In the week when a Google employee made headlines by throwing himself under the diversity train, there was a smaller but instructive post on LinkedIn by a director at Barclays. It read:
'Just declined a law firm panel event invitation - 5 person panel - all male. Please chaps - if you're asked to speak on a panel, ask where the women are! These kinds of opportunities are important for career development and can often be an example of the subtler types of career barriers women face in advancing their careers.'
The issue of women in business remains problematic. I was lucky to have good role models. My mum worked her entire life from 18 to 65. My younger sister worked most of her (tragically brief) life, becoming a house mistress at a famous girls' school and supporting a family as a single mum while dealing with breast cancer. My eldest sister is a DPhil, who chaired the National Asthma Campaign (now Asthma UK) and Parkinson’s Disease Society, and was given an OBE for her work with the NHS. She now teaches at Oxford University. My wife is a qualified osteopath who, after each of four caesarian sections, went back to hard physical work after six weeks. So I understand the value of women to any intellectual, physical or commercial effort.
However, my interest in the Google fiasco and the Linkedin thread is tinged with shame. A quick headcount at my own company shows we have about 25% females in our staff of 50. (In our experience, it's a devil of a job to find female developers.) The balance elsewhere is about right at around 50/50. There's one notable exception: our executive team is all male.
So: 50% of humans are female. 50% of our potential consumers are female. Yet 100% of our senior team is male? Why is it that half the workforce, just as qualified to fill these roles as men, aren't getting to our table?
I briefed our (female) executive search agency director that, ideally, I'd prefer to hire a female candidate for our past two senior roles. They sent a few CVs over but they were a poor fit for the brief. She admitted they simply did not have the candidates. In the future, I'm considering paying specialists to work out how to find those senior businesswomen.
Is the problem with fintech? One neo-bank has a female leadership team, but not a lot of others. Is it us? We are decent people, trying to help improve financial wellbeing in society. Is that so bad? Is it Sheffield? I doubt it. Who wouldn’t want to have my commute over the Peak District? Is it the women themselves and their life choices? If they have family responsibilities, surely most fintechs would flex to suit the right person?
Our sector - and our nation - need to find answers. Just imagine if your potential talent pool were 100% larger...
Alex Letts is founder and chief unbanking officer at U.