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Melbourne fintech festival Intersekt makes “world-first” gender equality commitment

Angela Castles /

Intersekt FinTech Australia

FinTech Australia chief executive Danielle Szetho. Source: Supplied

Melbourne-based fintech festival Intersekt has committed to meeting a gender equality target for this year’s inaugural event, in what it believes is a “world-first” pledge as part of an ongoing campaign to encourage more women to participate in Australia’s fintech ecosystem.

Intersekt is run by FinTech Australia, which announced on Wednesday that this year’s festival would seek to have an equal number of male and female speakers when it is held in Melbourne from October 27 to November 3.

The commitment comes after issues of gender equality in the global tech ecosystem have been widely publicised, from an ex-Google employee’s controversial anti-diversity manifesto, to Google facing possible legal action over gender wage disparities, and LaunchVic pulling funding for 500 Melbourne amid sexual harassment allegations directed at ex-500 Startups chief Dave McClure.

FinTech Australia chief executive Danielle Szetho says the initiative attempts to address such issues, and forms part of a wider campaign to encourage diversity in the fintech ecosystem, which has already seen the organisation constitutionally entrench its commitment to having women make up at least 30% of its board members.

According to FinTech Australia, Intersekt will be the first major nation or city fintech festival to have a gender equality commitment — a conclusion that was reached after the organisation analysed published agendas of other national and city fintech festivals around the world, and found all had a female speaker representation range of between 10-40%

“Festivals are where we can tell a lot of stories about people who have succeeded, but you need to have a good balance and perspective to balance this out,” Szetho tells StartupSmart

“When you look at different conferences and festivals around the world you don’t see that and that’s a huge missed opportunity to share a perspective that’s not always heard.”

“By celebrating some of these people, they can lead by example and really inspire other women to think about doing it [pursuing a fintech career].”

Szetho says findings from the 2016 EY FinTech Australia census showed only 13% of fintech founders in the country are women, and Australia’s fintech industry “could be doing better in this area”.

“The startup ecosystem is certainly starting to sit up and notice, and while that’s a good first step, I haven’t really seen tangible outcomes,” Szetho says. 

“We’ve been very direct about what it is we [FinTech Australia] want to achieve — whether it’s baking in 30% minimum board requirements, or 50/50 speaker targets … there’s concrete things we can do, but I just don’t feel like I’ve seen that coming meaningfully from the startup ecosystem yet.”

Celebrating wins

Siobhan Hayden, chief operating officer of mortgage marketplace startup HashChing, will be one of the speakers at the Intersekt event. She says having women in fintech on stage and celebrating their wins is crucial for inspiring more women to join the sector.

“I think it’s important that women have the transparency of seeing other women doing it and having the opportunity to ask questions on how they addressed these roadblocks,” she says. 

Hayden says festivals such as Intersekt are “great opportunities for women to get out there and learn more [about fintech] and ratify that it is or isn’t the industry they would want to work in”.

“We all come from different walks of life and work experiences; the more diverse a panel is … the better it is at providing different angles on a conversation,” she says.

“Lots of different points of view help generate new thoughts and new solutions,” says Hayden, adding that sitting and hearing from people from all walks of life is “the most invaluable part of any program”.

Hayden observes the fintech industry in particular has high rates of gender disparity, and this is “an explainable issue” because traditional finance industries see “about 74% male participation”.

“When you’re then looking at the startup world in that space, the talent you’re pulling from is coming out of that existing industry base,” she explains. 

“Pulling from a pool which is already not balanced, you’re then looking for a particular subset of talent in that group, and it becomes even harder to source and balance men and women.”

Hayden says one of the best ways to address these issues is to put more female fintech role models on stage, which is what she will be doing when she takes part in a Women in FinTech panel held at Intersekt. She will be joined by Shahirah Gardner, co-founder of fintech startup Finch; Julia French, managing director of community network Founders for Founders; Clara Durodie, chief executive and founder of UK consulting firm Cognitive Finance Group; and Emma Weston, founder and chief executive of agri-fintech startup AgriDigital.

The Intersekt festival will include the two-day ‘Collab/Collide’ summit, as well as a three-day hackathon, and a one-day blockchain event. Tickets are now available to the general public.

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Angela Castles

Angela Castles is a former StartupSmart journalist.

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