Where Are the Women in Payments?

Serena Smith
Chief Administrative Officer and Head of International Payments, FIS Global Retail Payments
Posted on November 29, 2016

Where Are the Women in Payments

The Stats Don’t Lie

Participation in networking and mentoring has opened my eyes to the obstacles that too many women face on a regular basis in the payments industry.  The stats don’t lie, and there are fewer women today in management and professional positions in the financial space.

Statistics from Oliver Wyman show that women in financial services have been slow to rise to executive positions, and there has been a decline in women in management and professional positions since the turn of the millennium:

  • Only 1.4 percent of CEOs in financial services are women.
  • Only 20 percent of board positions are held by women – up only eight percent from 2003.
  • On boards’ executive committees, only 16 percent of positions are held by women – up just five percentage points in thirteen years.
  • The percentage of management and professional positions held by women decreased by six percentage points to 47 percent since 2000.

The situation is even worse in Asian countries, where just four percent of board members and two percent of executive committee members are women. Lucy Peng, executive chair of Ant Financial (Alipay), has been able to overcome adversity and is one of the most powerful women in payments. As one of the co-founders of Alipay, she demonstrates the benefits of getting in on the ground floor. But not many women breathe such rarified air. According to Bloomberg, only three percent of tech entrepreneurs are women.

So what’s the big deal?

First and foremost, companies lose talented, hard-working individuals who believe they do not receive the appreciation and rewards they deserve. More importantly, when it comes to the bottom line, companies may be losing out if women aren’t achieving within their organizations: companies with women on their corporate boards are 42 percent more profitable, less likely to experience problems with fraud and more likely to have productive board meetings since “they are willing to ask the hard questions” (Thomas Hine LLP, Spotlight on Women).

Turning specifically to my industry – payments – the stakes are even higher to retain women. Think about the fact that 80 percent of purchase decisions are made or influenced by women, according to Forbes. Another report (Asking Smarter Questions) points out that 75 percent of women identify themselves as the primary shopper in the household. In other words, women make the majority of purchases, yet their opinions aren’t heard because they do not have a seat at the table.

Imagine for a moment that you are the only woman in a room full of colleagues sitting around the conference room table discussing critical business items. You share your thoughts on resolution or the issue at hand, and your boss looks at your male colleague for validation or confirmation of what you just shared. He doesn’t do that to the men at the table and doesn’t even realize what he has just done. While looking for validation from others, he has diminished the value of your comments, while the remarks of your male counterpart are taken at face value. This is sometimes the harsh reality for a number of women in the financial services space, especially those on the operations and business side.  For my entire career, I have learned that I have to be the most knowledgeable and prepared person at the table, or I may be overlooked and discounted. This is what is referred to as “invisible treatment” – that uneasy feeling of knowing that a woman’s opinion is often discounted unless validated by male counterparts.

Just as my opinions have been overlooked at times, so has my ability to respond to feedback. I’m aware that I haven’t always received tough feedback from male colleagues, even when a harsher critique might have helped me become a better performer. It seems feedback is not comfortable for men to communicate to women, which can hinder professional growth.

Remedies

There are multiple courses of action that both women and men can take to help level the playing field and better align payments with the primary users’ experiences.

  • Networking: Communities among women are increasing with growing participation in organizations such as Women in Payments, Women in Network Electronic Transactions (Wnet) and Women in Technology International (WITI). Through sharing experiences, women help other women navigate choppy corporate waters. Male participation in meetings is key in lending their perspectives.
  • Mentoring: Women need to help lift other women up through mentoring programs. It’s particularly critical in the tech entrepreneur world. More than 80 percent of female tech entrepreneurs surveyed say they do have a mentor – either male or female – but one-third still report dismissive attitudes from colleagues rather than constructive criticism. Backbiting and bad behavior have to stop.
  • Advocacy: Women need to become their own advocates. But it’s also important to have a sponsor who has the power to advocate successfully for women in the workplace – and today that usually means a male executive.

 

What can you do to help grow the number of women in payments? Show up! Take advantage of the networking opportunities you are presented with – meet people and share ideas. Invite your colleagues to join you at such events.  Make yourself available as a mentor and leader to women rising in the ranks. And finally, look around your conference room table. Take notice of any imbalance in the room and capitalize on it by adding women to your payments circle. Your business – and the rest of us – will thank you!

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Serena Smith
Chief Administrative Officer and Head of International Payments, FIS Global Retail Payments

Serena is a skilled relationship-builder with a proven track record of creating “moments of excellence.” While previously serving as Chief Client Officer, she drove FIS’ clients’ loyalty survey scores to the highest point in company history. With more than two decades of experience in the financial industry, she serves more than 50,000 clients and specializes in customer acquisition, retention and profitability.