Success usually means opening more doors, not shutting up shop – but Women in Payments founder Kristy Duncan says she welcomes the day.

"Ideally I should not have a job, but at this point I don't see myself retiring soon," she says.

More than 80% of consumer payments are made by women yet the payments industry is dominated by men. The disparity is a microcosm of broader gender discrimination where women on average still earn less than men, even when performing similar roles, while they hold fewer senior executive and board positions.

Duncan, who hails from Canada, set up Women in Payments in 2012 to advocate for gender parity across the sector after seeing the problem during her own career in banking and consulting.

"I was spending lots of time in meetings with 90% men and the women generally didn't advance as quickly as the men. So I started a consulting career and I found that three-quarters of my contracts came from women. I thought there was an opportunity to encourage other women to build their profiles and their careers."

Seven years later, Women in Payments now operates in Australia, UK, and the US, and is launching in Singapore this year with a symposium on October 15, 2019, themed around the topic of disruptive evolution.  

Programs to challenge our bias are key to bridge the divide

Duncan says the gender parity issue is complex and multi-layered with government policies, corporate policies, and corporate culture all having a role to play. Part of the solution comes down to examining our own personal biases.

"Research shows that men typically have higher confidence levels. In comparison, women are extremely competent. Unfortunately, we're biased in the way that we promote people and we will promote based on confidence."

Duncan says all too often women promote their own successes less strongly than men, while men are more likely to put themselves forward for jobs that they are not as qualified for.

"That's where the mentorship helps, as well as the other aspects of our initiatives such as our award programs, which can help women develop confidence."

A range of major organisations have backed Women in Payments and its work for gender parity including Deloitte, Mastercard, Visa and Finastra. Last year BPAY Group’s Kim Tyler was awarded Women in Payments Advocate for Women Award for her support of emerging female leaders in the business.

While the FinTech industry is poised to usher in a new era of disruptive payment services, this innovation often doesn’t produce diverse cultures. Duncan says many traditional gender parity issues remain the same. Women in Payments recently launched the Unicorn Challenge, which offers women the opportunity to pitch to a panel of industry leaders.

"Less than 5% of venture capital that goes to the FinTech industry goes to women-led businesses so it's important we open those doors."

Greater accountability and visibility on gender parity progress

In March 2016 the UK government launched the HM Treasury Women in Finance Charter, which encouraged the financial industry to improve gender balance in senior management. More than 330 organisations have signed up to the Charter's three key recommendations:

  • Voluntarily define and publish a gender diversity strategy with targets.
  • Appoint a senior executive who is responsible for developing and ensuring the success of the strategy.
  • Tie the compensation of the senior executive team to the strategy's success.

"I see these as absolutely the benchmark for the rest of the world," Duncan says.

A review of 123 signatories released in March 2019 found that 45% had met or exceeded their targets for female representation in senior management while 42% were on track to meet them.

"It forces organisations to figure out their status quo and benchmark themselves against their peers, but then it also commits them to making progress because the annual updates are public."

A similar requirement will also now apply to Australia's largest 300 listed companies as a result of the ASX Corporate Governance Council's recently updated Principles and Recommendations. Companies must publish their public diversity policies, which also track their progress towards measurable diversity targets across their board, senior executives, and broader workforce. 

"I love that the ASX is doing that – now we want to filter it down to the next levels," Duncan says.

A continuing role for legislation

While voluntary commitments are helping, the pace of progress towards true gender parity is still slow, with behaviour challenging to shift. Legislation also has a role to play, says Duncan. It not only mandates practical outcomes but promotes attitudinal change.

For example, last year California banned employers from asking job applicants about their prior salary. As women are often paid less than a man doing the same job, the legislation should help stop gender discrimination being perpetuated.

"When it comes to negotiating salaries on our own behalf, we typically take the first salary that's offered, whereas men will far more often negotiate for a better offer. I've seen studies that show that over the course of a career that can cost women up to a million dollars."

Nordic countries have also taken legislative steps to equalise parental leave, promoting gender equality at home and in the labour market. Iceland's parental leave scheme, for example, reserves three months for each parent while an additional three months can be divided between the parents as they choose.

Quotas can be painful in the short-term but often work in countries that have implemented them, Duncan says.

"Women were placed into roles where people thought, 'oh my goodness, that poor woman, she's clearly incapable of performing that job' – but the women flourished. And you don't think twice about putting a man into a role that he's not proven for yet, but we do for women. That's an unconscious bias that I think we need to start really looking at more closely and questioning ourselves."

The next Women in Payments Australian Symposium will be held in Sydney November 19-20, 2019, bringing together keynote presentations from leading experts, executive panel discussions and breakout sessions.

This article represents the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of BPAY.
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