The North East of England is already a hotspot for STEM disciplines, boasting four National Centres of Excellence, two world-leading universities and more than 21% of people in the workforce already employed in science and technology industries.

One prominent STEM sector in the North East is FinTech, with Newcastle currently being the best-represented region outside London for Tech Nation’s Fintech Growth Programme initiative.

Despite the rapid growth of such fast-moving and exciting industries right here on our doorstep, there is still a disproportionate gap when it comes to attracting and supporting women into typically-male dominated disciplines and businesses.

With only 6% of women in FinTech companies at CEO level, according to a report from the Fintech Diversity Radar in 2021, efforts to tackle gender inequality at every level must be evergreen if they are to be successful. 

Supporting gender diversity

Throughout my career in supporting businesses and now working in payments, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing first-hand the instrumental impact women have had on company growth and success. 

At Kani Payments we already boast a 50/50 gender split after just three years – not as easy as it sounds! Women in managerial positions, including myself, our lead data scientist, Sophie Harbisher and our industry-recognised head of finance and reconciliation, Alina Ciocan, are helping to shape Kani’s future, from our global expansion and research and development plans, to our people and culture messaging.

We believe in championing strong female leadership. As a business culture, we encourage open communication between our people and champion the sharing of knowledge and insight, a practice that I believe is essential in supporting and encouraging a more diverse workplace.

Our junior software developer Melinda Marian recently shared several valuable opportunities for both businesses and individual women in the North for access into STEM roles: she recommended the Generation programme, for example, which runs up and down the UK and offers knowledge and valuable non-tech guidance on mindset, time-management and more. The Code Nation master coding course, meanwhile, teaches everything that a developer should know. 

I myself am passionate about the Girls Network, for which I’m a mentor. The organisation aims to inspire and empower girls from the least advantaged communities by connecting them with a mentor and a network of professional women role models.

STEM meetings take place across major cities in the North of England and are a great place to ask a specialist about their career, find a mentor who can guide you through your journey or discover which STEM role would be right for you. Some fantastic organisations that facilitate meetups in person and online are The Prince’s Trust and Code and Stuff in Manchester.

Age is just a number

Enabling career changes or the development of new skills for women is something that should be offered at all ages, levels and experiences. 

We at Kani encourage women to embrace a STEM career later in life through our involvement in an apprenticeship programme called Baltic Apprenticeships right here in the North East. Through it we recently hired our payments data apprentice, Jacqueline, who joined us in her thirties as a dramatic career change.

Hiring Jacqueline into our team meant that we brought a talented individual onboard with a wealth of transferable skills and previous working experience. We would recommend this to other likeminded businesses looking to build a diverse and inclusive business, whether you’re a start-up, scale-up or established for many, many years.

It’s critical to the FinTech industry and the wider STEM sectors that women know they have the option of becoming an apprentice at all ages and experience levels. Importantly, apprenticeship opportunities are not hard to come by: in the first two quarters of the academic year 2021/22 alone there were 204,000 new apprentices and 32.3% of these were in STEM subjects, according to the most recent government data.

As employers in the STEM sector industries, it is our responsibility to embrace and promote these many opportunities to the women of our region. 

To those who still believe a career in STEM is still for them, I encourage you all to be prolific, ask each other questions, be curious, shout about the successes of other women, post on LinkedIn and join networks.

One step at a time we can and will bridge the gap and ensure that our exciting corner of the country continues to be competitive for STEM sector industries.