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- Outdated stereotypes and gendered expectations are still keeping women from reaching their full career potential.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.