Side (desk) hustle turns into global support organisation for women

Founder of Women in Payments and self-confessed payments geek, Kirsty Duncan, explains why inclusive hiring practices are so important in financial services.

Kristy Duncan founded Women in Payments 10 years ago in Canada on the side of her desk. Initially, she hoped to get 50 women and five sponsors for the organisation’s first conference back in 2012 but to her delight and surprise that conference found 10 sponsors and saw 160 women participate.

“I was consulting in the payments market at that time and wanted to add value in a different way,” Duncan told Anna Shaw and Kate Wilson during an episode of RFi Group’s Global Digital Banker Podcast.

“And I thought, what might that look like? Can I do some education or training? And then I thought, well, maybe a mini conference. And how do I make that mini payments conference different from all the other conferences out there?

“And I looked at my consulting work and I found that three quarters of my contracts had come from women. I thought this is really interesting. I wonder what that is? Is it a communication thing? Is it trust thing? Is it a comfort level? Well, maybe we could get some women payments geeks like me together to chat about payments.”

Since then, the organisation has gone on to launch in the US, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and the UK, and is about to launch virtually in  Latin America.

A registered professional engineer, Duncan says she is an “engineer by training, a banker by trade and a payments geek by nature”.


Building up women

A key focus of Women in Payments is supporting other women in the industry to help them with their career progression.

“I think as an industry, we have the responsibility to give all of our employees equal opportunities. And we can do that by supporting women, helping to mentor them, to sponsor them. Like often men do with other men,” Duncan says.

Women in Payments conferences and events focus on giving women opportunities to speak and create networks in order to build their careers. The organisation also promotes mentorship of younger women just starting out and encourages them to aim high.

“There is some research that showed a much higher percentage of men than women CEOs actually imagined themselves as CEOs earlier in their careers,” Duncan says.

“Often the women said, oh, no, I never dreamed, never dreamed of being CEO. So, I think we need to think bigger and help pay it forward to younger women to really help encourage them to not sit back, but to be more proactive in managing their careers.”

Duncan says there are many things that organisations in financial services, or any industry for that matter, can do to improve diversity in their hiring practices.

We can build in our policies to have equal hiring practices, to mandate that every short list that we put forward has an equal number of men and women on it,” she says.

Blind short lists – where names and gender identifying factors are removed – are another way to improve hiring practices to ensure that candidates are assessed purely on their relevent qualities, experience and skills.


Representation matters

More diverse representation at executive and management levels is also hugely important when it comes to the kinds of banking and financial products that get developed.

“We've got one 1.7 billion financially excluded or under banked people in the world, and fifty six percent of those are women. So financial inclusion is a huge concern and challenge around the world,” Duncan said.

“And I think having women in leadership roles helps us as organizations, it brings diversity of thought to our approach, to our decision making, to our employee engagement, but also to our customer experience.

“So, if you only have, you know, all one type of person making a decision, you're not going to be able to have that understanding of different diverse pockets of your customer population.”

Duncan uses the example of an e-wallet provider in Asia, that reports 91 per cent of their clients are women. That provider conducted extensive research into the needs of their migrant clients who are working in different countries wanting to send funds back to their families.

“What they found was they get huge uptake if they give them the opportunity to not only remit funds, but to prefund an account at a grocery store, telecommunications, education, and to do things so that the funds go directly to where they're needed in the family and not into the pocket of somebody who might be less responsible in spending those funds,” Duncan says.

By understanding the true needs of their clients, they have been able to provide a product that is on-point and in high demand.

“Women in Payments is officially celebrating 10 years as of this fall. We're extremely excited to be heading into another decade of empowering women within this industry.”









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