Pervasive ‘bro culture’ in fintech a hurdle for women

Fintech bro culture: Triya Govender is the head of marketing at Floatpays, an on-demand wage access platform. Photo: Supplied/Ventureburn
Triya Govender is the head of marketing at Floatpays, an on-demand wage access platform. Photo: Supplied/Ventureburn

The fintech industry is notorious for its “bro’ culture,” an environment characterised by sexism and demeaning habits such as mansplaining. This is according to Triya Govender, head of marketing at Floatpays, a South African fintech start-up.

She tells Ventureburn that bro’ culture is “a misogynistic, work-at-all-costs, ‘machismo’ culture that undervalues and alienates women, and reinforces outdated, traditional gender roles; a culture which is, unfortunately, extremely prevalent in the fintech industry.  Govender believes that bro’ culture presents significant challenges to women in fintech.

‘Work-at-all-costs’ culture penalises women

 Women carry the domestic load in most households. “For example, globally women spent three times the number of hours that men did on childcare in 2020 —an average of 173 additional hours versus 59.  Where ‘work-at-all-costs’ culture rewards giving all of yourself to the job and frowns upon ‘work life balance’, women -with their disproportionate responsibility in the home – are penalised,” says Govender.

All too often, she says, if a woman can’t work late during the week because of childcare responsibilities, her commitment, focus and/or ability to get a job done well is brought into question. “Often, this perception is formed despite a woman’s actual productivity levels or performance track record. It is a prime example of performance bias in the workplace.”

Govender argues that this bias can have a number of negative effects on a woman, not least of which is the impact on promotion opportunities and opportunities to lead major projects within a business.

She says that the impact of a ‘work-at-all-costs’ culture on women is apparent in many sectors but especially in burgeoning industries like fintech, where this kind of unequal treatment is excused or even justified by the demands of a high growth sector.

Addressing this challenge requires implementing mechanisms to safeguard against bias. But more importantly, Govender believes that it requires replacing  “work-at-all-costs” culture with one that values greater balance between work and life and fosters psychological safety – “where a woman can feel safe to say they need to leave work early to take their child to the doctor, for example”.

Values, beliefs and behaviours drive culture and whilst values and beliefs are harder to change, Govender says that behaviours can be encouraged more easily. “Interventions such as flexible work options — the ability to work remotely or to have flexible hours throughout the day — is one way to drive behaviour that helps shift an organisation away from ‘work-at-all-costs’ culture”.

The politics of ‘likeability’

Outdated, traditional gender roles are a hallmark of bro’ culture. As a result, Govender says that different standards apply to men and women.

“Take for example a character trait such as assertiveness in the context of leadership or career advancement. A man who is assertive is often perceived as “leadership material” but an assertive woman may be labelled “difficult” or worse. A lack of assertiveness – more often than not – puts one at a disadvantage when it comes to being promoted.

“For women, being assertive often makes you unlikeable, which also makes you less likely to be promoted. Either way, gender stereotypes and biases create different standards for men and women and hold back women’s’ progression in the workplace,” she says.

Whilst it is highly unlikely that bias in the workplace can be completely eradicated, there are a number of interventions that Govender encourages employers to make to reduce its impact on women and other marginalised groups. As a very basic starting point, she says that employers can:

  • Establish an evidenced based process for decision-making in the areas of hiring and promoting, so that these conversations aren’t influenced by ‘performance bias’.
  • Train everyone in the business – especially leaders – on the topic of bias, so that at a minimum people are aware of how it may show up in themselves.
  • At an organisational level, remind people frequently of the importance of recognizing bias and striving to be fair at all times.

Gender pay gap becomes a chasm as women progress in tech

Offerzen’s State of the Developer Nation report for 2022 revealed that women developers in South Africa earn 17% less than their male counterparts and this figure actually increased by 2% since 2021. The report also revealed that year on year the gap for women with six to ten years’ worth of experience increased from 3.5% to 15.5% and that as experience increases, so does the pay gap.

According to Govender, the gender pay gap is probably one of the most significant challenges to women in tech (including fintech). “In many ways, this particular challenge is the consequence of the other challenges mentioned above,” she adds.

Bias, different standards, and workplace cultures that marginalise women present significant challenges to women in fintech. Govender believes that solving these challenges will require a persistent awareness drive of the issues (to avoid a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’), and concerted efforts by employers and leaders to change workplace policies and behaviours.

  • Triya Govender is the head of marketing at Floatpays, a technology platform that enables on-demand access to earned pay, seamless savings functionality and financial education to build employee financial wellness for a more engaged and productive workforce.

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