In celebration of International Women’s Day 2019 we have been meeting women who have built careers in Tech, to gain an insight on how they have achieved their success, what they have learnt on their journey so far and their thoughts on improving gender balance in the sector.
We open the series with Fiona Tee, CFO of Currencycloud.
What first attracted you to pursuing a career within the tech industry?
I wanted to work in an industry focused on bringing positive change via new products or solutions. These organisations were often high growth, somewhat disruptive and encouraged a culture that was both innovative and empowering. For me, this started with a move initially into network management software, transitioning to work in companies developing mobile and new forms of digital payments. I like the energy, growth and new challenges that make each day different. It’s hard work but really rewarding.
During your career, what changes have you seen within the industry?
In terms of the gender diversity challenge, it’s definitely improving but there’s still a long way to go. In general, as you progress to more experienced roles, I observe the gender balance is slowly improving, but it’s painfully slow. You can find representation increasing in many functions but in the core technology skills it remains a huge challenge. At Currencycloud we proactively consider and work to improve diversity; gender diversity is a foundational pillar of that. We have adapted our recruitment process, practices and policies and engage to support females in their career development. The business overall, male and female, values gender diversity recognising this is both more enjoyable and improves the business’ performance. In my network, I observe more companies are being proactive, driving similar initiatives and it’s beginning to change.
How well do you think the tech industry is doing in improving gender diversity?
It is slowly improving, we have growing representation in terms of diversity and gender diversity within most disciplines but there is a serious challenge with attracting females to tech roles. For example, without proactive planning, it can happen that a female comes for an interview and the process may not involve meeting a female until the final stage or at offer. It’s about breaking out of that potential loop and I believe it starts in education, encouraging an understanding of the potential for careers in tech.
The theme for this year’s IWD is “balanceforbetter” – if you were in charge for the day what would be the first thing you would do to improve balance?
I would have a workshop or an event focused on building confidence and communication skills. I believe that as a gender, we are not naturally self-confident speakers and often hold back from putting ourselves forward. Perhaps some of that is because we are straight down the line and we hold back to have all our facts lined up. It could also be the lack of “real models”, I prefer that concept to “role models”. I’d also open up the programme to the men to gain their perspective and support.
During your career, what hurdles did you encounter and what did you learn from them?
Probably the greatest challenge was combining a career with having my two girls. At the time, I found the decision hard since I was unclear how to deliver the best for them and continue in a career which I really enjoyed. I wish I’d realised sooner the answer was to stop agonising, accept I didn’t need to do everything, it would still all get done and better to focus on trying to maintain the right work life balance. On a different track, in the past there were times where I felt I wasn’t being taken seriously because I was seen as both too young and female. Also, the times when I’d go into a meeting and all too often, be the only female. Both situations had the potential to encourage assertiveness in me, unhelpful since it loses the benefit of gender diversity. I observe these situations are less common now, certainly they are core reasons to ensure things change.
What is it you enjoy most about your role?
I passionately believe in what we are doing. Currencycloud offers something new to the market that is needed: a tech platform for cross-border payments that can service businesses which in turn deliver to consumers – to make the process faster, cost effective and better connected. I love the energy, the constant challenge of growth and quality of the people who work here. This provides such an opportunity to develop and progress and that’s probably what I enjoy most. As an organisation it’s where we place great value – helping people to develop and progress.
Finally, what advice would you give to a woman who is looking to move into tech?
My experience is that tech has been supportive of progressing gender diversity and recognises the benefits. That said, it will vary since all are at different stages. So do your homework on the organisation you are considering, understand where they are with gender diversity, their current landscape and how they plan to improve. Often the information is available but don’t be afraid to ask. They may not have considered something which if changed, could improve the attractiveness of the role and benefit the organisation. There are so many soft signals when you are interviewing that you can draw on to reach your conclusion. Tech is learning how to improve diversity so please help us!
Fiona is CFO of Currencycloud (www.currencycloud.com), the global payments platform that takes the complexity out of moving money cross-border. She originally qualified at KPMG and throughout her career has taken senior finance roles in technology and latterly fintech companies. Her CV includes Mastercard and Cap Gemini along with a wide range of VC-backed ventures in mobile, payments and contactless – the common thread is her focus on disruption and high growth.