Women & FinTech: ‘it is essential that we encourage women to join this promising career path’

8 March 2019

Office culture

On the International Women’s Rights Day, we would like to honour women in FinTech, with a special focus on women at Lemonway. The following is a joint interview with two such ladies, both of them members of our Board of Directors. Pauline Heitz, 27 years old, Head of Internal Compliance, and Karine Coutinho, 31 years old, our head of Marketing and Communications for the last seven months, spoke to us about Lemonway’s approach to gender equality, their take on management and the role of women in an industry all too often considered the exclusive purview of men.


What is Lemonway’s policy regarding gender equality? 

Pauline Heitz: I think Lemonway’s approach is to focus on assessing profiles rather than people. It’s something of a house policy. And that’s definitely not something I felt at any of the companies I’ve worked for previously.

Karine Coutinho: I absolutely agree. And to look at it in terms of hard numbers, women make up 31% of Lemonway’s workforce and 33% of the board of directors. Right away, the good news is that women’s representation on the Lemonway board is similar to the gender ratio within the company. That’s something you don’t see at a lot of other companies… We are also very proud of having women in strategic management roles within the legal department and payments back office. We also have two women in the IT and R&D departments, which are very tech-focussed areas. Also, we are fortunate in having leadership that encourages us, Pauline and myself, to speak up and participate in initiatives outside the company such as the European Women Payment Network, and who promote women in FinTech. These are strong positive signals that help move things in the right direction.


Women today should not be asking themselves if there is a place for them in Finance—there’s no doubt about it!

Karine Coutinho
Head of Marketing and Communications

Each of you leads a team comprising employees of very different backgrounds. What is your conception of management? 

P.H: For my part, I tend to favour a participative management style. However, my department does have 10 people, so there have to be some basic ground-rules. There’s a framework that is clearly set out from the start regarding presence at work; it is flexible, as often at Lemonway, but there does need to be a structure to begin with. Beyond that, we work based on trust. When I hire people, I tell them they are here to contribute to creation and innovation. FinTech is something new, and there’s much left to be done. I tell them that whether they’re coming in as interns, fixed-contract workers or indefinite hires. I believe that it’s the idea that matters, not the title or rank of the person who expresses it. That’s why I’m committed to helping them progress, grow and flourish within a structured framework.

K.C: Much like Pauline, my concept of management is based on trust, open-mindedness and dialogue. Personally, I find the term ‘management’ to be a bit restrictive today when it comes to talking about human interactions: you might manage a business or a deal, but a team has to be led, and we collaborate with other human beings. Where trust and dialogue prevail and the goals and/or deadlines are stated fully and clear to all, it establishes an atmosphere where every member knows their place and feels a sense of responsibility for their tasks. Another important aspect for me is collaboration and co-creation—by which I mean that the sum of several ideas that are combined is always more interesting and effective than decisions that are made piecemeal. And, of course, it’s important to maintain a spirit of fun and good cheer, always!


We’re on the right track. Most of all, I hope we won’t be asking ourselves this same question ten years from now.

Pauline Heitz
Head of Internal Compliance

Do you see differences in management style between men and women?

P.H: I don’t think it’s especially useful to approach the question from that angle. Whether you’re talking about a man or a woman, it is management style that counts. And participative management is the same, whether you you’re talking about a man or a woman.

K.C: For me, a manager must first and foremost bring people together and provide impetus. Managers must adapt and bring to light the various specificities that make up their team. I would say a good manager is most of all a leader, but not just any kind. During the 20th century, British author Charles Handy already foresaw that ‘the leader of tomorrow will have to take a more feminine approach, he will have to convince people rather than giving orders.’ That time is now. It’s not about opposing men and women, on the contrary, plenty of men are excellent leaders that can bring their teams a long way. It’s more about forging a new code of leadership for 21st century corporate life that is in sync with the expectations of the Millennials, who are flooding into the workforce. In my view, the key to good management lies in a subtle blend of the qualities considered ‘feminine’, such as empathy, closeness, listening and transverse thinking, that sheds certain codes perceived as ‘masculine’, such as distance, linear thinking, paternalism… The two approaches complement, rather than impeding each other.


Is gender equality as well-respected in traditional Finance?

P.H: Speaking for myself, I would say yes. At any rate, I was lucky enough not to experience anything to the contrary. For instance, when I was a trainee, my boss was a woman. When I worked at a law firm, the Partner was a woman. I don’t really share the vision of Finance as a sexist profession in the way it’s sometimes criticised or condemned here and there, or depicted in certain films. There remains the issue of compensation, and that’s not something I’ve ever looked at in detail. My view is that we are on the right track. Most of all, I hope we won’t be asking ourselves these same questions in ten years. There are definitely positive signs, especially thanks to FinTech, and it’s essential that we encourage women to join this promising career path.

K.C: Before joining Lemonway, I worked for a company whose business involved digitalising ‘traditional’ financial institutions. I did notice that most senior roles were held by men, but you have to remember that finance is a sector traditionally dominated by men. Bear in mind that until 1965, a woman needed authorisation from her husband to open a bank account, and even to hold a job. Thankfully, times have changed; I think the 2008 Financial Crisis did trigger a global wake-up, and has led to a more open, ethical conception of finance, with the rise of financing that is green, responsible and inclusive. And lastly, Finance has become far more empathic and client-focussed, less ‘paternalistic’ in its values. That’s why women today should not be asking themselves whether there is a place for them in finance. There’s no doubt about it!

P.H: The mere fact that we wonder about the place of women in finance betrays an ordinary sexism.

K.C: True, but we also have to be realistic—finance was, for a very long time almost exclusively the purview of men. This is changing today, largely because of women who have had the courage to take their fate into their own hands. There are more and more women committed to FinTech, who bring with them their convictions and values. They know that to change things, it will be necessary to topple the status quo.

P.H: Also, people’s idea of finance tends to revolve around traders—there’s a great deal more to the financial sector than trading, and a huge range of professions.

K.C: I couldn’t agree more. What’s concerning is that only 5% of European FinTechs are women-led. That’s the real problem, to my mind. We need to encourage more women to take on the challenge of creating businesses. Role models do exist, like Joëlle, Durieux, who heads up Pôle Finance Innovation, or Céline Lazorthes, CEO and founder of Leetchi and MangoPay, and they contribute to changing attitudes by showing what can be done. There are also a number of initiatives, like Willa – Women in Fintech, StartHer and Financi’elles that provide women in FinTech an opportunity to meet and discuss shared concerns. And, as Pauline already said, it’s really important to encourage women to join this promising field.


Many thanks to our Lemon Ladies!