The fintech industry, in addition to the broader financial sector, remains stubbornly and unjustifiably dominated by cisgender men in both founding roles and strategic leadership positions. According to a widely cited report by Deloitte, women will only make up 33% of large global tech firms’ workforces by the end of 2022, and while it is an increase from previous years, it’s not exactly impressive. Similarly, a recent Fintech Diversity Radar study found that out of 1,000 top-funded fintech companies, just 16% had sole women founders, and only 1% of total venture capital funding was invested in their organizations. The same report also revealed that women only make up about 6% of CEOs in the increasingly lucrative and expansive fintech industry. And when it comes to nonbinary and trans people in fintech (and tech more broadly), many folks across all gender identities do not feel safe to be “out” at work. This means that statistics on nonbinary and trans representation are virtually nonexistent, according to an article from ABC News.
This persistent lack of equality does not reflect a lack of talent or initiative among people who identify as women, nonbinary, or trans in finance. In addition to frequently generating higher returns on investment than their cisgender male counterparts, many women, nonbinary, and trans founders have the creative and competitive advantage of leveraging their own experiences and hardships to identify and solve long-standing issues within the industry. The bottom line? Diverse perspectives are better able to create essential new products, services, and technologies that would not exist without them.
When we celebrate Women’s History Month at Deserve, we celebrate people of all gender identities for both their struggles and their triumphs. We are excited to honor seven inspirational leaders in fintech for their innovations and storied careers. Check out their stories below.
A passionate supporter of increasing diversity in the tech industry, Theresia Gouw has made big moves throughout her career to leave the industry better than she found it. Gouw co-founded Aspect Ventures, one of the first female-led venture capital firms, and then went on to co-found Acrew Capital, which is 85% women and PoC. Both firms were backed by Melinda Gates and her investment company, Pivotal Ventures. Through Acrew Capital, Gouw created a “Diversity Capital Fund” that will help investors from underrepresented backgrounds invest in “growth stage businesses on the path to IPO,” according to this article in Fortune Magazine. In turn, this initiative will help diversify who is building wealth through tech investments.
If all of the above weren’t enough, Gouw was named to Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women list, has been recognized nine times on the Forbes Midas List, was named one of the 40 Most Influential Minds in Tech by Time Magazine, as well as being named to the Carnegie Corporation’s annual Distinguished Immigrants List. We are also proud to say that Theresia is one of our esteemed Board Members here at Deserve.
An advocate for “economic empathy,” Lim is a prime example of how challenging life experiences can lead not only to professional success but also to enacting meaningful societal change. When her family emigrated from Malaysia to Canada, Lim watched her mother struggle as the sole breadwinner of their family’s household. Then, when she moved to the United States in her mid-twenties and got married, she only used her husband’s credit. When they divorced in her thirties, Lim found herself lacking a credit history, buried under debt from lawyer fees, and without affordable financial wellness tools to help her.
In late 2016, Lim co-founded HoneyBee, a startup that helps businesses provide financial education services and direct 0% APR loans to employees. Since its first successful round of funding in 2017, HoneyBee has raised millions in equity, seen explosive growth in its user base, and cultivated a much-needed awareness surrounding the importance of financial literacy. In an interview with EBN, Lim acknowledged the problem of equal opportunity in the fintech space, emphasizing the need for a more level playing field. “Silicon Valley and [fintech] especially is mostly male-dominated,” said Lim. “It’s important for women to keep taking down those barriers and obstacles, and it’s important to have men as our allies.”
Lesley Gold did not always know she wanted to be in strategic communications. When she first graduated from college, she moved to Washington D.C. to find work either in the nonprofit space or as a journalist. She became the Director of Radio Services for the Democratic National Committee and then moved on to become Press Secretary under the former U.S. Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich. When she got a job at CNN, Gold soon realized that journalism wasn’t her passion, but she liked working behind the scenes to craft stories and messaging. When Gold saw a few of her friends move to the tech industry for strategic communications, she moved to the Silicon Valley, asked the women-led firm Blanc & Otus for a job, and the rest was history.
Today, Lesley Gold has served as the CEO of SutherlandGold Group for nearly 20 years, building and elevating some of the best-known brands in tech. Throughout her career, Gold has worked on strategic messaging and communications for Brex, Sila, Thumbtack, Zoom, TiVo, Sony, PlayStation, Birchbox, Doctors on Demand, Qualtrics, Survey Monkey, Cloudflare, Zendesk, Bill.com, Udemy, MyFitnessPal, and RingCentral. Her leadership has helped companies to IPOs and acquisitions by major tech and consumer brands. She also serves as a Board Advisor to Paay and a mentor to many young women in PR and fintech. When asked what guidance she'd give to young working women, Gold advised, “You don't have to have a linear path. Follow whatever you're naturally interested in, find what you're good at, create a vast network, and be open to the opportunities you find along the way.“
Actress, entrepreneur, and transgender activist Angelica Ross grew up in Wisconsin in an evangelical Christian household, where Ross was not accepted by her family or her town. At 19, she began transitioning and was fired from her waitressing job due to discrimination. Despite her economic struggles, she began finding work as an actress and is best known for her role in the iconic Emmy-award-winning show, Pose.
During this time, Ross also taught herself how to code, which inspired her biggest entrepreneurial venture: TransTech Social Enterprises, an incubator for LGBTQ+ talent with a focus on economically empowering transgender people. TransTech provides practical skill education, mentorship, exclusive job boards, and more to help LGBTQ+ folks make their way into the tech industry.
Very few players in the fintech space, regardless of gender, can match the entrepreneurial and innovative spirit of Qapital co-CEO and co-founder Katherine Salisbury. Since launching the platform with her husband George Friedman in 2015, Qapital has quickly become one of the top financial planning apps on the market, allowing users to improve their spending habits, build their savings accounts, and bring organization to their overall budgeting practices.
Salisbury has a creative knack for turning good ideas into great ideas, which explains why Qapital isn’t your typical financial planning tool. Beyond boasting an exceptionally intuitive user experience, Qapital allows couples with shared bank accounts to collaborate seamlessly and transparently on their collective savings goals and expenses. Moreover, Salisbury has been able to translate her love of soccer and experience running a successful sports management company—which she also co-founded with her husband—into one of Qapital’s most attractive features: the interactive gamification of personal financial management.
If the fintech industry needs anything, it’s the unparalleled versatility and determination of Jane Alexander, the former Chief of Staff and recently appointed CMO of equity management platform Carta. As a Harvard alum with a background in psychology, Alexander has integrated her education into an exciting career in business and finance, utilizing her knowledge of human behavior to motivate clients and colleagues.
After climbing the ladder in various critical roles at companies like BrightEdge, RelateIQ, and Salesforce, Alexander has wasted no time making a name for herself at Carta, which is one of the fastest-growing fintech platforms, and secured a $7.4 billion valuation in August of 2021. In her new position as CMO, Alexander is poised to extend the worldwide benefits of equity ownership to the next level.
Last but certainly not least, keep your eye on Adina Eckstein. After two years of working with Lemonade, Eckstein now serves as the digital insurance trailblazer’s Chief Operating Officer. The former COO of the Digital Channels unit at HSBC, she is a proven leader whose intuitive understanding of financial operations is sure to be an invaluable asset to the digital insurance space, as well as to the broader evolution of the fintech industry.
In addition to her role at Lemonade, Eckstein serves as a board member for Eccopia, an AI-powered solar equipment manufacturer that aims to provide “efficient, safe, and cost-effective cleaning of solar modules” across the globe. With her objective command over business operations, coupled with a passion for sustainability, we expect that Eckstein will be a significant driver of further innovation in financial services.
This short list only represents a snapshot of people of all gender identities who continue to shake up the power imbalance in the fintech industry, who have remained innovative, productive, and resilient in the face of prolonged adversity. As an industry, we must continue to prioritize, support, and empower diverse perspectives, not only so that the fintech industry can reach its full potential, but also to reach our shared goal: to make financial freedom a reality for everyone, regardless of gender.