Not every working parent of four chooses to run a community promoting diversity and inclusion in their “spare time”. But Gemma Young is undaunted by the challenge.
It all started three years ago when she was pregnant with her fourth child. During her career in financial technology, she’d watched the financial services industry change exponentially.
However, ways of working seemed to be rooted in a bygone age. It appeared ironic that an industry embracing rapid technological change should drag its feet in allowing workers to use technology to organise their lives more flexibly and efficiently.
Young felt exasperated that she was confronted with the same issues that she had experienced 12 years earlier when her first child was born.
Wondering if others felt the same, Young turned to social media. Inspired by the Humans of New York photoblog, she named her initiative “Women of FinTech” and began by interviewing women, sharing their stories and creating discussion. The community grew organically to 2,000 members during her maternity leave. She was clearly not alone!
No echo chambers
Encouraged by the response, Young set out to achieve lasting change.
She felt that part of the problem was that existing initiatives aimed at achieving greater gender balance in fintech involved “Preaching to the converted”. She was dubious about the efficacy of events where “Women are on the panel just because they’re women, and people in the audience are in the audience just because they’re women, and all talking about something that’s making no difference to anyone”.
Young was adamant that her approach would be different. Conscious of the need to achieve buy-in, she focused on bringing people together rather than creating echo chambers.
No women-branded panels
Instead of organising events with women-only panels and marketing them as “women’s” events, Young put on “fintech” events with gender-balanced panels that showcased women for their achievements, not their gender.
Young believes that this approach “Was more subtle, but it was much more powerful”. Her theory was borne out by the relatively gender-balanced audiences that her events attracted.
Supporting the entire career lifecycle
Conscious that sparking interest in technology at a young age is key to equipping a wider section of society to take up future workplace opportunities, she decided to set up in-person coding classes for children aged eight and above.
Covid then provided the impetus for online coding classes for children throughout the world to learn together, and meant that volunteer instructors no longer had to be in the same place as their students. Young took advantage of timezone differences by arranging sessions at times that worked both for instructors and children, with classes being led from places as far afield as Canada.
Next, Young turned her attention to schoolchildren considering work experience options. Conscious that decisions made as a young teenager can affect someone’s entire career trajectory, she endeavoured to open school students’ minds to tech sector opportunities. She put out a call for women to make videos about their career paths, and now has a bank of over 25 short videos for schools.
She then addressed the next stage of the career lifecycle by offering support and guidance for women ranging from school leavers to established professionals. This has taken the form of a mentorship programme that encompasses reverse mentoring, and in-person events that have now become virtual amid the pandemic.
No job titles
Unusually for the networking scene, signing up for Women of FinTech events does not involve submitting job titles or organisation names. Young explains that the community’s lack of a commercial agenda enables it to focus wholeheartedly on inclusion.
It also removes the need to prioritise the senior executives who are typically the most coveted attendees at events where revenue generation is the ultimate goal. Young therefore has the luxury of being able to support women who are new to professional networking, as well as more established individuals.
No “badge surfing”
Women of FinTech’s policy of not having name badges at events prevents what Young describes as “badge surfing”, i.e. deciding who to speak to on the basis of job title and organisation name. Seasoned executives, fresh graduates and startup founders mingle freely and benefit from serendipitous connections that they might not otherwise have made.
Virtual coffee morning; real coffee
Amid Covid, in-person brunch meetups have morphed into online coffee mornings. The first one, held on Friday, involved packets of specialty coffee being posted out to attendees to enjoy on the day.
Walking the talk
Underpinning Young’s knack for bringing people together is her interest in different cultures and ways of living, which has taken her to over 83 countries.
These days, her travel schedule is a lot simpler, involving walks near her Kent home with Hunter, the labraluki rescue dog she adopted while living in the Middle East.
If only achieving diversity and inclusion across all workplaces were a walk in the park!