MALE ALLY IN FINTECH nominated by Stephanie Overholt
What's your story? What drew you to FinTech?
I earned my degree in computer engineering but transitioned into software engineering very early on in my career. I worked at a number of software and tech companies including start-ups, multinational and national corporations, and financial institutions. Most recently prior to joining Borrowell, I worked at a tech consultancy in Toronto and was exposed to various different industries, including FinTech. I was drawn to FinTech because I felt that the industry presented an opportunity to impact people’s lives in measurable and positive way. Connecting with Borrowell sealed the deal on my transition into the space. Aside from getting to work with truly some of the best people, I strongly identified with the company’s mission, which is about educating Canadians and helping them make better decisions about their credit. So, I guess you could say that Fintech is an all-around good match for my technical interests and personal values. I am really enjoying it so far!
What do you think are some of the most exciting FinTech trends likely to influence the Financial Services industry?
The biggest influence that I think we’ve been seeing is the general democratization of financial services that technology has enabled. It used to be that you had to be wealthy to get access to great financial advice and credit options. Now, using technology, we can deliver equivalent or even better financial services to the broader population and not just high net worth individuals. Examples include services like Borrowell, which aims to help consumers understand how to improve their credit score and their financial situations.
What percentage of your team is women? And what percentage of your team is made up of women of colour?
Borrowell as a company is 45% female and I’m proud to say that 40% of our developers are female. 15% of the Engineering team is made up of women of colour.
What advice would you give to other men trying to build inclusive teams?
I think it’s important for hiring managers to openly acknowledge that inclusion can feel quite uncomfortable. It’s in human nature to want to have people who are similar to ourselves in our close circles, and this extends to the workplace where we spend such a significant portion of our time. However, more often than not, discomfort is actually a good thing and it is directly correlated to promoting the growth of both individual members of the team, and the team as a whole. The long term improvement is definitely worth any temporary discomfort. On a practical level, I would encourage managers to prioritize creating an environment of psychological safety in the workplace, and to insist on maintaining such an environment in practice. Cultivate a space where diverse team members can have respectful discussions and disagree comfortably with one another, or with you, without fear of damaging the overall working relationship.
Finally, to build inclusive teams, I think it is important to anticipate other people’s needs, especially when those needs may be different from your own. I’ve found that the best way to do this is through open communication. Ask the people on your team what they need to have in place to maximize their success, and follow up regularly, since these needs tend to change and evolve over time.
What advice would you give to women who are trying to break into FinTech?
On a general level, my advice to women would be the same advice I would give to any candidate. Learn more about the FinTech space and get a sense of the aspects of the industry that catch our interest. Are you more excited about the “Fin“ or the “Tech”, or both? Research the companies that are out there and the technologies they use, and envision how your unique skill set can add value to those companies. If you find there may be a gap between your interests and current skill level, try to take on projects or courses, or even engage in some self-study, to bridge the gap. Also, do not shy away from networking! Borrowell has a startup open house, and we participate in a number of events and meetups where you can learn more about FinTech.
On a specific level, I would encourage women to look at their gender as an asset and not a liability. Gender inequality is still a real issue in our and many other industries, but there are also many companies, like Borrowell, that recognize the importance of a gender-balanced workplace and actively seek out stellar female candidates. Try not to be discouraged if you encounter companies that do not see it the same way. I would also encourage women to reach out to other women in the space and leverage their knowledge and experience. At Borrowell, Larissa Holmes (VP of Talent), Eva Wong (Co-founder and COO) and Stephanie Overholt (Director of Lending) routinely network with women who are interested in joining our industry.
Why is Male Allyship important? And what do you consider are the responsibilities of being a Male Ally?
Male allyship is important to me on a personal level because I want to work with the best people. Throughout my career I’ve worked with many women, including in leadership roles, and these women taught, managed, and inspired me. My own career development would have likely suffered if I did not have these women in my workplaces. On a broader level, there is no doubt that having women in the tech and FinTech industries should be a normalized experience. Male allyship and a consistent commitment to fostering gender balance in our workplaces is one way in which we can help achieve this goal.
I think the main responsibility of male allies is to actively participate in, and insist on, inclusive workplaces. As I mentioned above, men in leadership roles should continue to encourage women to view their gender as an asset and not a liability. Finally, and probably most importantly, male allies need to solicit feedback from women themselves about the ways in which we can be most effective in our support. Listen to the feedback of women we work with, try to establish common ground, and take concrete steps toward improvement.
What do you think are the top reasons behind gender inequality in FinTech? And what is your company doing to address these challenges?
Gender inequality is a complex and multi-factored problem. I won’t presume to be able to speak to all the reasons, but I think one reason for gender inequality in FinTech is that not every workplace is willing to take the steps necessary to investigate and accommodate the needs of women. For example, parental leave policies and work-life balance policies may be different for female employees, if not in their substance then by the degree to which they are needed or used. Borrowell has worked hard to establish transparent and inclusive parental leave policy and other corollary policies around paid time off, working from home, etc. The specific needs of our female employees were considered at the very early drafting stages of these policies, to ensure that those needs are addressed from the ground up.
Another factor that likely impacts gender inequality in our industry is the reality that there are still fewer female candidates. I am particularly proud of the fact that, at Borrowell, we do not merely accept this as a “fact of life”. Instead our company actively seeks to recruit female candidates, and we even look to international recruitment to attract women that we believe will add unique value to our growing team.
Finally, at Borrowell, we aim to cultivate a culture of authenticity in the workplace. We encourage people to bring their “whole selves” to work, and we are committed to respecting and accepting diverse personalities and points of view. I think that this approach has helped us to work toward an inclusive work environment in general, but has also been helpful in attracting and retaining women at our company.
If you did not need to sleep, how would you spend the extra eight hours a day?
If I had no need of sleep, I would spend more time with my wife, family, and friends, and while they were sleeping, you could probably find me canoeing at Algonquin Park, working on my car, and maybe playing some video games.
In Igor Kamenetsky's own words, exclusively for LADIES iN FINTECH.
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