Like many of you I was shocked and infuriated by the news out of SoFi last week. I think we all expected better from the company and its leaders. Some of the behavior that has been reported is reprehensible and it points to a much deeper problem that goes way beyond fintech. The problem of sexual harassment in the workplace is bigger than any one company, any one industry or even any one country. It is rampant throughout the globe.
Men: we cannot keep behaving this way.
Talk to just about any woman in business today and you will hear stories of harassment. Some brush it off as no big deal, it is what you have to put up with to be a successful businesswoman. Others speak up and often find themselves being ostracized and passed over for promotion. Maybe I am being idealistic here but it simply should not have to be this way. I am saying that enough is enough.
Over the last few years we have had several examples of women speaking out over inappropriate treatment. Names like Ellen Pao, Susan Fowler, Cheryl Yeoh, Gesche Haas and many more have spoken out about their negative experiences with sexual harassment, sexism or even sexual assault from men who were in a position of power.
It seems that today change may be slowly starting to happen. This negative behavior is starting to have real consequences. The founding CEOs of Uber and SoFi are now gone largely because good people said that enough is enough. A culture of chauvinism might have been ok (it wasn’t – it was just the norm) in the “Mad Men” era of the 1960s and 1970s but today we are starting to demand more from our leaders.
But I think we have a long way to go. I have been drinking at the bar late at night at enough conferences to know that many men believe it is still ok to treat women as objects. This kind of attitude has consequences in the workplace. And if the leaders of the company condone this behavior there will be a culture that is at best unwelcoming towards women and at worst so toxic it can endanger the very survival of the company.
It is really pretty simple. Men, we just need to treat women with respect. This is particularly important for men who are in a position of power. If you are a CEO, supervisor or other kind of decision maker (like a venture capitalist) do not abuse that power. If you persist eventually your world and possibly your company can come crashing down.
This is personal for me. I have an eight-year-old daughter and I want her to grow up in a world where she can be in the workforce without having to worry about inappropriate behavior from the men in power. There should be zero tolerance for any bad behavior towards women.
Women in Fintech
People often complain to me about the lack of women in fintech. People say that LendIt does not have enough female speakers and there are not enough women in general at our events. This is something we are working on. Unfortunately, the news that consumed the industry last week does not help our cause of increasing the participation of women in fintech.
This article is the first step in what I expect will be a long journey towards making fintech a more welcoming place for women. I want to see us do better as an industry. We should do everything we can to make fintech an attractive career choice for young women. We have several initiatives around this that are in the planning stages that we hope to roll out at LendIt USA in San Francisco next year.
In the New York Times this past Sunday Ellen Pao penned an interesting op-ed. She was the person who sued Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers for gender discrimination back in 2012 and lost. She wondered whether anything has really changed for women in tech. While some progress has been made she argues that:
It’s all superficial until we see leaders actually changing company cultures by making hard decisions, leading uncomfortable conversations — and firing those who are unwilling to include everyone.
This is the key point here: accountability. We won’t see change until CEOs introduce a culture based on fairness and inclusion and then they need to hold themselves and their leaders to this high standard.
I am an optimist and I would like to think the extraordinary revelations at Uber and SoFi will be the catalyst for change. I, for one, am committed to seeing real change here. I owe it to my daughter, to current and future generations of women, to shine the light on this issue.
Men, we can do this. We must do this. We have to do better.
Peter Renton is the chairman and co-founder of LendIt Fintech, the world’s first and largest digital media and events company focused on fintech. Peter has been writing about fintech since 2010 and he is the author and creator of the Fintech One-on-One Podcast, the first and longest-running fintech interview series. Peter has been interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, The New York Times, CNBC, CNN, Fortune, NPR, Fox Business News, the Financial Times, and dozens of other publications.