Don’t try to be someone you are not; learn from others but find your own personality, fulfilment and unique path in life.
How did your career in fintech begin?
My fintech journey began five years ago when I left my career in telecoms to join Wonga as the Head of Mobile for the UK. At the time, Wonga was a UK fintech success story with a £1 billion valuation, which piqued my interest in working for a business like Oakam. I was in awe of the attraction of exceptional talent which made for a stimulating work environment. After learning a lot about innovation and with my financial services knowledge up to speed, I was eager to use these skills to pursue a new challenge.
Throughout my career in the industry I witnessed the regulation of consumer credit move from the Office of Fair Trading to the Financial Conduct Authority in April 2014. At Wonga, I was actively involved in making more explicit changes to meet the new rules from the FCA. This involved assessing how products were explained to customers, for example, as well as changing the ways of working internally.
A couple of years after this, I decided to move away from the payday lending sector whilst continuing my interest in fintech products and customer journeys. Having provided 460,000+ loans amounting to £350+ million to help underserved consumers in the UK, Oakam offers exactly this and so here I am today.
Starting out in your career, did you have senior female role models or mentors? How do you think their absence/presence shaped your career?
Female role models and mentors were not easy to come by when I was starting out in my career. While the financial industry today is still seen as male dominant, it was even more so 5 years ago. As a result of this there wasn’t one woman in particular I aspired to. Instead I observed different leaders and took specific elements from each person, and when the chance arose to learn from senior women, I made sure to take extra notes! Some were better at uniting teams towards a unique and disruptive vision, or advocating new ideas in a truly compelling way, whilst others were better at challenging existing ideas and leading teams through change.
So my skills as a female leader today are a compilation of what I’ve learned from others, combined with my own personal strengths. The lack of female mentors definitely made my journey more challenging, but at the same time all the more rewarding. I look back now and think ‘wow, this girl had some serious perseverance’.
What do you think it’s going to take to raise up more women in fintech and drive forward the agenda on gender equality? What is Oakam doing to achieve this?
I think that fintech companies nowadays, with their ‘run fast and disrupt things’ mentality and fast-paced work environment, are still a little intimidating to some women; perhaps because they’ve been made to believe they’re not capable. It has also been brought to light recently that across many businesses women are paid less than men – in some companies significantly less – for the same jobs, which proves just how far there is to go in the fight for equality.
In contrast to this, we at Oakam actually have an overall female majority – with women making up 63% of the team – parity on salary at the same seniority level and the option of flexible work arrangements, particularly for needs such as childcare.
This is because Oakam, as a big employer of diversity – across gender, race and nationalities – believes in the value of mentorship for women and other groups, to foster professional development and advancement at the same clip as their male counterparts. After all, diversity in all forms creates a richer and more productive work environment, and ultimately a more successful business.
I believe that promoting gender-equality and education in schools is so crucial to start with. Promoting traditionally ‘male’ jobs and paths to leadership roles to girls at school,, will encourage women to stop thinking that they have no options. Additionally, the legal requirement for businesses to publish their pay-gap by next week, will hopefully prompt change and create a more equal future for the next generation.
Ladies, we have interesting career choices and a drive for success too, so we mustn’t let these barriers stop us!
What advice would you give to young women looking to pursue a career in finance and/or technology?
Don’t for a second think it’s not possible. Yes, we are all different, but this is not a bad thing! We should embrace our differences and learn from each other. There was a point in my career where I started to struggle. I was progressing well, but I was working within a team of people who approached things differently and I began to lose my confidence a bit. I looked at the team and thought ‘I don’t have those strengths, I need to be more like them’.
I had some very helpful sessions with a coach who encouraged me to differentiate on my strengths and personality. I learned that it’s ok to have weaknesses – we all have them and we can learn to mitigate them. What is more important above all, is to work on our strengths and make them even stronger. Through this, I regained my self-belief. I feel I’m now in a position to elevate other women by helping them uncover and put to use their unique strengths, just as my coach did with me. Don’t try to be someone you are not; learn from others but find your own personality, fulfilment and unique path in life.
If you could be any inspirational woman for a day, who would it be and why?
If I had to choose one person it would be Michelle Obama. At the height of her husband’s career in politics, Michelle did her own thing by pursuing social work in a professional yet non-political way. She was an inspiration for many people because of this. When she came to the U.K. in 2015, I remember Michelle spoke to a girls school in East London and potentially changed their lives. She told them to own every challenge in their life and beat them. With each one, they would become stronger. She was never defined by her husband’s successes, but by her own, and this is an extremely powerful message to help young girls and women realise that it’s possible to pursue their dreams.
If ever I was given the chance to be Michelle Obama for a day, I would use my 24 hours of fame to go to as many schools as possible, and tell young girls to believe in themselves and follow their own path. With a bit of perseverance, anything is possible!
Julie Haugen made the Women in FinTech Powerlist in 2017 . This prestigious list, sponsored by Hogan Lovells and Lloyds Banking Group, celebrates female leadership and the vital role they play in creating better financial services. Every year, Innovate Finance opens the Women in FinTech Powerlist to celebrate the women shaping the FinTech sector. The community is asked to nominate friends, colleagues, clients, partners, and even highlight their own achievements in order to shine a light on the progress being made – and the tasks yet to be tackled.