After what has been a turbulent and at times often challenging twelve months, regular calendar events provide us with an opportunity to pause and take stock. One such example is 8th March, which marks International Women’s Day.
While it’s undoubtable that we have achieved new milestones in the past year, notably the appointment of Kamala Harris as the first female and African American and Asian American vice president in the USA’s history, there is still much work to be done in the name of diversity as a whole. Looking inwardly at the fintech industry, female representation outside of traditional job titles is still low. For example, only 17% of fintech companies have female founders, and women still only account for less than 30% of the sector’s overall workforce.
Challenging the status quo
However, the diversity issue does not stop at the gender divide. Creating welcoming and inclusive professional environments for individuals from all ethnicities, cultures, sexual preferences and socio-economic cultures is crucial, and we should not make the mistake of ignoring these wider diversity issues.
I’m certainly encouraged to see that more young girls are choosing a technology-based education, and I’m sure it won’t be long before this and further progress in diversity is reflected at C-level. To ensure broader diversity across all genders, cultures and backgrounds though, managers need to be challenged on the way they hire employees. They need to move out of their comfort zone and not choose the ‘easy’ hire or the person most alike them. Embracing a range of different people and bringing them together as one team not only foster the kind of welcoming environment we should all be striving for, but it will ultimately improve the business in the long-term. Finally, a mantra that feels appropriate to share today on International Women’s Day is that as an underrepresented group in the workplace, we should celebrate each other’s successes and help each other to move forward in our careers! ~ Floor Stam, VP Marketing
A huge part of the problem when we examine the reasons for a lack of diversity within our industry is that our future leaders often don’t recognise themselves in today’s leaders, which extends outwards in all sectors from politics to business. Organisations that fail to hire leaders of different backgrounds and mindsets are leaving little in the way of role models for our younger generations, meaning many are left hesitant to pursue a certain career as they feel that it isn’t for them. Creating a welcoming and inclusive professional environment for individuals with different social-cultural identities and sexual preferences, among others, is therefore crucial.
Much of this issue stems from an inability for people to look beyond their own upbringing and background when forming business decisions, with many leaders, consciously or unconsciously, choosing to work with those that have had the same experiences as them. We are often looking for peers, with the same opinions and background. There is nothing like being told that you are right, that you are on the right track, and that you are doing it right. This feels comfortable. Business leaders are missing the opportunity for new creative ideas and solutions from working with colleagues that may have a different outlook or viewpoint due to their own lived experiences that challenge the established status quo. I am always looking for colleagues who can challenge me and make me think. It is precisely by working with colleagues who may have a different view or point of view because of their own lived experiences that you can break this pattern. This input ultimately creates a better work culture for everyone, but also allows for innovation and, where necessary, a fresh look at internal processes. This input could ultimately create a better working culture for all.
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is Choose to Challenge. At Visma | Onguard we challenge as many stereotypes as possible because we feel that it leads to a better workplace atmosphere. In addition, we actively monitor the gender balance in all our departments. To address stereotypes or bias in the workplace, the responsibility is on organisations to openly discuss issues and showcase the benefits of diversity. Defining goals and encouraging honesty is crucial, but it’s also important to approach diversity with pragmatism. Individuals have a big part to play in changing behaviour, and can help make a difference by participating in constructive meetings. ~ Adriaan Kom, CCO
Taking small but significant actions
Although the glass ceiling still looms large above many people in the workplace, small but significant improvements are helping to improve diversity and opportunities for people from different backgrounds, and we’re starting to see this in actions that organisations are taking.
As a CEO, I have a responsibility to initiate workplace changes where I can to make a difference. I was particularly inspired by seeing that a major supermarket in the Netherlands has introduced a non-binary gender option in their job application form. At Visma | Onguard, for example, we now have the option ‘X’ included in our HR systems as well, so people of all identifications can feel recognised and included in our organisation. In addition, we communicate primarily in English. This makes working at our company a lot more accessible for a large group. In this way, we can put the right talent in the right place and give everyone a chance. And as for the latter, in many cases the required talent is already in the organisation. It is small changes like this which add up to embedding an inclusive culture throughout a business, and it must be led from the top.
I think it’s important to encourage employees to keep an open mind and listen to the perspective of others. Change is an opportunity to learn, and having an agile mindset helps people and organisations to be more open to change. In addition, role models have a crucial role to play in the adoption of these changes because they serve as ideal examples to others. I think that now we’re seeing more diverse leadership role models, which is brilliant to see. ~ Tim Blok, CTO
In short, we’re certainly making progress in the fintech industry, but we’re not where we want to be yet. Alongside company-wide changes, individuals can start to make a difference by realising the role they have to play. This includes recognising their responsibility to listen to those who may have had different experiences to them and apply these learnings in their personal and professional lives to gain a wider perspective of the world. We’re all unconsciously biased, and it’s appreciating this fact that will allow for difficult conversations to be had, and positive change to happen. Breaking the established mould will take time, but we’re seeing encouraging signs that more businesses are realising the importance of diversity and implementing measures to uphold it.
I’m pleased that Visma | Onguard makes best use of each of its employees’ strengths and abilities, regardless of their race, culture or gender, and it strives to create an open culture for all. I think this is the foundation for employees to feel safe and comfortable to challenge themselves in their job roles. Our CEO, Marieke Saeij, is certainly leading this culture from the top of our organisation. I do feel however that we have some way to go in ensuring true diversity. For example, we still have a low percentage of women working at Visma | Onguard so it’s important that we continue to hire them across all departments of the business. ~ Cor Makkinje, Manager Professional Services