Every day, hundreds of thousands of people log into ClearScore. They might be looking to view their credit report, check what credit products they’re eligible for, or protect themselves from identity fraud. It is Sara Sheridan’s job, as the Director of Insight & Research, to ensure the ClearScore team understands and translates these motivations into products that meet the real needs of real people.
But every day, Sara helps hundreds of thousands of women too – as a role model for women who aspire to leadership positions within the growing Finance Technology (Fintech) sector. This sector has a notoriously low representation of women in senior leadership positions, and as Sara herself notes:
“It can be hard to believe in yourself if you don’t see other women doing it too.”
Studies show gender diversity within senior leadership does more than just improve innovation and productivity; it can also contribute unique skills and improve the value of the company as well. Sara herself admits she didn’t join ClearScore from a finance background, but she’s proud to work for a company that really values her experience.
“I’ve been doing this work for a long time; the difference now is the seniority of my role and working for a values-led organization. ClearScore really walks the talk about being committed to delivering for its users. When you find a business that genuinely cares about its mission, it’s really powerful.”
By reflecting on her own experiences, Sara’s come up with some fantastic insights for how other Fintech companies can reap the rewards of more women in leadership positions.
Value different leadership styles
Sara believes by valuing the different perspectives and leadership styles of women now, companies will be much more attractive to women in the future. Leadership comes in many styles, and while some may be more popular than others, it doesn’t mean they are necessarily effective for every team.
Sara says her own leadership style is centered around creating the right environment for people to succeed. She takes time to understand and recognize her team’s strengths and weaknesses, what motivates them, and safely challenges them to build confidence around their choices.
“The key is to help them work out what they want and support them in getting there. I ask the right questions to help them find the answers themselves.”
Be willing to have honest (and sometimes difficult) conversations
Yes, it’s true women are less likely to study courses leading to careers in finance, and this needs to change. But there’s still education needed within the senior levels of Fintech companies around the importance of gender-balanced talent pools, and the limitations of male-only leadership teams.
Sara remembers a January company-wide offsite event some time ago where the Senior Leadership Team invited questions from all members of the organization via a Q&A app. A question was asked about increasing gender diversity in the organization and the sector as a whole, but it wasn’t posed to the panel for their views. So Sara stuck her hand up and asked the panel directly what they were doing to address the challenge of gender diversity in the organization.
“It provoked a really positive discussion. There’s still a fair way to go, but it’s come a long way in a year. Part of our success in finding better gender diversity since then has been because of the open discussions as a leadership team, and as a company. But also – critically – we have committed to taking action, for example by ensuring balanced representation in company meetings.”
Give more opportunities to lead
One difficulty with proving evidence of leadership potential is a lack of opportunities to lead. Sara believes men have traditionally been better at coming forward for projects and calling attention to their accomplishments, whereas women tend to lack confidence with this, particularly in male-dominated environments. She believes employers could be more proactive in surfacing opportunities to grow women’s leadership skills by offering more opportunities for responsibility – before they reach senior leadership roles.
Sara has had her own struggles with imposter syndrome and the exhaustion of having to continually second-guess and affirm her own confidence in her skills and abilities. But she can also attest to the inspiration and gratification she’s felt thanks to an inclusive and supportive culture at ClearScore.
“I always knew I wanted to be in a position of leadership. On my first day [at ClearScore] I was 50/50 with excitement and fear. It was a new role and I felt I had to prove to them, and to myself, there was value for this role at this level. But I was lucky that I was given the opportunity to work with the Chief Data Officer, and I was given a lot of trust to lead in my area of expertise.”
A better future for ClearScore
Sara reflects on the events and challenges posed by 2020 and glows with pride as she discusses how ClearScore adapted. Quick decisions, support, and recognition all played their part, but mostly it came down to the fact they’ve built an environment where everyone feels valued, comfortable to bring up the tough topics, and has confidence in their skills, no matter their gender.
The math is quite simple when it comes to the benefits of women in leadership roles, and Sara sums it up well:
“More equal-gendered leadership means more balanced discussions as a company, a more supportive company culture, a more successful business, and a better experience for our users and partners across the world.”