Mix, mingle, mentor: Women make time for face time at Fundera

The fintech world is famously male-dominated, but Fundera is looking to break through that with a program to support its female employees.

Fundera Women Outings organizes events during work hours and outside the office to discuss important topics on career advancement and develop camaraderie among its female staffers. It’s a great way for the participants to get to know their co-workers while also possibly finding mentors or advocates that can help advance their careers.

The program is one of the benefits that helped Fundera earn a spot on SourceMedia’s Best Fintechs to Work For list this year.

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“It’s fundamental for an organization to provide this to women: to specifically have a time for where women can come together and talk about things about what people are feeling in the organization,” said Monica Ramos, human resource generalist at Fundera and a participant in the events.

The first meeting happened three years ago, as a happy hour to gauge the interests of Fundera’s female employees. The outings have remained popular since and average about 20 participants.

“Never in a company event do you get 100% attendance and we did. Every woman in the organization showed up" for the first meeting, said Meredith Wood, who spearheads the program as the New York company's vice president of content.

The monthly events range from lunch meetings to book clubs, and the outings are decided by getting feedback from participants on what they would like to do. Sometimes outside speakers are brought in. For one event, the fintech had Elizabeth Hioe, a partner at the consulting firm McKinsey, discuss how to elevate women into leadership positions.

Social networking among the women is an important component, which is essential in an industry still known for being male-driven. A study from the United Kingdom found that women made up 30% of the fintech industry, but only 17% of senior roles. Research from Deloitte noted that the sector is an industry that seems to be “founded for men, run by men, making products for men.”

“When you focus on where talent is in the departments," women are "most heavily weighted toward marketing" and least heavily toward "product or engineering,” said Jessica Wooke, chief product officer at the fintech company RobustWealth. Wooke focuses on mentoring women in the industry.

Thirty-nine percent of Fundera’s 87 employees are female. The 5-year-old company, which offers an online financial marketplace for small businesses, added its first female board member last summer.

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“It’s interesting," Wood said, because fintech is "at the cross of tech and finance" and "these two worlds tend to lack a balance of gender diversity. I feel like there’s a lot of people who are really trying and really care to break that mold.”

Often the discussions turn to topics that are difficult to address in an office setting. For instance, one of the first discussions at one of the monthly meetings centered on delivering and receiving feedback. The session emphasized being direct in giving feedback to others and touched on managers' tendency to be less open with their female colleagues. That can be problematic for personal growth and development, Wood said.

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Programs like Fundera Women Outings are apt to help participants open up, Wooke said. Being able to meet outside of their daily comfort zone can be revitalizing, she said.

“Suddenly the air around them is different,” Wooke added, noting that when people are more comfortable it can lead to more fruitful conversations.

Other discussions have covered peer support and career advancement. But the forums are also an opportunity for networking and even mentorship. Women in the company have the chance to become acquainted with people they wouldn’t normally have the chance to interact with.

Strengthening these bonds will "allow you to get closer to people at all levels of the company,” Ramos said. “There are people who are just starting, coming out of school, and then there are people with five to 10 years of experience and women at the VP level [or] the highest levels of the company.”

Wood said that any company can implement a similar program, no matter its size or resources. Fundera declined to reveal the program’s budget, but said these outings can be done at no cost.

Ramos said she was attracted to the program because of the support system that the group brings and the ability to discuss topics pertinent to women.

“I think it’s important for people to see role models,” she said. “I think that’s an incredibly powerful thing. And this is where you form a bond.”

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