A black woman working in technology faces several barriers in the boardroom. First, she’s a woman working in a male-dominated industry. Secondly, she’s a black woman who’s more vulnerable to gender as well as cultural bias. In fact, the Ascend Foundation reported the percentage of black female workers has declined despite diversity initiatives aimed at hiring more underrepresented minorities in technology. Lastly, if you’re a black woman who works in the fintech (financial technology) sector like Natasha Bansgopaul, there’s an even bigger hurdle. Although 46% of financial services employees are women, at the executive level, it’s only 15%, according to Mercer’s Gender Diversity report.
So, how do you stay motivated to advance in your career and create a lane for yourself in an industry where you don’t see people who look like you? How do you speak up for yourself in a boardroom primarily dominated by men? Well, for answers to these questions I caught up with Bansgopaul, the co-founder of DarcMatter, a global fintech platform.
Bansgopaul is not only blazing trails for women of color in technology through her fintech company, she’s also utilizing technology to increase access and transparency while decreasing costs due to inefficiencies. DarcMatter focuses on streamlining the capital raising process for fund managers (GPs) while making it easy for investors (LPs) to access, research, and invest in quality fund products online.
Here are her tips for speaking up for yourself in a meeting full of men.
When walking into a boardroom for a meeting, which may include primarily men—particularly white men, what, if any, assumptions do you make about what people expect from you?
Anytime I walk into boardrooms or client meetings, where the majority of time I am dealing with men, and more specifically white men, I always assume that they expect my male co-founder to lead the meeting and, I also assume, that they do not expect me to speak during the meeting, and for me to say little to nothing. (I expect them to think that I am his assistant). Finally, I assume that they expect me to truly wow them during the meeting, which is fairly easy to do when their expectation of your contribution is already set fairly low. These assumptions are most definitely based on all of my experience to date, walking in and out of these boardrooms and client meetings. Unfortunately, there are very few times, where my assumptions have been wrong in this regard.
How do you build the courage and confidence to use your voice, share your perspectives and speak up for your company?
I own it. I wholeheartedly own it. It takes practice, but at a certain point, you find your stride in whatever you are doing, and then you have to believe in yourself to take it over the finish line. I put in the work to be sure I am always prepared. Whether that be with understanding a client’s needs, understanding what a potential VC’s portfolio looks like and why they should invest in our company, or simply being able to break down complex financial processes and terms into easy to understand, conversational topics.
It’s important to do the work. Once you have done the work, that should provide a solid foundation to build your confidence upon. The next step is then pushing yourself to talk to people, the more people the better. Building the confidence in sharing your thoughts, perspectives, company purpose or strategy, takes practice in being selective with your communication skills, and learning to adapt based on the audience. This is especially important in fintech, where the years of experience and depth of understanding can differ greatly, depending on the audience.
- Own your role/title/position/project/subject and do the work to have a solid footing of understanding as much as you can about the space you are in.
- Use that knowledge as part courage, part confidence, and share it with people. Keeping everything you know all to yourself, does not do much. But sharing your perspective can create discussion, teach you new things, and start to establish an individual as a key part of that industry and system.
- Create and engage your tribe! Find your “safe” networks, mentors, industry experts, friends, and use them to bounce ideas off of, or even explain things too. The power of diverse perspectives is truly invaluable and can provide some key insights that have the potential to expand your thinking and approach. An added bonus here is that the people closest to you start to understand what you do to a greater degree and, simultaneously, become advocates for you as they talk to other people in their networks. Don’t you want them to say the right things?!