Christine Ciriani, CEO, Finantix
I often get asked what it is like to be a woman leader in FinTech. I guess that makes me “the Nerd,” as Mark Zuckerberg famously urged girls in 2016 to “Be the Nerd,” three years after Sheryl Sandberg told women to “Lean In.” And lean in we did!
For me, it is about diversity in the workplace. A wide range of viewpoints and life experiences can only be good for a sector whose customers, after all, are real people in the real world, with all the diversity, individual demands and difference that this implies.
It’s still early days for me as CEO at Finantix, a major FinTech firm, though I’ve been working in finance for over two decades, including time spent at JP Morgan and more recently at Motive Partners.
I have been fortunate to work with firms who have put diversity on the agenda as a core value. Diversity is not easy. It is a conscious choice. It is more difficult to work with and manage heterogenous teams, but the outcomes and experience are richer.
I have truly enjoyed the dynamic environments I have worked in thanks to having good mentors and learning how to find my own leadership style.
Be true to yourself
When I first started working on Wall Street in the early 1990s, many female MDs advised me to downplay my being a woman. “Don’t post photos of your children at work – you do not want others thinking of you as a manager and a mother.” I was reminded to not wear trousers (navy blue suits at the time, skirt just below the knees) and act a certain way.
Years later when I became a mother, I became exceptionally self-conscious about how being a mother could impact my career and how others would perceive me. I launched new offices during each of my maternity leaves and tried to carry on as though nothing had changed, even organising client events months after my first child was born.
It was my manager at the time – an understanding father and mentor – who encouraged me to speak my mind, stay balanced as a person and a manager even in the most challenging of times, and to not be afraid of showing my personality in the workplace.
The importance of role models and mentors
I’ve always remembered that plain statement that it’s OK to be yourself in the workplace. This relates strongly to the need for both mentors and role models. While mentors traditionally come from within the work setting they don’t have to, and as time passes and you move jobs, your mentors might include people you’ve encountered from previous roles. I am still in touch with people from previous jobs who’ve mentored me, and I’m a firm believer that mentors are important for people at all levels of an organisation, and throughout a person’s career – not just in the early days when someone is starting out.
Role models can come from anywhere, work, home life, sports or interests, or anywhere else. I’ve never met some of my role models. They are people I admire because of the way they behave, how they present themselves, how they communicate their thoughts, or how they live their lives. And by the way, just because we’re talking about women in FinTech here I want to be clear – my mentors and role models include men too!
One of the things good mentors and role models do is help you understand how to find your strengths and play to them, so that you can bring individuals and teams along with you. I try to do this with the people I mentor today, so that they can identify their own way of getting things done and let their personality come through in their work, rather than try to fit in to a mould created by others.
Success through diversity and individuality
Effective mentors and good role models help people get to a very different place from that I was directed to through the “don’t wear trousers” kind of advice I got in the 1990s. They can help people achieve success whole not losing sight of the great importance of being able to be yourself.
I truly believe that a diverse workforce is more powerful and more productive. Indeed I was initially drawn to JP Morgan at least as much because of its international, diverse culture as by the fact that it was a bank. At Motive Partners, I am one of three women FinTech CEOs and Finantix is inherently global and diverse with 34% women and 20 nationalities
It’s a fact that there aren’t many female FinTech CEOs, but today there are more role models in FinTech to learn from than there have been in the past. There’s no blueprint for how to be, so the opportunity is there to make your own mark and take inspiration from the people you look up to and admire.
And yes, if you want to wear trousers and blue nail polish that’s fine. But really, it’s not compulsory. Just find your happy place, identify your strengths and be yourself.
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