So I am sitting on a stage in Abu Dhabi last month with two investors and one member of the Singaporean regulatory authority. We were on a panel talking about FinTech trends, innovation and hubs. Our moderator was a super cute chap from CNBC who pronouced ICOs ‘icos’. (He was adorable).
I was asked my take on where FinTech is going. Since I was the only woman on stage for that panel (and I always take advantage of a stage) I answered in a way that spoke of where I thought FinTech *should* be going. It should start by paying attention to women.
Women need to be hired and involved in the product design and development of FinTech products. I spoke about widows. Both Fidelity Investments and UBS have done studies that show a huge percentage of widows leave their financial advisors within months of their husbands dying. Why? Because those firms met their husbands needs – not theirs. Financial inclusion is more often than not a discussion about banking the unbanked and the underbanked – but also about banking women. A secure, regulated place to store your money is a cornerstone of civilisation. Having access and control over your own money is freedom and allows you a voice in society. Many millions of people are denied that freedom – most of those are the poor and a huge percentage of that group are women. (I made my points. You know how eloquent I can be when I put my mind to it 😉 )
The conversation moved onto ICOs (or ‘icos’ 🙂 ) Ya’ll know how obsessed I am with Initial Coin Offerings. Not because of bitcoin or blockchain – but in regards to the democratization of funding. Every week we hear news reports of how little access women get to funding, exposure and support for their startups. In 2016, women got just 2.19% of venture capital funding—a smaller piece of the pie than in every year this past decade, with the exception of 2008 and 2012. Hell, even having a woman on your team ruins your chances for VC funding! I could fill this entire blog site with stories about why women seem to get the fuzzy end of the lollipop in startup land. But I won’t. Because I often get a chance to speak my mind on stage.
What do I think about ICOs? Well, outside of whether it is the most important, disruptive thing to hit fundraising or it is a total scam – I wanted to focus on how it could be used to raise funds without having to deal with the toxic ‘boys club’ culture of traditional startup funding. I even said ‘if there is anything I want to disrupt more – it it that world’ and if ICOs might be one avenue to do that – democratize funding – I say: ‘Let’s explore’.
The guy next to me laughed ‘Oh you want to put me out of business!’ Ummm, if you discriminate against women, then …yes, I do. 🙂 The next man in the panel started going on about how VCs have to measure risks and do extensive due diligence. I just looked at him. ‘Was he making a comment on the nascent nature of ICOs or making a comment on why women find it hard to get investor funding?? Are they seen as ‘too risky’? I never got a clear take on what was being commented on – because what happened next is what I want you all to know.
Over the past few weeks and months there has been story after story in the press about the bad behaviour of men. Men in Hollywood, men in Silicon Valley, men in politics. While I have never had the privilege of being made to watch a movie mogul wank into a potted plant, at 45 years of age, I have seen my fair share of dodgy behaviour from the fuzzier sex.
But this story is about another type of man. Like it or not we live in a world that was designed and developed around the male experience and the male gaze. You all know my well worn bitchy stance against bar stools on stage and ‘lapel mics’ (which I have to hook onto my bra). Because men have power they can mansplain, they can talk over women, they can repeat their ideas and present them as their own. (They can put a lapel mic in their pockets and plant their feet on the floor while sitting on a bar stool) But men can also use that power – the power that an audience will sit up and listen to their deep voices – in another way.
Our moderator looked at the final person on the panel for a thought and as I looked into the audience I heard these words. “I want to just get back to what Liz mentioned on this panel, twice…” Wait, what??
The guy then spoke about how he agreed that the industry needed more women in leadership roles. It needed more women entreprepreneurs and he described how his firm is now making an effort to find and invest in more female led businesses. I looked at him and said ‘Thank you’. I said thank you out loud in my microphone. Thank you for hearing my voice. Thank you for attributing what I was saying to me. And thank you for taking steps to help correct a huge problem in the industry.
In these ‘Me Too’ times many men are asking ‘How can I be ‘not part of the problem?’ What can I do?
On stage, late October 2017 at Abu Dhabi FinTech Summit, Patrick Vosgimorukian, CEO of Digital Spring Ventures showed you exactly what you can do.
Patrick – you are my manbassador of the 2017.
(Because of this panel – a How to build a ‘female’ FinTech business in MENA is in the works. Watch this space 🙂 )