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Bridging the gender diversity gap: Insights from women leaders and founders in European fintech

Are we really making any progress towards equality of opportunity and parity in the European fintech industry? The statistics present a sobering truth:

To dig deeper into the current status quo of diversity in the fintech industry and how we can spark change, we spoke with some of the most talented and impactful female founders and senior leaders in European fintech.


From left to right: Anna-Sophie Hartvigsen, Founder of Female Invest; Ayesha Ofori, Founder of Propelle; Ele Ward, CMO at Ctrl Alt; Morgan O’Hana, Founder of Defacto; Nina Mohanty, CEO and Founder of Bloom Money; Triin Hertmann, Founder of Grünfin; Vivi Friedgut, Founder of Blackbullion.

Journeys into the fintech industry

The paths to fintech leadership for female leaders are diverse. They range from working in corporate finance roles and being early employees at fintech startups to venturing in from completely different industries.

Vivi Friedgut, Founder of Blackbullion, transitioned into fintech after spending almost a decade in wealth management. Similarly, Ayesha Ofroi, Founder of Propelle, began her career in finance at Morgan Stanley, then moved to private wealth management at Goldman Sachs, and eventually set out to help women build more wealth with Propelle. After serving as a consultant to banks, Morgan O’hana, Founder of Defacto, was drawn to the problem-solving potential of fintech. Triin Herman, Founder of Grünfin, started her career in finance and transitioned into tech; she was an early employee at Skype where she met Taavet Hinrikus. Taavet later founded Transferwise (now Wise), where Triin joined the early team. Nina Mohanty, CEO and Founder of Bloom Money shares that her journey into fintech was “completely accidental.” Her career in fintech began at Mastercard; she openly shares that “it was the only job she could find at the time.” Before founding Bloom Money, she worked at Starling Bank, helping to launch the current account, championed Open Banking at Bud, and worked on buy now, pay later (BNPL) at Klarna.

Ele Ward, CMO at Ctrl Alt, was part of the UK founding team for sustainability solutions provider Cogo, where she was exposed to fintech as the business adopted Open Banking early on. This sparked Ele’s interest in fintech’s transformative abilities. Anna-Sophie Hartvigsen, Founder of Female Invest, began her journey with a personal desire to empower women investors. Female Invest started as a passion project while they were in business school with no network or experience, which eventually grew into Female Invest, serving 400,000 women through their courses.

While all their backgrounds differ, a common thread emerges a desire to innovate and improve the financial landscape, which brought them all to fintech.

Motivations to work in fintech

Each leader brings a unique perspective on what motivates them to pursue a career in fintech. Vivi is inspired by the potential of technology to create a more inclusive financial future, stating: “We are still yet to see the full power of technology in making financial services more inclusive.” Ele and Anna are driven by the desire to disrupt the status quo. Ele’s focus at Ctrl Alt is on tokenizing alternative assets, and Anna is on a mission to close the financial gender gap with Female Invest. Nina and Morgan are motivated by the challenge of driving innovation within a vast and complex industry that impacts everyday life. Nina explains: “Money makes the world go around and touches every aspect of life. There is such a humongous opportunity and responsibility for those of us working in this industry to build innovative, thoughtful, impactful products and services.” Triin channels her passion into promoting sustainable investing at Grüfin, aiming to make a difference by aligning her customers’ financial success with environmental well-being. Despite their diverse backgrounds, these women share a common goal: to make a positive impact through innovation and problem-solving in the ever-evolving world of fintech.

Impact of lack of diversity in fintech

The experiences with a lack of diversity in fintech varied. While several leaders haven’t encountered direct bias or negative effects of being a woman in the fintech industry, they all acknowledge its broader impact and significantly more work needs to be done to improve equality.

Having a lack of diversity in the fintech industry exacerbates unconscious bias problems. Ele highlights that entering the fintech industry can be intimidating, combined with a lack of diversity can be perceived as unwelcoming, she urges that this needs to change. Nina is frustrated that: “people often dismiss diversity as – woke nonsense -, but diversity actually makes for better products.”

The women we spoke with shared a sentiment that a lack of diversity hinders the fintech industry’s potential as there are gender differences in customer behaviours in the use of fintech products, and the teams building products should be representative of the customers. Ele highlights that there is a lack of gender-specific data in fintech to inform how products are built. Ayesha finds herself “repeatedly justifying why Propelle exists.” Triin is proud that half of Grünfin’s customers are women and has observed that women might need more assurance and information before switching to a new financial institution. Vivi believes “it is near impossible to service your diverse clientele if you are unable to understand what they need and how they want it.” The views shared underline the importance of diverse perspectives in creating inclusive financial services.

Starting and operating a fintech is generally capital intensive as it’s highly regulated. Challenges around the lack of funding going to underrepresented founders were continuously raised, including the lack of investor diversity and challenges in fundraising that consequently impact the company’s growth. Ayesha shares that she has had to “explain [her] personal childcare situation to potential investors (usually male) to show them that [she] can be a competent, focused startup founder and a mother at the same time.” Vivi shared that some of her worst investor experiences have “in fact been with female investors so while representation is of course important I do not believe it to be a panacea.”

Anna sheds light that “women aren’t underfunded because they are bad at building companies (in fact research shows the opposite to be true as money invested in female-founded/led companies give a higher return).” Nina and Ayesha both challenge VCs who speak about supporting diverse founders to take action. Ayesha raises that “sadly many only do it for the PR.” Nina urges VCs to “just do it” and “prove to us that you are doing it” with metrics that they should know inside out, in a similar manner founders are expected to know about the metrics of their startups.

How can we change the status quo?

The female leaders we spoke to shared a range of suggestions on achieving equal opportunity and representation in fintech – from nurturing young talent to bringing men into the conversation.

Fostering work environments and cultures that support diversity:

Morgan shared a few initiatives that have worked at Defacto including having exclusive interview periods for women and aiming for team balance before reopening the pipeline to all talents. At Defacto, they also have a transparent salary grid which ensures fairness, preventing gender-based pay disparities. In their day-to-day, they have implemented flexible remote work and a culture that supports autonomy catering especially well to women, and addressing the unique challenges they may face, including those balancing motherhood. Defacto has achieved nearly a 50% gender balance across all teams, with the exception of their engineering team, where women constitute about 30%. Ayesha advises job candidates to look for employers who prioritise diversity and inclusion initiatives. She suggests to search a prospective company on LinkedIn and seeing what their team looks like, and also to not be afraid to questions about diversity initiatives and long-term plans because “a good company knows that different perspectives and experiences can ultimately help the company succeed much further than others.”

Creating more role models and spokespersons inspires underrepresented individuals who look like them in leadership positions:

Ele shares that the rise of platforms like The Heard by Chantal Wilson, a directory of female speakers in fintech, is a practical way to get more women into panels and speaking slots. Ayesha praises the Google for Startups Black Founder Fund that Propelle was part of and made a difference in her journey with Propelle.

Increasing transparency and allyship:

Nina underscores that the responsibility for improving diversity shouldn’t solely fall on underrepresented groups, and often don’t have the power to create the change. She urges that everyone should be involved in the dialogue for improving diversity: “If we are going to events talking about diversity, and inclusion, everyone should reach out and bring a male friend to the conversation. this also applies to things like pay transparency. If you have a male counterpart willing to tell you how much he is being paid, then those who are being paid less can justify that and get paid equity.”

Setting the tone for diversity from a young age can define future generations. Vivi wanted to do something super practical for students at Blackbullion. They have acquired a scholarship company and are working with a growing number of organisations to support diverse talent early in their educational journey, including working with Amazon on their Future Engineer bursaries. Ele is a big supporter of Founders4Schools, a charity she’s previously worked with as part of their work experience program.

Advice for underrepresented individuals trying to break into fintech or accelerate their career in fintech

The call to action from the female fintech leaders is clear: network, build relationships, leverage your unique perspective, and continuously learn and adapt to the evolving fintech industry. Find communities of people to inspire you and believe in your potential, find your support system, and find environments that value inclusivity and offer opportunities for growth. Nina highlights that the fintech industry is a “very close industry, especially in Europe.”

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Amanda Pun
Amanda Pun
Amanda is passionate about startups, particularly in the FinTech and B2C spaces. She was one of the first employees of fintech startup, Homeppl, and has expertise in Product Management and Operations. She is based in London and originally from Canada.

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