By Melissa Beckett, Chief Marketing Officer at Kani Payments

Fintech is often seen as a hub of innovation. We’re the forward-thinking industry. The changemakers. The disrupters. But despite the industry’s progressive veneer, claims of diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) fall apart when you drill into the data.

With women making up a mere 17% of individuals in STEM roles across Europe, there is a clear (and significant) gender gap from entry-level to leadership level.

Why do we need more representation?

Those in the industry know all too well about the drop in global fintech funding seen this year. In Q2 2023, for example, funding fell by 60.8% compared to the previous year. However, evidence suggests that companies embracing gender and ethnic diversity are more likely to pioneer innovative products which cater to a broader audience, leading to higher revenues and more investor interest.

The world is becoming increasingly attuned to diversity issues, and business leaders are recognising that DEI initiatives are not just compliance exercises, but they are essential strategic priorities that can fortify their growth and success in the long run.

Signs of progress are evident in the UK, where 34% of companies report having at least 50% female representation in their senior leadership teams, and 82% of companies incorporate gender diversity into leadership succession planning, as per Dial Global’s Diversity Review UK 2023.

For fintech firms aiming to be agents of positive change and enhance financial inclusion, a crucial shift is necessary – one where they authentically mirror the diverse societies that they aim to serve.

Addressing inequality at its roots

To reposition DEI initiatives as a core growth priority, the fintech industry must confront inequality at every level, starting from the foundation. PwC surveyed over 2,000 A-level and university students in the UK and found that the gender gap in STEM begins at school and carries on throughout their lives. This dissuades over a quarter of female students from pursuing tech careers due to a perceived male dominance.

But the UK is struggling to fill 43% of available STEM jobs. We can’t afford to keep putting people off this potential career path if we want the tech and fintech industries to keep progressing. It’s important that we in the fintech industry put time into fostering DEI initiatives linked to STEM skills development and encourage others to join us.

Fintech companies can actively promote inclusivity by participating in groups, schemes and apprenticeships that facilitate access to STEM roles for women, ethnic minorities, the disabled, and other marginalised groups. Initiatives like the Generation Programme provide effective avenues for guidance on mindset, time management and more, while Code Nation aims to bridge the digital skills gap by providing courses in coding and augmented reality.

There are also mentorship groups, such as the Girls Network in the North of England that I mentor for, which aims to inspire and empower girls from the least advantaged communities by connecting them with a mentor and a network of professional female role models. STEM meetings take place across major cities, enabling girls to find a mentor who can guide them through their journey or discover which STEM role would be right for them. Some fantastic organisations that facilitate meetups in person and online are The Prince’s Trust and Code and Stuff in the UK.

Beyond school-age programmes, sustaining efforts into university education is vital. Great strides in this area have been made in my home of Newcastle upon Tyne, where local universities such as Northumbria University and Teesside University have started fintech courses as a way of attracting top talent to the region and connecting them with local fintech companies.

I also arranged for Kani to sponsor Durham University Women in Business (DUWIB), which helps its members to gain access to internships and graduate schemes with some of the world’s most prestigious firms.

Become the company that people want to work for

Attracting skilled graduate and senior talent is a challenge. To ensure they can get the right people, fintech companies need to make sure that they act like (and genuinely be) the workplaces that people aspire to join – the ones that make all their staff feel welcome and supported. It sounds easy, but establishing a diverse and inclusive culture is not just a token gesture, it’s a strategic imperative that is often overlooked.

For a long time, many companies lacked the foresight to make clear and public commitments to DEI policies in place, inadvertently deterring women and minorities from applying. Thankfully, this is changing, and these days a company without a clear DEI policy is the exception to the rule. But it’s not enough to just highlight such policies, true commitment involves ongoing actions.

Fintechs should explore local or national certifications. We’ve also been accredited as a Living Wage Employer, reinforcing the dedication to providing a wage that aligns with the cost of living, setting a benchmark beyond government minimums.

Championing strong diverse leadership is crucial to inspire employees. People want to see others like them in higher roles, so they can easily visualise viable career pathways and determine the experience required to develop in their field.

Kani exemplifies this commitment with an inclusive and collaborative culture that drew me to join in 2020. It provides a great example of how, when people of all backgrounds are empowered to contribute to the fintech decision-making process, positive ripples are made across the whole enterprise, and beyond into wider society.

As the fintech industry charts its course into the future, understanding and addressing the needs of all genders, races, and those with disabilities will be pivotal to sustained success.