Boosting female participation in digital and financial technologies through science, technology, engineering, and math education will help overcome gender biases in the workforce and business environment of Asia and the Pacific.
Increasing women's leadership and participation in the digital and financial technology (fintech) industry requires providing girls and young women with a strong foundation in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). As the future of work changes and with the creation of green jobs, girls and women need adequate digital knowledge and skills to contribute and lead.
Countries are undergoing a radical shift in skills that are in high demand, and in many sectors, the skills in the highest demand are digital, according to LinkedIn research. For example, in the Philippines, skills in consumer services have changed by 58% since 2015. Within this sector, all top ten skills in demand are digital-related, ranging from virtual assistance and graphic design to video editing. In retail and government administration, skills have changed by 38% over the same period, and 8 out of the top 10 skills are digital.
This shift in demand for digital skills in future jobs in virtually every sector means that empowering girls and young women through STEM education needs to be a priority. Globally, women's digital literacy remains low at 15% due to the many persistent gender barriers that ultimately limit the jobs that women can access. With the fast adoption of ChatGPT and AI, there will be additional shifts to the future of digital skills and jobs. Countries with more STEM graduates and lower gender gaps in upper secondary education tend to have lower gender gaps in digital financial inclusion.
Women experience crucial 'moments of truth' that inform their decision to pursue STEM careers — their choice of major in college, the choice of their first job, and their choice to stick to the STEM career path. Research shows that gender stereotypes begin even in early childhood when boys and girls form beliefs about their abilities in math and science subjects which later influence their course enrollment and career decisions. As we equip girls and young women with adequate digital skills, we should also break gender norms and inspire them early on to pursue STEM education and career.
When girls and young women enter STEM careers, diversity policies and gender-inclusive norms in the workplace must be set up for women to have an enabling environment to succeed. Research shows that having women leaders as role models and mentors is vital for young women. Evidence also indicates a multiplier effect among women leaders in fintech. Promoting one woman to a C-suite position (e.g., CEO, CFO, COO) could lead to a three-fold increase of women in the firm's senior leadership.
Promoting one woman to a C-suite position (e.g., CEO, CFO, COO) could lead to a three-fold increase of women in the firm's senior leadership.
"Breaking the glass ceiling" is often used to describe women's leadership and participation in fintech. While some glass ceilings have been shattered through the last decade, women with decision-making roles remain scarce. Fintech's three-pronged gender diversity problem – under-represented female founders, employees, and users – highlights the need for more holistic and strategic solutions.
Women hold only one in four leadership positions despite comprising one-third of the workforce at the 20 largest technology companies in the world. Moreover, women represent less than 13 percent of leadership as founders and as members of executive boards of fintech firms—even less than their representation in traditional banking and technology companies. Moreover, these numbers have hardly moved in the past 20 years.
Fintech plays a role in financial inclusion; having women in fintech allows for the development of products that respond to women's needs. However, with this low representation of women in fintech, we risk losing some of the most innovative ideas and solutions. Take the case of Vrinda Gupta, the founder of Sequin Financial, a fintech company aiming to boost women's credit ratings. Before launching the successful company, a major credit card company rejected Gupta's proposal for a product that caters to women. However, thanks to her perseverance, she founded her company and is now heralded among "women in Fintech to watch out for in 2023".
Fintech companies founded by women often deal with gender bias in accessing finance and generally receive less funding than those founded by men. Despite identical business pitches, investors tend to choose ideas presented by male entrepreneurs. Investor panels typically ask male entrepreneurs about potential gains and ask female entrepreneurs about risks and losses. In addition, female entrepreneurs are expected to join investor meetings with male teammates or business partners. Less funding means less business growth, leading to less valuation – a vicious cycle for women.
Changing gender norms and removing barriers for girls and women in STEM requires a holistic approach and engagement of parents, educators, the private sector, and investors. It begins with parents, schools, and communities encouraging girls and supporting their transition to STEM studies and careers. Next, it requires government programs, employers, and private sector engagement in removing barriers and creating spaces that enable women to thrive, advance, and lead in what often are male-dominated sectors. And it calls for investors that provide an enabling business environment for women and invest in female entrepreneurs with conscious recognition of the innovation, passion, and talent that women bring.