Female office worker using online banking, woman in fintech

Article by Sara Costantini, Regional Director for the UK & Ireland, CRIF

We all know that the technology industry has traditionally been male dominated. In fact, just 26% of all employees in the sector in the UK are women.

In fintech specifically, the figures are even more alarming. Among junior to mid-level employees, 63% of females believe their gender impacts how they are perceived professionally, compared to just 27% of men. Added to this, while 80% of women feel their ideas are acted upon in the industry, for men it is considerably higher at 94%. In the 21st Century, such figures needn’t be so telling. And while progress has been made in recent years, much more can be done.

As CRIF’s Regional Director for the UK & Ireland, I have over 25 years of experience working within fintech. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of the industry, understand the biases that exist, and what’s needed to challenge them.

I grew up in a small Italian village. At the time, I didn’t know that my future career would be in technology, let alone fintech, but I knew I had ambition to get to the top of whichever profession I went into. I remember reading a business magazine before university and seeing the cover dominated by middle aged men with white beards. I asked myself: ‘what’s stopping me from featuring alongside these business leaders in the future?’ With encouragement from my father, I joined La Sapienza University of Rome and enrolled in a computer science course.

One factor that likely points towards the technology-sector’s gender imbalance is that traditionally more men than women study STEM subjects throughout their education. And at university this was evident. I was one of the few women to study this subject, but it gave me only more motivation to succeed. As a society we need to encourage more young women to study these subjects, or our industry will continue to miss out on untapped potential and future leaders if we don’t.

I would also urge other women starting their careers in technology to try not to be just like men, but instead play to your advantages! Statistically, women are better able to pick up learning foreign languages than men are. And this is exactly what I did. Learning English and German at such a young age, for example, really helped kickstart my career, aiding me in networking opportunities and ensuring I exploited all opportunities in front of me, not just those in Italy. Women also excel at softer skills such as organisation, communication and marketing. As fintechs grow in both size and number, the industry must recognise that the importance of these skills to their future growth, and the benefit they can bring to the ‘tech’ side of fintech as well.

Another big takeaway from my career is that making mistakes and learning from them is part and parcel of progress. I began my career working as an analyst and programmer on IT projects at Nous Informatica and Esri Italia. When I arrived at the office for my first day, the male-dominated senior leadership team tasked me with disassembling and then re-assembling a computer server. That same day, the server exploded. Being the only woman in this position the easy option could have been to just give up. But I didn’t, and I’d urge women in similar situations to not be frightened of failure. Never give up when things seem tough. Because making mistakes isn’t gender specific. Use them to your advantage and let them give you motivation for future success.

I joined CRIF in 2000 and have held numerous roles here culminating in me becoming Regional Director for the UK and Ireland in 2015. As I see it, an important part of my role is encouraging more women to succeed, and to continue driving enhanced gender equality in the technology industry so that more women can work in an environment free from prejudice.  At CRIF, we work to overcome gender barriers with initiatives like our partnership with Valore D – the leading association of companies in Italy committed to gender balance. Being part of this association allows the sharing of ideas and practices on diversity with a wide network of companies, both national and international, promoting productive dialogue and cooperation, with a single aim: to create inclusion. Other notable industry initiatives include the ‘Women Who Code’ programme that inspires women from all backgrounds to start and grow a career in IT. More of these are needed if we are to truly close the fintech gender gap.

I am extremely proud to be a part of CRIF team. The company has always been forward thinking, valuing talent from a range of backgrounds, with women in several senior leadership positions, including our CFO and HR Director. But in fintech and the business-world more generally, women founders and CEOs are few and far between. One reason for this could be the barriers many women entrepreneurs face when accessing credit and business finance to act upon their ambition.

Luckily, this is an area which the UK is doing better in. Being from Italy, it is clear to me how much easier it is to establish a new business in the UK compared to some other countries in the EU, meaning many women can start, grow, and even downsize their business if needed with greater flexibility in the UK. We only need to look at Emma Steeley, the ex-AccountScore CEO who established and grew her own open banking business which was then acquired by Equifax. The UK’s rich ecosystem enabled her to do this, and even when looking at the majority of last year’s top-10 insurtech women leaders, the majority are either founders or co-founders.

However, while the UK does lead the way in continental Europe in this respect, the traditional banking and insurance sectors are still predominantly dominated by men. And I personally haven’t seen much of a change from this over the last few years. Whilst women may be able to access credit more easily in the UK than elsewhere, there is still a way to go in encouraging women to join the technology sector in the first place.

Over recent years good progress has been made. But if we are to really increase the proportion of women in tech, there is still a lot of work to be done. It starts with encouraging more women to study STEM subjects, dispelling the stereotype that studying and working in technology isn’t for women. We must then encourage women to utilise what makes their voice unique and provide initiatives in the workplace to help keep women working in the technology industry. And most importantly, to make real sectoral change we need to ensure that when setting up a business, women have just as much access to credit, whether inside or outside of the UK, as men. All of this is crucial if we’re to ensure women feel welcomed, supported and able to progress in our industry.

About the author

Sara CostantiniAn industry leader with over 20 years’ experience in the insurance sector, Sara has been crucial in advancing CRIF’s work to develop the Insurance industry’s use of data, improving the customer experience and delivering a deeper understanding of their needs.

As Regional Director, Sara is furthering CRIF’s mission in the UK and Ireland to harness the full power of open banking and advanced analytics for banks, lenders and other financial providers. She has spearheaded initiatives that have made CRIF into Europe’s leading provider of consumer and business credit information, as well as a key global player in integrated decision making solutions.

Sara graduated from La Sapienza University of Rome with a degree in computer science and began her career working as an analyst and programmer on IT projects at Nous Informatica and Esri Italia. She joined CRIF in 2000 and was appointed Managing Director of CRIF Decision Solutions Ltd. in 2011. In 2015 she became Managing Director of CRIF Ireland Ltd. before being appointed Regional Director for the UK and Ireland in 2018.