Women in Technology
To mark International Women’s Day, we asked Bink COO Liz McGuinness about her career milestones, achieving work/life balance and her advice for the next generation.
Liz, could we start with a brief outline of your career to date?
I actually started my career in scenes of crime and pathology (a stark contrast to my current career!) but buying my first property at 20 years old, I quickly needed to supplement my income and so I took on a second job working as a Customer Support Agent at American Express.
I took on more and more opportunities at Amex, and quickly progressed upwards through roles in project management, Six Sigma process improvement and operational management. I then moved into more external relationship management roles, managing the operational and technical relationships with European bank partners. The pinnacle of my career at Amex was as Vice President, Bank Partner Consulting, where I led a team partnering with some of the biggest banks in the world to support them in transforming their technical infrastructure and customer experience.
After several years of constant global travel and having my second child, I decided it was time for a change. I wanted to be based in the UK and to be somewhere that I could really make a difference every day. The Bink CEO, Mike Jordan, with whom I had worked for many years previously, then called me up and asked me to join him at Bink. I started as Programme Director, when it was a smaller, less established start up, and have grown my team from 20 to 65 in the last two years. I am now the Chief Operating Officer. It’s been an incredible journey and I absolutely love what I do. I get to focus on the people and leadership of the delivery team (my number one passion) and to ensure we have state-of-the-art products and technology – it ticks all the boxes for me!
Looking back at schooling and your qualifications, how was your career path enhanced by what you were taught, and how could it have been better served?
I studied Biology at degree level and although the subject matter didn’t directly correlate with the path that I eventually took, the grounding it gave me – in a core set of transferable skills – has proved essential to me throughout my career. The ability to be analytical and pay attention to detail, communication skills, project management, meeting deadlines and the ability to self-start and use your initiative have all been invaluable. The social aspect of university also served me well; living away from home at a young age gave me an increased level of confidence and independence and the ability to understand the importance of establishing solid relationships as a support network.
As to the question of how it could have been better served, I think we continue to fail with an outdated education system which places too much emphasis on memorisation of facts and achievement of grades. I would love to see more emphasis on providing critical soft skills such as problem solving, creativity, resilience and emotional health, which would stand education leavers in much better stead for the ever-changing world.
What are the specific challenges facing women in this industry?
It’s so important that women, especially those in senior roles, share their stories of success to provide a supportive, inclusive network, and encourage other women looking to move into the industry. It’s also about encouraging men to play an active role in supporting women. This is essential in helping women feel heard and included and I have seen first-hand, through leaders like Mike, what a difference this makes to teams and organisations. I think women can often have less self-belief, so it’s critical that both men and women alike consciously encourage, support and mentor, respect a difference of opinion and give women more of a voice at the table.
Although the industry itself is gradually improving, I think there is still a general subconscious bias that ‘fintech is for men’ and the numbers show that it is still heavily male dominated. Innovate Finance recently carried out some research which showed that only 17% of the UK fintech companies have female founders, and women account for less than 30% of the total workforce, so we know that we have a way to go.
The industry can often also be perceived as offering lower benefits that are critical to many women – such as lesser maternity leave cover – in comparison to say, a corporate. That’s why at Bink we have recently enhanced our maternity pay policy and ensured it is market leading to attract even more women into the team.
Finally, I would say another challenge can be the fast paced, demanding nature of fintech, which doesn’t always fit with trying to balance childcare and family demands. To address this, we need top level, supportive leadership around us – which I have 100% at Bink – and I replicate that throughout my teams. I want the women (and men!) in my team to feel trusted and empowered to flex their time to meet the needs of their family. Family has to come first.
And perhaps some advantages?
There are definitely advantages! There is increasing evidence to demonstrate that diversity and inclusion lead to a much more innovative and creative environment, which is essential in fintech (and start-ups more generally) and brings enormous career experience and opportunity.
I think women can also bring greatly heightened skills such as empathy and compassion, which are now becoming much more recognised as essential in leadership, even more so in supporting people through the recent challenges that Covid has brought upon us. So women have an opportunity to shape the future of fintech.
And on the subject of Covid, I think this has actually brought us a much-needed advantage. For many years there was a real reluctance to embrace flexible working in many industries, but now we have shown that remote working can succeed in many businesses and industries that would never have entertained the idea previously, and this has removed a real obstacle in the way of gender equality.
Who were your role models growing up?
I can’t remember having a specific role model, but there have been so many people who positively influenced my life in a variety of ways as I was growing up. My dad’s work ethic and customer service that he always delivered as a refrigeration engineer, my mum’s empathetic nature and constant listening ear, specific teachers who went out of their way to coach and had passion for their subject, even my next-door neighbour’s immaculate house, which I am convinced gave me a passion for interior design at a young age! I think you can learn something from everyone that has crossed your path.
What advice would you give your younger self, knowing what you know now?
Good question and if only I had the benefit of hindsight! I think I have three;
- Always trust your intuition – I have always had good intuition, whether it concerned people or decisions, but it has only been the last few years or so that I have learnt to really listen and trust that ‘gut feel’ and believe in it, even if it’s against the opinion of others or not the most logical path to take. So, ‘believe in yourself and believe that following your instinct will direct you towards the best path for you’.
- Always push yourself – I have found so many things in my career daunting, whether it be public speaking or taking on larger and larger teams, but I am a true believer that if it’s not pushing you out of your comfort zone, you are not developing and learning, and you won’t get the joy that comes with overcoming these challenges. So, ‘be brave and keep taking yourself out of your comfort zone’.
- Constantly find and say yes to opportunities – I think most of my career growth has been through spotting opportunity to improve things; internal processes, organisation structures, enhancing the customer experience or driving commercial value. Look for those opportunities anywhere and everywhere and action them to the best of your ability, and you will be rewarded for this proactivity. Equally, ‘say yes to opportunities that come your way – you never know where they may lead’.
Tell us a bit about work/life balance and how best to achieve that?
Work/life balance is not a fixed state; there is no magic formula that suddenly works. You have to consistently invest in managing your time and conflicting demands on a daily and weekly basis. It ebbs and flows depending on what you have on at any given moment.
I personally create thinking time and space in my week/month, which is critical to success when working – and leading – in such a fast-paced business.
Flexibility is key, some weeks work will impact on my home life, but I am OK with that – I love my job and the people I work with, and I am totally committed to where we are taking the business, so it’s an impact I both expect and accept.
There are day-to-day, tactical things that I always try and do, like blocking out time in the day for things like a dog walk, as I know I don’t perform at my best going back-to-back in meetings. This enables me to keep the energy levels up. Being a working mum also forces me to stop at a reasonable time to be present for my kids, they are always my top priority and I never apologise for that.
Working a hybrid pattern of part office and part home working since I started with Bink has also really supported my life. I can fully flex my time, pick the kids up from school if needed, and not have a long commute eating up every day.
What would be your ideal way to spend International Women’s Day? We can dream, of course!
If we are dreaming then I would love nothing more right now than a day abroad in the sun on a lounger by the pool, with a good book, in total silence…. maybe with a cold beer!
Liz, thank you so much for your time.