Can collaboration elevate women in the payments industry?

How has your career progressed, leading you to your current position at Icon Solutions?

Since a young age I have always felt an inner geek trying to take over, it is no surprise that when it came time to choose a main subject for my higher education, I settled for computer science. In the late 90s, the internet was becoming more available in Poland and it seemed to offer so many possibilities. Yet, in my cohort of over 200  university students there were just four women, after the first year I was the only one representing the ladies. It felt like I was getting all the attention in each class. The lecturers and professors where expressing their disappointment due to lower interest in technology amongst women. At the same time – the academics did not seem to be able to improve the balance.

After leaving university I began my career in more customer-facing financial services roles in Poland, I then moved into payments operations as well as more specialised, technology driven functions within the payments domain while working in Dublin, and finally when I started working in London, I got hooked on IT!

I enjoyed working in payments operations and resolving issues with missing or delayed payments. It’s an invaluable experience when one gets to see the real impact it has on people when payments do reach their recipients on time, and of course, when they do not. I used each opportunity I had to get more involved in projects with a common goal: using technology to deliver business value. After several successful software implementations within the banks I worked for, I decided to join Icon

Solutions to work on the product side of things. This is where I could make things happen on a greater scale. While working closely with agile development teams, I refined my technical skills daily.

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What are some of the biggest barriers preventing women from working in payments?

Women are already making strides within the payments domain, but less so in more technical roles. While toxic cultures can limit the possibilities, it feels like people do not take enough initiative and that could be one of the biggest barriers preventing women from getting involved in payments.

Talking to line managers or perhaps finding a mentor who will help guide your career path is invaluable and can help to solve this problem. In my case, being proactive and seeking opportunities while making the most of what’s available helped break through the barriers.

The payments domain is a broad industry and finding an area that is of interest and striving to build expertise in that space is crucial. Once in the role, learning on the job is also really important. For those trying to get into a new area — seeking external courses, knowledge transfers, even shadowing can really help. Organisations are normally pretty open when you make a request to shadow someone in your dream role.

Furthermore, following industry experts and joining working groups can offer additional insights. Most importantly always ask questions, seek direction. It’s all about doing the research yourself and validating your understanding.

Do you think women feel empowered enough to work in the industry?

During my time in payments operations I was under the impression that women held the majority of the junior to middle management roles. However, in project teams the opposite was true. Over the past decade we have been surrounded by technology with new gimmicks competing for our daily attention. Cash is disappearing, payments are faster and cheaper, automation has improved dramatically. Although from my observation developers are more often Mr. than Ms., there are more female PMs, BAs, testers and architects than when I started my career. Was it the courage or adaptation that led more women to get involved in technology? I don’t know, but there is definitely more that needs to be done.

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What can fintech companies do to bring-in more female employees into the industry?

The gateway to the industry is controlled by recruitment processes which promote equal opportunities. If we try to recruit female IT graduates our pool is limited due to individual choices.

However, if we change the approach by extending the search, offering and providing more technical training or mentoring programmes, we have better chances of attracting new female talent. Recently, we have seen so many more female role models in leadership positions contributing towards improvement of cultural perception.

Sometimes the transition to more technical roles comes naturally, that’s how I felt when I moved from operations to fintech. There are plenty of woman out there who are just starting their journey in payments, this is an exciting time for the industry. “

Can you explain how collaboration can help create a better working environment for women in payments?

From my experience, it’s pivotal to collaborate with others. This may start with asking questions and doing research. Those in technical roles are often very open and share their knowledge when someone asks. I’ve learnt that asking the right questions and listening to what they have to say will keep them going. This type of personalised training allows you to practice soft skills in action is invaluable.

Collaboration within teams keeps employees engaged while improving productivity, encouraging innovative ideas and facilitating knowledge transfer. Making things happen in this way really boosts satisfaction and your sense of achievement within the team.

My experience proves that moving from operations, through project engagements finally to a more technical role is possible, and foremost: beneficial. It gives me perspective and understanding of the domain and the wider business than my colleagues who started in tech can only learn separately over time. Collaboration enables  knowledge transfer so that the payment domain can make the most of tech in order to deliver the best value for the business.

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Is there anything else you wished you had known before you begun working in the industry?

If I could have sent some advice to my 18 years old self, it would have been the following:

1. Collaborate. Always.
2. Find a mentor. Whether it is within your company, network or even external organisations like Women in Payments. You can benefit a lot from less official conversations too, just make sure you don’t take this journey alone.
3. Focus on your growth and know your strengths and weaknesses.
4. Don’t be afraid to share your opinion.
5. Enjoy the journey.

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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