October 11, 2016

Niamh de Niese: On gender diversity in fintech and finding the next Ada Lovelace

In my first month as the Head of BNY Mellon’s EMEA Innovation Centre in London I’ve had the opportunity to meet a range of fascinating, forward-thinking, creative people who are actively invested in and trying to advance the financial services industry. 

I’m often in awe of the people I meet in fintech. The industry is full of simply brilliant minds. Yet puzzlingly, men still significantly outweigh the numbers of women. For a progressive sector so intensely focused on innovation and transformation, I find the shortage of women at all levels of the sector at odds with what the industry stands for. How can we change this?

This made me think about Ada Lovelace, one of the world’s first computer programmers, whose achievements are marked each year today, 11 October, to celebrate the achievements of all women in the world of tech. Ada worked with Charles Babbage to create the world’s first computer algorithm, long before the first computer was ever manufactured in 1840.

Ada’s story is an unlikely triumph against the odds. A female mathematician in an age when women rarely held professional occupations, Ada was born more than a hundred years before British women won the right to vote. She was home schooled in the sciences to her mother, who saw it as the only way to prevent her from becoming like her father the famous Romantic poet, Lord Byron.

I am passionate about improving the odds in the favour of finding the next Ada Lovelace of fintech through championing the need for diversity and inclusion in our industry. More women do need to join us. We need our teams to be as diverse as possible, from the software engineers developing our technology to the leaders at the top of our business.

We also need to address the female “brain drain” of women leaving the industry post having children, especially at a senior level. Ada had three children and, quite uniquely for her time, continued working despite being a mother. Should Ada have decided that she was unable to continue working once she had children, the world would have been robbed of her unique perspective. We need to see more women in every level of fintech who can show that working hard and also having children is do-able.

Here at BNY Mellon, we have made strong progress. Our Women’s Initiative Network has been helping talented women to progress for more than a decade across our global network. Last year the Anita Borg Institute named BNY Mellon the top company for women in technology. A third of our global technology team are women, a proportion we are determined to increase through the work of our Women in Technology employee resource group.

As a society, role-models like Ada are vital if we want to encourage young women to enter careers in science, technology engineering and maths (STEM) professions. Events like Ada Lovelace Day have an important part to play, but talented women can also benefit from meeting and working with successful technologists early in their career. This is an approach BNY Mellon has already seen success with through our sponsorship programme.

Ada Lovelace’s work on computer algorithms 170 years ago helped to redefine the world. Today, we all depend on technological innovation to solve our greatest challenges. Innovation powers the global economy and sits at the heart of BNY Mellon’s business. This is why involving more women in STEM fields is so important to ensure we have the diversity to match our society.

Let’s not wait another 170 years for the next Ada to find us, let’s go out and find her.