International Women’s Day 2021: Reflection and reminding

Virginie O’Shea, founder, Firebrand Research

I don’t often do much around International Women’s Day (IWD) – it tends to pass by with some conversations and commentary with peers and friends on social channels, but not much else. Also, every year, some smart aleck asks on Twitter or another such platform why there isn’t an International Men’s Day. There is, it’s in November – look it up. But this year, I thought I’d take the time to share some personal experiences and celebrate the progress we’ve made and the miles we still have to go to reach gender equality in our industry.

I started in the FinTech industry as a journalist a couple of decades ago – back before we concatenated every piece of technology terminology under the sun. I was one of a handful of women in the space at the time – and the first thing to celebrate is how gender diverse that community has become today. If you looked at the press rooms at conferences back when we had in-person events before lockdown and compared them to even 10 years before, you’d see the difference, believe me. We have some way to go on the racial diversity front, but I’ll save that for another time.

However, you look at the conference attendees and speakers and you realise that though there has been some progress, we’re not where we need to be. Every day, I see industry webinars and online events advertised that feature all-male panels (the dreaded ‘manel’). Women are out there to fill these slots, but event organisers either don’t try hard enough to find them or don’t recognise that they should. Moreover, when women are invited onto panels, they shouldn’t automatically be invited as the moderators.

And the reason why they should be panellists as well as moderators? Representation matters.

In my current community of industry analysts, there are thankfully a lot of very capable and high-profile women (many of whom I have worked alongside or had the pleasure of meeting at industry events). We need to be seen and heard to be able to encourage young women joining the workforce that it’s a viable career option. We need to be the mentors and supporters of these new entrants and actually, whatever their gender, we need to teach new starters and existing colleagues that diversity matters.

Thankfully, there are so many more groups out there than there used to be that are dedicated to helping women share their experiences, their concerns and their hopes for the future of this industry. I’m part of a couple and they really do make a difference – even laughing at common experiences and challenges can help us deal with them. Whether that’s struggling to get up on stage onto one of those ridiculously high stools while wearing a skirt in days past, or coping with online sexism and harassment today.

Industry awareness of diversity and inclusion has also improved markedly and will likely continue to increase as part of the investment push around the “S” of ESG. I wouldn’t have thought it possible for a trading venue to set policies for listings related to board gender diversity when I started in this industry, but that’s today’s reality. We’ve come a long way; we should celebrate that fact, but recognise that there’s still a long way to go.

By Virginie O’Shea, founder, Firebrand Research