needs to be dome to address the current challenges. But still if there’s one thing I could do to accelerate the pace of women entering the ranks of technology companies, I would start at the school level and ask the Government and the Department for Education to introduce career education into the national curriculum to help young people better understand their future career choices. This could even be done as a partnership with tech companies whereby young people could spend time shadowing professionals in different sectors – including technology – to help them get a better flavour of the career in that sector.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I am much more of a networking and live events person than a book or podcast person. Throughout my career, I have found that live events where one is able to connect to other like-minded people, build a rapport and network has been crucial to advancing my career. So, I would highly recommend this to other women working or wanting to work in technology. Events such as those around the UK FinTech Week in spring each year are fantastic, as well as the Women In Finance summit and awards where I sit on the advisory board.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

If I was to give one piece of advice to my younger self, it would be to be more patient and to believe that everything happens when the time is right.

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