THE BLOG

Do We Need More Diversity In The FinTech Sector?

13/04/2017 14:53 BST | Updated 13/04/2017 14:53 BST

The technology sector has been criticised over the years for its lack of diversity. In 2016 the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) published a report on diversity in tech and the findings were not encouraging. The tech sector employs fewer women and fewer minorities than other private sector industries, and this is especially true of management and leadership roles. 80% of executives in high tech were found to be men, and 57% of executives were white.

The UK tech sector reports slightly better figures than the US. A survey conducted by start up accelerator Wayra found that tech entrepreneurs in London are three times more likely to be women, compared to Silicon Valley, and twice as likely to be black or come from an ethnic minority group. However this survey only looked at the start-ups, not established technology companies.

As for LGBT+ diversity and inclusion, globally the tech sector doesn't perform well. Stonewall's Top 100 Employer List only includes one major technology company: Fujitsu. Anecdotally many openly LGBT+ people working in tech believe that they have been held back in their careers because they are not a white, straight male; and still more conceal their LGBT+ identity because of a misogynistic and homophobic culture.

Why does this matter?

Playing devil's advocate, other industry sectors are also struggling with diversity and inclusion, so why pick on the tech sector?

The digital revolution has made technology integral to our lives - both at work and at play. We live in an increasingly connected world where tech is providing the tools and solutions we need as individuals and as a wider community. As a result the tech sector is also one of the fastest growing sectors in the UK. FinTech is a great example of this, in fact The Office of the Mayor of London claims that 40% of the London workforce is made up of the financial and technology services alone.

The financial services and technology sectors are also driving growth and economic recovery in the UK, and FinTech is the perfect marriage of the two. However, there are skills shortages in both sectors and the dominant image of a straight, white male industry (both for FS and tech), will not help tech, financial services or FinTech firms to recruit top talent.

Without greater diversity organisations are missing out on the talent and creativity that drives this sector.

The other key reason that we need more diversity in the tech / Fintech sector is that as we increasingly rely on technology solutions for daily life, we (the wider community) need products aligned with our needs. As an LGBT+ man, my needs are different to those of the straight, white male developer. We all have different experiences - black, white, straight, LGBT+, male, female, young, old - and as such the technology we use, if we are valued as consumers, needs to address these distinctions.

In some cases different groups need different products; for example financial services firm Emerald Life have developed inclusive insurance products that provide specific cover for LGBT+ people. Without diversity in the workplace, and especially at executive level, firms that are developing tech products will always struggle to address the needs of consumers that don't fit their company demographic.

It's not just about having inclusive products; it's also about using inclusive language. Many minority groups do not feel that financial products are designed for them, although the product itself may be entirely suitable. Take for example the mortgage market where much of the language around buying a home and taking out a mortgage is focused on heterosexual, white couples.

Leading From The Top

Since the UK FinTech sector is part of the start up community, we are already seeing a trend to more diversity in leadership positions than in other areas of technology. We know that leading from the top is important. Diversity and inclusion must be on the Board's agenda to have any impact across organisations as a whole; fair representation at executive level is therefore essential.

I've explored the issue of LGBT+ inclusion in the workplace and at board level in some detail in this blog post. Role models in the boardroom are a key part of this. The tech sector does have a few notable LGBT+ role models at executive level, such as Facebook's Alex Schultz who has worked to ensure that Facebook's products and services reflect the LGBT+ experience; and Google's Arjan Dijk who is supporting other Silicon Valley tech companies in fostering inclusive and diverse workplaces.

With its start up culture, the FinTech sector doesn't often rank on diversity 'power lists' and therefore examples of companies that are doing well are hard to find. However I think that FinTech is already embracing diversity, as culturally the sector knows that to develop innovative products it must attract top talent and consumers that don't fit the traditional tech demographic of straight, white male.