On the occasion of FinTech Belgium Summit, we had the chance to talk about ‘Women in FinTech‘ with two emblematic FinTech Ninja Women: Patricia Boydens and Tine Holvoet.
- Patricia Boydens (left), CCO of Harmoney & Vice President of FinTech Belgium, has already a very long history in digital banking and investing.
- Tine Holvoet (right) is an entrepreneur and senior research associate at Vlerick Business School. 4 years ago, she made the shift to FinTech and she is now focusing on how people reach out across industries. She saw FinTech as a place where entrepreneurship meets finance.
A typical day in their job…
[PB] Every morning, we have briefly update on what developers have been working and worked on. Sometimes, it also includes demo of the released new features and they discuss their next IT challenges. As I am commercial responsible, I prospect and define our target market, organise meetings and presentations and follow-up, check the roadmap, deliverables and timings and take care of our marketing. Every day, I also try to take a close look on the financial world. It goes from new legislation for the financial sector on European and Belgian level, to what our fellow RechTech companies are doing, or new evolution in the traditional banking scene, especially in my expertise domain which is everything related to investing. And frequently the day ends with a seminar or network event.
[TH] At Vlerick Business School, we not only give training, but we can follow lots of classes as well. For example, a few weeks ago, I took a course on time management by Marc Buelens, professor Emeritus. Walking the talk, we’re invited to implement what we learn from those classes. For example, the time management class learnt me not to read my emails in the morning but around 2pm when you’re down in energy. If you’re a morning person, you should not spill the most valuable time of your day on reading emails. I also do my best to have a real balance between online and offline time. I noticed that indeed, I tend to divide between very public actions – teaching, giving keynotes, managing workshops, moderations, interviews – and private actions to do research and go deep in my analysis. Ideally I’m trying to keep a good mix of both. I would say 2 days public vs 3 days private time would be my ideal balance even though it’s difficult to capture that ! And then, on the work life balance, I don’t follow a 9 to 5 model, but try to see how work is fun is life. However, I still radically refuse to do morning meetings with banks at 7am. I always comment on this old habit – typical for financial services – as it indirectly is not friendly for women as you cannot event take your child to pre-school yet.
But how is it accepted in a quite male world?
[TH] I think you have to make your point and over the years I’ve become more explicit in making people aware of these habits, the little structural things that are making this sector so masculine. And actually I feel lots of support from female leaders and many men.
[PB] It is a habit in the financial world because at 7am nobody has already a meeting planned in their calendar and sometimes it is necessary to put all stakeholders around the table. I must admit that I organise myself to be present. But if I can influence the scheduling of a meeting, of course I take my family needs into consideration. Also, ten years ago when I stepped out of a meeting at 5-6pm to go and get my children from school, people looked a bit strange but today it’s more acceptable. Men and women are stepping out.
[TH] What I tend to do is prevent myself of stepping out of meetings. I don’t want to step out and be the one that will miss the end of the meeting or the networking. Either we fix it on a time that I can do the full event or I don’t go there. At Vlerick Business School we even go further, we did a call to all colleagues to ask them not to send out emails on Friday nights. It’s actually something that we did change in our corporates culture.
How did they jump into FinTech ?
[PB] I was one of the first who dive into the internet world a very long time ago! At that time I worked for DE TIJD, the newspaper, and then De Tijd co-founded IAB – Interactive Advertising Bureau – who gathered everybody who try to make a business out of the internet evolution and through the internet, then at De Tijd I was responsible for the commercial part of their website. And in my first job I was trained as a classical banker, I was relationship manager. So, it was for me a kind of combination between the internet and digital and banking, that’s how I plunge myself into FinTech.
[TH] For me, becoming a sociologist already showed my interest and my drive for society. So I must say I’m interested in financial services because finance involves us all. I think we need more atypical people working in FinTech. I was happy to jump into that financial world with the perspective of a sociologist. I still don’t see so many people with that kind of background in the sector. Also, I feel affinity with intrapreneurship in the sector – I see many entrepreneurial people working in or collaborating with big organisations.
[[PB] I would like to add one thing about working in a big company. In fact, for me that was the reason I started to work in a classical bank but that was also mainly the reason why I left. It was such a big company I felt completely lost. I was put in a predefined track, but I didn’t want to do track A, I wanted to do track B. Back then, they were not flexible. That’s why I left. And now, I have another mindset by working in a smaller company, feeling more in control. So, I found the perfect balance between my family and my work, happy at work and happy at home.
Of course, they notice a lack of women in FinTech but why ? And what they think should be done to encourage more girls to consider a career in FinTech?
[PB] Tech and finance are indeed very masculine. I can and I can’t understand why.
First of all, I’ll explain why I can understand. Career wise, not all women are interested in climbing up the ladder. When I left my children with the babysit and went out to a seminar or a networking event, my children were cross because they didn’t want me to leave. I had to make a stone out of my heart and went out anyway. Some women will be more comfortable to stay at home. It still remains personal choice but therefore I can understand why we noticed a lack of women in FinTech. The Scandinavian counties give a good example in equalizing parenthood from birth. That pays off as studies demonstrate.
On the other hand, of course, I can’t understand why women are not more into Tech and Finance because I love my job …
[TH] Actually, I see more female leaders in post-crisis time as the message that the CFO will bring is often less positive. On the other hand, I don’t see many women starting up their own business. However, organising FinTech boot camps at Vlerick Business School, I see half of the classroom to be girls. I think of the story of Saskia Van Uffelen, CEO of Ericsson Belux who managed to structurally ‘translate’ their tech vacancies into less typical male descriptions to make them more attractive to women. I think that is very valuable as I see many girls looking for job opportunities but estimating the necessary technical skills too advanced. Again, there is the question of self-esteem – Is it too technical or can you learn the tech part on the job?
On another note – and this goes beyond FinTech – there is a problem with ‘manels’ (all male panels) and women not being encouraged to speak in public. For example, I recently organised a Vlerick Venture Talk on AI, I invited 3 men, they all said yes and I invited 4 women but they all declined. So, maybe, if you want to involve women on stage, we should think of other formats?
[PB] The fact still stands that today psychology is mainly for female students and engineer mostly for masculine students. And the big question is how we going to tackle that? Why we cannot rephrase like Saskia Van Uffelen did? Maybe we need to start to change the mentality from secondary school already.
[TH] Absolutely, and even earlier. We need to build a safe heaven to tell about your dreams and the position you want to take into society. It’s not a soft matter, it’s an important matter. When I give entrepreneurship courses that would be the first thing to tackle: ‘who are you? How can you engage ? How can you contribute?’. And the question should not be ‘what’s your training background’ but ‘what would you like to bring to the table?’
[PB] I wanted to add something. I am invited to be member of an advisory board and I accepted it because my main interest is to guarantee gender neutrality. That project is about AI, deep learning systems based also on face recognition and discovering your specific skills, but its goal is to be gender neutral. The project will be launched soon so you’ll hear about. So hopefully new technology will help!
It’s not a secret that many women in the FinTech industry have felt their gender affected the way that they are perceived or treated… Do they already have been in a situation like that and how did they handle it?
[PB] Luckily, I’ve never been in that kind of situation.
[TH] First of all, as a young woman – especially under 30 – you need to gain credibility. Now being 36, I still have the feeling that I have to be on top of things times 10. I have always been using jokes to avoid situation where my credibility was taken away. It’s something very Belgian. We have a kind of old fashion culture in that sense. It’s often in details, for example, last month, I was involved in a round table conversation organized by a big bank and together with 3 men, I was featured in a group portrait when the photographer asked ‘Can the lady smile please?’. I use these kind of situations to make people aware, and try to use it as an opportunity for change. If you don’t react, nothing will happen and that’s actually not the world I want to pass on to my children. But sometimes it feels tiring.
The best part of being a woman in the FinTech industry…
[PB] For me, the best part is that I’m building the finance of the future, I’m part of defining a new ecosystem, new financial services and it’s my kind of energy boost. Also, giving the best possible solutions to clients and customers have always been my drive. I don’t know if it has much to do with being a woman or not but that’s my best thing!
[TH] Urgency, Relevance and Impact. Indeed, so I agree, you bring new things and new friends to the table.
The advice they would give to a woman considering a career in the FinTech industry…
[TH] I work with lots of young people and I encourage them to build entrepreneurial self-esteem, to be proactive, take initiative whether they are self-employed or employee. I see that people comfortable doing that are actually rewarded. As a role model, I refer again to Saskia Van Uffelen, CEO of Ericsson Belux, Lieve Mostrey, CEO of Euroclear, and Christine Van Rijsseghem, Chief Risk Officer of KBC Bank. It’s so important to have these women around taking up leading roles in Belgium. I have the feeling that they can bring their personality to the table. I see lots of young women engaging and taking initiatives towards change. My advice is to participate!
[PB] For me, the most important thing and it’s independent from who you are, men or women, is to love what you’re doing and to get energy back from it. When I come home, my second job starts which means being a mom. I get back home, I find energy to prepare food for my children, put them into bed and still read the story. When I come back home and see their laughing faces it’s also because they see a happy mom. For sure, when children are still small, it’s quite important to keep the wonder alive and to let all those things happen and fall on the right place.
[TH] That’s why I started our conversation with the time management issue. I prefer to organize myself in a way that I am either fully available for private life versus moments where I can go in deep professional flow. I would like to advise both men and women to not think in week/weekend days or working hours, but to fully take control over your time and engagement.
[PB] And also in projects…. It’s not about time. It’s all about organizing being super efficient with your time with management.
Their most scariest moment that they are proud of…
[PB] I was pregnant, and I did a very successful sale pitch and while I was in my car driving back to the office, I was blocked in the Brussels’ tunnels in a huge traffic jam and I thought ‘Yes!’ I have the deal, but I felt the baby, I thought I was about to have my child. I hoped not in the car, not in the tunnel. I was really panicking.! That was my scariest moment ever. Everything turned out OK. Anyway, I always think that you need to celebrate every success, every moment you’re proud of, to keep on continuing.
[TH] My most scariest moment was my first keynote. It was OK, but I felt I needed some public speaking skill training. I went to London to Dramatic Ressources – an amazing organization I absolutely recommend – but was troubled with the first feedback. The group described me as ‘brains on a stick’ a horrible thing to hear! I thought I was passionate and driven, but indeed I understood it came from my Flemish, rather reserved and shy, background. From that moment I really forced myself to build character and engage with the crowd. Now, it’s probably my strongest skill. When I see my audience, I’m able to adapt and call myself to make my point. It was my super scary moment but it’s also very much empowerment.
Their modern day female hero…
[PB] My hero is the TV character Saga Norén, that female police detective from The Bridge wearing leather trousers and driving a vintage Porsche. She is fearless that’s why I like her so much.
[TH] I use every opportunity to show ‘Self Portrait with Fried Eggs’ from artist Sarah Lucas. I feel empowered by artists like her. They just highlight the uniqueness of being a woman and communicate it in their work.
A Fun fact to know about our FinTech Ninja Women ?
[TH] I was the first one to describe myself as a FinTech Ninja and I developed 4 labels to playfully position yourself in the financial services industry. You can check out my white paper, the idea is slowly infiltrating the international FinTech sector and with this terminology I like to bring some humor to the FinTech scene. It works great, and people start to use it in their official descriptions and LinkedIn profiles!
[PB] I always try to keep up the team spirit. I am sometimes described as a CEO – Chief Entertainment Officer because I like to organize drinks, team events. Great teams produce great work!
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