I recently gave a presentation at a conference for an audience of women in financial services. I went through my journey to entrepreneurship and shared what I have learned along the way. I also spoke about the challenges of being on my own – without the corporate and administrative support that we take for granted; and my personal struggles, on sharing caregiving duties with my husband, who travels often, in a society that is still biased towards working mothers.
I firmly believe that anyone should have a chance to try and be successful, regardless of their age, gender, ethnicities, and demographics. Thanks to the relentless work and advocacy from many men and women, gone are the days when banks required a woman applying for credit to have her husband co-sign, or when companies could legally fire women for being pregnant. However, as a society, we still have ways to go to get to any sense of 50/50 equality. As Justice Ruth Ginsburg said in the movie RBG: “I became a lawyer in days when women were not wanted by most members of the legal professions; I became a lawyer because Marty supported that choice.” Justice Ginsburg credited part of her success to her husband, Marty Ginsburg, who recognized that “the woman’s work, whether at home, or on the job, is as important as the men’s.” Unfortunately, not all of us has a “Marty” on our side. While talent is equally distributed, opportunity is not. Across both the U.S. and Europe, approximately 2% of VC funding went to all-female founding teams. According to Digitalundivided, black women have raised just .0006% of all tech venture funding since 2009 in the U.S.
The societal bias extends well beyond startup ecosystems. I remember listening to a personal story from a woman working in financial services. She left her home country in search for a safer and better environment for her family, and they settled in a new city in a foreign country that was predominantly white. She struggled to get back into banking, not because of her experience, but solely because of her skin color. On one occasion, when she finally landed an interview with a bank, the two interviewers were so shocked to see that they were meeting with a woman of color, that they proceeded to cancel the meeting. That this type of behavior still occurs and is tolerated in our society is incorrigible.
I once naively thought that you could earn a decent living if you were willing to work hard. But I have since learned that our paths are increasingly dictated by the zip code we are born into, the color of our skin, our gender, and the wealth/background of our family – those things determined by chance. The American Dream is broken – the jar is broken. In a world where some fret about not making the top of some vanity lists or struggle with other mundane first world problems, someone else on the other side of the world is struggling to make a living.
Now let that sink in for a moment.
With hearts and minds and efforts, we have a fighting chance to change the narrative. New fintech solutions in various African nations have promised to promote financial inclusion, by providing access to microloans to enable more women entrepreneurship and independence. Elsewhere, various governments are working to introduce workplace protection and fair treatment for women. For example, the UK government has recently published a consultation paper on extending protection from redundancy for women during pregnancy, women who have returned to work after maternity leave, and new parents. Meanwhile, Germany already has a system in place that prohibits employers from dismissing a woman during pregnancy and four months after giving birth, with consent given only in exceptional circumstances.
As we continue the digital journey, algorithms are increasingly instrumental in determining societal outcomes. It is more imperative than ever that our tech teams, in banking, technology, healthcare, and beyond, include a mix of people with different life experiences and backgrounds, to spot when biases might skew the outcomes, whether by unconscious or thoughtless omissions. After all, “AI is created by humans, for humans,” as beautifully articulated by Ramya Joseph, CEO and Founder at Pefin. Technology provides us with a means to reach more people and open doors for them. We have the power within us to create the world that we want to live in – one that is not dictated by algorithms, but our values.
The future is in our hands.
Theo Lau, founder, Unconventional Ventures is a founding Steering Commitee member for FinTECH4Life.
Listen in to our conversation with Ramya Joseph, CEO and Founder at Pefin, on our next episode of Shades of Grey on iTunes and Spotify, as we talk about gender and age bias.
Join us May 15th for the inaugural FinTech4Life where we explore the future of financial services for the world’s fastest growing and wealthiest customer segment.