Q&A: Hazel Moore, chairman and co-founder of investment bank FirstCapital, talks to CBR about the challenges and opportunities facing women in tech.
What do you get when finance and technology collide? You do, of course, get fintech, an industry on the rise and one which the UK, specifically London, is well placed to be a leader in.
However the marriage of these two industries extends past software and financial systems, it also heralds the coming together of two industries generally regarded as being male-dominated, industries striving to get a hold on very real diversity issues. Not only is it regularly reported that women CEOs get less venture capital than their male counterparts, but also that only a fraction of partners at global venture firms are women.
CBR has managed to tap into that small number of senior women in fintech to speak to Hazel Moore, chairman and co-founder of FirstCapital. Having recently won the First Woman in Finance award and heading an investment bank with offices in London and Silicon Valley, Moore is well-placed to give an insider’s view of the world of fintech and why the industry needs to do more in attracting and retaining female talent.
EB: What attracted you to the world of finance for tech?
HM: I studied science at university, and have always been fascinated by tech and by innovation. I’m really interested in what markets and opportunities are created by new technologies, and in figuring out how that creates value. My role marries these two interests, in delivering great financial solutions for technology companies, to help them be more successful.
EB: Technology is often seen as a stereotypically male career, as is finance. As a woman, how have you found success with a foot in both markets?
HM: Working in a male dominated environment has been a feature throughout my working life. I started off as a student working in a research lab with probably 1000 engineers and maybe 10 women on the scientific staff on the entire site.
Then I went into finance, which can be a pretty testosterone-fuelled environment. Now, as you say, I have a foot in both camps. The percentage of senior women amongst our clients or other stakeholders such as private equity or venture capital funds is around 5%, so it is very rare for me to be in a meeting with another woman present or working on a mandate with a female client. That’s just how it is, and I am used to it, and it is unlikely to change any time soon.
I think the key for me has been running my own company, where I get to shape the work culture and environment, and to make the strategic decisions, along with my colleagues. I think as a result we have a very different and distinctive culture amongst our competitors, and that is something I am proud of.
EB: As a woman, what challenges have you faced working in finance and tech?
HM: Obviously I have faced the everyday sexism, inappropriate comments, behaviour etc that I think a lot of women encounter in the workplace. You just deal with it, ignore it, laugh it off, or sometimes go and cry in the bathroom and then come out and get on with it. Now that (a) I am older and (b) I am the chairman of the company this very rarely happens! But it was definitely a feature earlier in my working life and I think that is a significant challenge for many young women.
For me, workplace culture is a major factor in whether or not someone feels comfortable and motivated in a particular job. I spoke recently with a very intelligent, talented young woman in her twenties who was the only female in a graduate intake of 30 in a private equity fund. There were no women in senior positions in her firm for her to identify with, and her day to day work environment was very aggressive and alpha-male. That’s not fun and she was not happy. I suspect she’s very unlikely to stay and so the cycle will be perpetuated, unless there is a change in culture, which starts from the top.
EB: Often women in tech are profiled as engineers or programmers – as a woman who works in finance do you identify as a women in tech?
HM: In my job I work with technology companies, helping them to execute transactions that will deliver strategic value for the company and its stakeholders. This could be a sale of the business to a larger technology buyer or to a private equity buyer, or bringing in new investment from venture capital to allow the company to grow further. All my clients are tech companies, or buyers of tech companies, and so this is the world that I am immersed in on a daily basis, and one I identify strongly with.
EB: With offices in Silicon Valley and London, do you see any difference in the approach to women in tech from either side of the pond?
HM: Sadly, not really no. There are many well documented stories and articles in the media about the lack of women and the bro-culture in tech in Silicon Valley. I think there is a long way to go on both sides of the Atlantic.
EB: Do you think that young women have a narrow view of what working in technology actually encompasses – thinking it’s all about coding, not finance, design, communications etc?
HM: I think that is probably true. There needs to be a wider conversation about the breadth of careers available in this exciting industry, more showcasing of role models and more examples of success, in order to attract women and girls. I think an interest in STEM needs to start early, at school. There were a couple of some key people when I was at school who stimulated my interest in science and technology, and I think this was hugely influential.
But the tech industry also needs to be more cognisant of the type of image it portrays, which is often very geeky and sometimes misogynistic, which is not necessarily particularly attractive to a lot of women. I think the industry especially in recent years has talked a lot about diversity, but many companies, in reality, could do a lot more to make a positive effort to attracting (and retaining) women.
EB: How can we get more young women excited about STEM and tech? What excites you about technology?
HM: Everything excites me about tech! I love my job. Every day I meet people who have amazing ideas, amazing energy and drive, who are going to change the world, or the industry they work in, or bring a new product or service to market to make our lives easier or better. The smartphone was introduced less than a decade ago, yet look at how profoundly that has changed our lives. Just in the last week the augmented reality game Pokemon Go has hit the market and has become an absolute sensation – but not very long ago the idea of going out for a walk to catch virtual cartoons on your phone was frankly a bit weird.
Technology is a fast moving, exciting, challenging and stimulating industry to work in. I think getting more women in the industry comes back to engaging and inspiring girls at a young age with all the interesting and cool things they can work on, showcasing role models to help the visualise themselves being successful, and creating supportive work environments for young women where they can develop their careers. This is not a women’s issue, for women to solve, this is something that absolutely needs to be done in partnership with men, and they need to get involved because all the studies show that more diverse teams generate better results in business.
EB: What could more women in tech bring to the fintech industry?
HM: Fintech is a really exciting area of tech, and one where London is leading the world, building on its position as a global financial centre. There are some great female founders and CEOs out there, and I would love to see more of them. I’d also love to see more women in decision-making roles in the venture capital and private equity funds that back them. There are worrying statistics that indicate that female founders are less likely to get funded than men, and I’d like to see that change.
EB: What would you advice be to any women considering a career in fintech?
HM: Do it!