I recently had the good fortune to speak with an incredible panel of women at Australian Fintech hub, Stone & Chalk, on the topic of the pathways for women towards an entrepreneurial future. It was a gathering of the Fintech community, men and women, with the purpose of encouraging more women into this important space.

Why? Because women make up only 13% of Fintech founders and 20% of leaders.

Why? Because many women feel that founding or joining a Fintech startup is too risky.

Why? They often lack confidence in their ability to navigate entrepreneurial demands.

Why do we care? Because Fintech ventures do better when there is diversity. Fact.

In our panel discussion, we wanted to talk about entrepreneurialism and what it means for women. A googled definition of an entrepreneur suggests it’s "a person who organizes and manages any enterprise... with considerable initiative and risk". It’s a fair enough description but it’s problematic for women. Not because women have challenges with initiative, they have it in buckets, but because women have a significantly different relationship with risk.

If we want to have a conversation about women and entrepreneurialism, we must have a conversation about risk.

Siobhan Hayden, Board Adviser and COO of HashChing and one of our panelists, is a great propagator of “backing yourself”. Her career suggests it’s been a key part of her ability to navigate a raft of senior roles from HR, operations, project management and CEO positions. That adaptability has come from the mantra of backing yourself; constantly moving out of your comfort zone and being confident you can deliver.

Similarly, Carole Berndt, previously Global Financial Services Leader at ANZ, has grabbed opportunities as they have come. Her solid appetite for risk has taken her all over the world in senior financial services roles. 

You’re probably thinking that starting a venture is in a different ballpark to risk-taking in a corporate context, and it is to a certain extent. When I had the opportunity to move out of corporate into a Fintech venture called Cha-Ching (and later MoneyBrilliant), it took me some time to jump in. My pathway was a series of small moves towards it, designed to mitigate the risk. This risk mitigation is a reoccurring theme when I speak with women about why they haven’t gotten involved in startups, even though they are passionate about innovation.

The founder of MoneyBrilliant, Peter Lord, would have liked me to throw in my corporate gig immediately for a chance to change the world. I wrote him a cheque instead. I then wrote another one, then a bit of weekend work, went part-time in my corporate job to do more and finally I was in. After the incredible experience of MoneyBrilliant, my whole attitude to risk has changed. I’ve seen how embracing risk brings huge rewards. When I had a foot in corporate and a foot in startup someone said to me, “if you don’t jump in 100%, you’ll never be hungry enough to make it happen”. How true was that. We sold our venture last year to AMP.

Katherine McConnell, Founder and CEO of Brighte, is a shining example of the risk-reward equation. Her venture is a credit technology platform offering Australians an easy way to pay for home energy and home improvements. Her journey out of corporate was inspired, in part, by frustration at not getting the opportunities she deserved. She moved on to found this venture which attracted an almost record seed investment of $3.5m and is growing strongly. Financial rewards are of course an incentive, but the experience and personal development of starting a high growth business are equally important she says.

I wanted to ask the panel whether we needed to put risk in another context for women. The risk of not moving towards an entrepreneurial future.

Many of you will be familiar with the conversation around future of work. The Committee for Economic Development of Australia in 2015 estimated that 40% of current Australian jobs (more than 5 million jobs) have a high risk of being computerised or automated in the next 10-15 years.

Nearly 60% of Australian students are currently training for jobs where at least two thirds of those jobs will be automated, according to a Foundations for Young Australians report 2015.

The World Economic Forum this year released a report that suggests women are more vulnerable than men because many jobs to be automated have an over-representation of women today, and the skills that will be sought after in the future will be science, technology, engineering and mathematical skills; STEM skills. These skills are still largely dominated by men.

In a future where automation fundamentally shifts the employment landscape, the skills that will be valued are those with high levels of or originality and creativity; complex problem solving, judgement, imagination, social intelligence and persuasion. Those who understand technology and data will fare better. Those who are adaptable and can transfer their skills seamlessly to meet other challenges will succeed. Importantly, the most desired co-workers of the future will be those with greater levels of “learnability”, the ability to keep learning new skills and concepts.

Aren't these the skills, competencies and values of entrepreneurialism?

Could we not take the definition used before, "a person who organizes and manages any enterprise... with considerable initiative and risk", and consider ourselves also an 'enterprise’ because in the future of work, where work is constantly evolving, where it's more transient, freelance, project based, don't we need to be entrepreneurial to succeed? Don’t we need to think like a business; have a brand, (career) strategy, maximize our earnings, be responsible for our own R&D and even monitor a more dynamic personal P&L, where work might not result in a consistent monthly paycheck?

Steph Gillon, Director of Financial Wellbeing, Flare HR, a startup disrupting default super for employees, has her finger on the pulse of what women need to do. They need to start doing and stop thinking, she says. There is no competency gap for women, only a confidence one. Fear leads to inertia. Start small with small risks and build your confidence. The combination of action and failure generates resilience and leads to a more entrepreneurial mindset.

The problem is, getting to this point is hard. It requires a serious mind-shift for many of us. It requires encouragement and support.

To that point, we wanted to talk about the different roles, outside founding a venture, that exist to support female entrepreneurialism; advisors, mentors, investors, connectors, business partners etc. These roles are critically important to the success of female founders.

Fiona Boyd, CEO of Heads Over Heels which develops high potential women CEOs of all backgrounds via a vibrant community of Connectors, understands deeply the importance of surrounding female entrepreneurs with support. Heads Over Heels attracts a highly influential network who connect female founders with investors, customers and partners. The key to their success is driving a culture among female founders of asking for help, something women often shy away from. They have implemented a successful format where female founders pitch and then form ‘huddles’ with Connectors to put their “asks” on the table. The approach seems to be working. Katherine from Brighte has recently gone through the program and is optimistic about the connections made.

In the corporate world, Carole has been dedicated to, and awarded for, her role in encouraging women in financial services. She implemented a program at Bank of America Merrill Lynch which increased female representation in leadership roles from 5% to 40%. Carole speaks to the fact that most female CEOs are extraverts while the majority of male CEOs are introverts. What does this say about the different values used to judge male and female leaders? Her approach has often been to target the quietest female voice in the room, building confidence and offering pathways to leadership.

Powerful pathways towards entrepreneurialism will ensure women have an equal opportunity to succeed in corporate leadership, venture creation and the future of work. The pathways are many but each requires us to embrace risk and focus on doing over thinking. If we act, we succeed or fail. Regardless of whether we succeed or fail, we’ll be far more prepared for the future.