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Andes Wealth Technologies CEO Helen Yang

Industry Spotlight > Women in Wealth

Why Aren’t There More Female Fintech Leaders Onstage? It’s Complicated

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What You Need to Know

  • Outdated stereotypes and gendered expectations are still keeping women from reaching their full career potential.
  • Women are not encouraged to pursue careers in finance and technology because the perception that women aren't as smart as men persists.
  • Women do not want these extra barriers, but they also don’t want to be patronized or used as window dressing.

There was a recent observation that only men took the stage on the first day of the T3 fintech conference, which took place May 2-5 in Dallas. I was at the conference.

To me, the No. 1 consideration was if the speakers had something interesting to say, and some did. As with any conference, there were more average (or ordinary) speakers than I would have liked and most of them were … yes, you guessed it, men. 

Because women need to be better to receive the same recognition as men, it is safe to say that there are more average men in high-level positions than average women, both in terms of absolute numbers, which is not surprising, but also percentage-wise.

In an ideal society, everyone should have the opportunity to achieve their full potential. Not being able to do so is not only a loss for these individuals but also for the society. After all, human capital is the most important asset in today’s economy.

That there is such a significant gender gap in finance and technology, both relatively lucrative careers, suggests that many women are not able to achieve their full potential. 

Why So Few Women?

Here is my hypothesis. To start with, women are not encouraged to pursue careers in finance and technology for two reasons: the perception that finance and technology are for smart people, and that women are not as smart as men.

In certain fields, you need to be really good at it to make a living, but not in finance and technology. Because the demand is high and there is generally a shortage of talent, you only need to be good enough to get a job. With enough effort, anyone with average intelligence can do it.

Do I need to say that there is no evidence that women are not as smart as men? But that perception, however untrue it might be, does make a real difference. When it is just a matter of making some extra effort, some women may conclude that they are not smart enough to do it.

Once you are in a career, it can be derailed by so many things. I have been in fintech for over 20 years; there was a time that there was a steady stream of young female colleagues coming to me for advice on relationship, career, and work-life balance. 

Here is a sample question from my young friends, “I am in a long-distance relationship. My boyfriend wants me to relocate, but I won’t be able to find a comparable job there.”

But the boyfriend would not relocate for the same reason, in which case my advice would be: You will take a hit when you have children. He should volunteer to make this sacrifice to balance it out.  

Here is another example, “My boyfriend doesn’t like it that I am career-driven. He wants me to have more time for the family in the future.”

I would also say that in most households, women do more than half of household duties. He should aim to do his fair share instead of demanding more. If he is not comfortable being with a high-achieving woman, he can look for someone who suits him better.

In the end, it is a matter of fairness and mutual respect. If someone thinks that their priorities and aspirations are more important than yours, career or otherwise, it is a red flag. This is a matter of principle that shouldn’t be compromised. I’d much rather compromise on other things. 

Raising a Family

It only gets worse after women get married and have children. When it is too much to juggle  two full-time jobs with child care, guess who ends up being the lucky one making the sacrifice?

Sometimes people talk about gender equality as if there were no difference between women and men. But there are real differences. Women bear the burden of pregnancy and being the primary caregiver for infants, which often continues indefinitely.

Some of my young friends hesitate to have children because of this, and I always encourage them to go ahead if they want children. Sacrificing motherhood for a job is not worth it — unless, of course, they don’t want children. 

Many of us cherish motherhood, but it is nonetheless a lot of work. Each of us may be doing it for ourselves and our own family, but collectively, we are doing it for humankind, and we need to be respected for that. 

To the men out there, ask yourself if you have done your fair share of household duties. Chances are that you have not. Even if your spouse doesn’t have a job outside the home, they undoubtedly have talents and aspirations beyond household chores.

Funding and Other Gaps

Also, we have the problem that women need to be better to get the same recognition as men. As a female entrepreneur, I am keenly aware of the funding gap between male and female founders, resulting in a unique phenomenon that my firm, Andes Wealth Technologies, perhaps the most award-winning wealthtech startup, has difficulty raising funds.

There is a fundamental difference between award judging and fundraising: Award judges focus on objective criteria, while the founder is front and center in fundraising, giving the opportunity for biases to come into play. 

As individuals, we can’t focus too much on things beyond our control, and it could very well be a blessing in disguise. After all, you can’t really complain too much if you are born with good health, loving parents and above-average intelligence.  

But collectively, we should advocate for our equal rights loud and clear. We want real, honest equal opportunity, not special treatment, and certainly not a lower standard. In fact, it is not uncommon to see women at the same level being better qualified than their male counterparts, because we have to be more capable to overcome extra hurdles. 

While we do not want these extra barriers, we also don’t want to be patronized or used as window dressing. I don’t mind gender being a tiebreaker to make up for the inherent disadvantages we have, but anything more than that is an insult. 

We are not begging for it, either. Companies that do it right will get the benefit of attracting more female talent, giving them a competitive advantage. For those who don’t see it this way, I can only say that you are free to make your decisions, and we are free to make ours.

Helen Yang, CFA, is the founder and CEO of Andes Wealth Technologies, the first company to combine behavioral finance with analytics to help financial advisors differentiate and deliver truly personalized services. A co-winner of the prestigious Harry Markowitz Award in 2011, Helen has 20-plus years in fintech including leadership positions at Thomson Reuter and Charles River Development, and holds an MBA from MIT.


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