FINBOURNE interviews Nadia Edwards-Dashti

Culture and Diversity

FINBOURNE interviews Nadia Edwards-Dashti

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FINBOURNE speaks to Nadia Edwards-Dashti, Chief Customer Officer and Co-founder at the technology recruitment firm, Harrington Starr. Voted by Brummell as one of the most inspirational women in the city, Nadia is an award-winning activist for change in Financial Services.

Nadia is a pioneer for women in Fintech and shares her passion for promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace, both through her work as a recruiter and as a writer. FINBOURNE met with Nadia to hear more about the path that led her here today, her new book and her efforts to transform the finance industry in the future.

Tell us a little about your career path and what sparked an interest in Fintech recruitment?

After completing a master’s degree in international relations, I knew I didn’t want to follow the well-trodden path with a role in government. Instead, the world of Fintech recruitment found me. At first, I didn’t have any idea what my job would involve, but once I had settled in, I began to really enjoy it. As a people person, I thrived in this environment and I was inspired by the opportunity to work with others to make a difference to the Financial Services industry. Today I am the proud co-founder of Harrington Starr and I enjoy working with exciting scale-ups like FINBOURNE, who are looking for technologists to join them on their mission.

The work you do is driven by your passion for promoting DEI in Financial Services. Why is addressing DEI so important for this space, and how can we challenge stereotypes to transform the workforce of the future?

Back in 2005 when I started my journey in Fintech recruitment, the words ‘diversity’ and ‘Fintech’ were never seen together. In the early days of my career, there were few women for me to look up to and aspire to be, and I reached the point where instead of waiting for other women to step up, I decided to be that role model. Now that I am in this position, I want to create the biggest impact possible. Of course, DEI is much wider than the gender debate but that is where I want to start, as a woman.

Unfortunately, Fintech, much like the rest of Financial Services, still lacks equal representation, especially at a senior level. This industry is all about the consumer or end client. If technologists are reaching out to the masses to create viable solutions for the future, I ask why would we cut out half of society when developing these solutions? This is just not representative of the world we live in. What does excite me and push me to keep going, is that it is a forward-thinking, agile industry where we see many scale-ups challenging the status quo. I strongly believe that to do so, these firms require diversity to thrive, and this starts with hiring the right employees.

You launched the 17% list, a stark reminder of the challenges we still face in promoting gender equality in Financial Services. As a DEI pioneer in Fintech, how has your own journey shaped the work you do to promote equal opportunities in the industry?

As a mother of two, I have a personal connection to the work I do the promote equality in the workplace. During the pandemic I became a mother for the first time. Looking at my new-born daughter, I wondered whether the gender imbalance I experience would be the same for her, should she choose to work in this industry. I knew in my heart of hearts the only way to make her experience different, is for people like me to drive real change, now.

When you are awake to the concept of gender inequality, you inevitably come across the 17% figure. This number reflects the total percentage of women with roles in the UK technology industry. Interestingly 17% also represents the percentage of women in Fintech leadership roles.

As a recruiter, I know a huge part of the problem is candidate attraction and many firms struggle to know what they can do to make it better. My aim with the 17% list is to open the industry to women who have not been previously reached and to broaden the talent pool. I now work with many companies who want to drive the 17% forward and be part of the solution when it comes to hiring women in technology, including technical roles, such as software and product development.

While, the 17% figure was static for five years, we are finally starting to see change! I am proud to say that as of January 2022, the statistics are improving and this figure has now risen to 19%. Although only a small increase, it builds the momentum for greater change to come.

At FINBOURNE, we’ve always been passionate about diversity of thought and believe it facilitates teams to deliver innovation, productivity and problem-solving. Aside from talent attraction, what practical benefits would you advocate DEI can deliver firms?

If you speak to any firm, their biggest issue is without a doubt attracting and retaining staff, and since the great resignation of 2021, this is more challenging than ever. It’s not all about hitting the numbers for equal representation though. Firms need to be much more aware of what they are doing to make employees feel valued, as this directly impacts employee productivity, mental well-being and of course their tenure. For me, these are the foundations of longevity and loyalty within hiring and job retention.

Your ground-breaking podcast series, ‘Fintech with Nadia: The DEI Discussions’ is a platform for change, raising awareness with the help of inspirational figures and their career success stories. Tell us a little about how these empowering conversations inspired you to write your book ‘FinTech Women Walk the Talk: Moving the Needle for Workplace Gender Equality in Financial Services and Beyond’?

I started ‘The Women of Fintech’ podcast series back in 2019. As a recruiter, I knew I had a unique opportunity to engage with a diverse group of women in the industry. These conversations have taught me so much more than anything else in my life, and over 100 podcasts later, I have created a wonderful community of women who have taught me about resilience, pivoting a business, stepping out of my comfort zone, and motherhood.

Each podcast is a different story of a woman sharing her experiences, challenges and success stories. I felt so inspired by what I had learnt, I wanted to share these lessons far and wide. I spoke with a publishing company and in September 2020, I signed a deal. So, I started writing and a week later, I fell pregnant. I began to worry how I would juggle a pregnancy with the challenge of a book to write, while working full time during a pandemic, and looking after my young daughter. It is thanks to the ‘wonderful women of Fintech’ that I know anything is possible, and I am proud to have been able to pursue my career, while being a full-time mother of two.

FINBOURNE has just celebrated a special milestone – our 5th birthday. We have witnessed incredible growth and change during this time, so we know anything is possible in 5 years. Where would you like to see the Fintech workforce in 2027?

In just a few years, the pandemic has accelerated some of the existing trends while also re-shaping the way we live and work completely. As humans, we have become incredibly receptive to change, rapidly adopting new behaviours such as flexible and remote working. These changing work patterns lend a wonderful hand to inclusion and it is vital to accelerating the 17% figure, allowing women to pursue their careers whilst managing responsibilities at home. These are huge steps forward and given the pace at which the Fintech industry is growing, I want to use this momentum to apply meaningful, long-term change to the finance industry.

I want to see more diversity in Fintech and to see firms focus on what they can do to promote equal opportunities to all. I also want to see efforts to retain staff and to increase tenure across the industry, to see increased job satisfaction and increased engagement. As I have found in my own journey, we simply cannot place the onus of DEI on someone else, and I have been really awoken to this responsibility myself in creating a more equal workforce of the future.

Finally, can you leave us with some words of wisdom?

I would like to leave you with a quote which features in the concluding chapter of my book. I spoke to an inspirational woman in Fintech who said when she first began her career in technology she had to choose to be ‘pitiful or powerful’ and she chose ‘powerful’. Everyone is faced with challenges in life and with gender inequality we need to be resilient in our mission to cross these barriers. Creating a diverse, equal and inclusive workplace is everyone’s responsibility and if we learn to apply power over pity, then change will happen.

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