Leading ladies: Dora Ziambra

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2016, Azimo’s Leading Ladies series explores the gender agenda, from inspirations and success stories to frustrations in the workplace and beyond. This week we chat to our Head of Business Development, Dora Ziambra.

What is your role at Azimo? How did you end up here?

My official title here is Head of Business Development, but it’s a constantly evolving role as Azimo is growing so fast. I always say my task is simple: to make the company bigger and better. So I’m involved in everything from strategic projects and fund-raising to international expansion. I began my career working in old-school financial services and then made the switch to FinTech a couple of years ago.

Do you feel women are well represented within the company?

Women are very well represented within the company – 38% of Azimo’s employees are female, which is way above the industry average. Our General Manager and Co-founder, Marta Krupinska, is a dynamic force in FinTech, and we have hugely capable women working right across the business, both in the UK and Krakow.

And what about within the FinTech industry as a whole?

FinTech has evolved from the financial services sector, which has traditionally been very male-dominated, so there’s still an industry-wide gender issue. The biggest challenge I faced in my career was definitely on the trading floor, where the pressure to be ‘one of the guys’ was intense at times. However, companies are starting to follow Azimo’s lead and things are moving in the right direction.

How do you feel gender equality has improved in recent times?

Progress has been considerable in recent years. Compared to my grandmother and even my mother, I’ve been able to make far more progressive life choices, away from what would have been seen as the ‘traditional’ role. At the same time, though, there’s still a long way to go to achieve total equality.

And in which areas do you think progress has stalled?

Progress is definitely stalling in senior positions – the number of women on boards and in top management roles is still disappointingly low. Worryingly, progress is also stalling at home. More and more women are getting degrees, and more women have entered the workforce. But they’re still responsible for 80% of the work outside the office – housework, looking after the children, caring for elderly relatives.

Why is change slower in the workplace than elsewhere?

I believe the biggest psychological barrier to equality in the workplace is unconscious bias. If people – and I’m including men and women in this – rely on deep-seated social and gender stereotypes to make snap decisions, then diversity simply can’t succeed.

How could workplaces change for the better in terms of gender equality?

By actually becoming equal! Women and men should be treated the same in terms of salary, benefits, opportunities to develop and time off. The government also has to rethink schooling and childcare – schools need to stay open during normal business hours.

What do you think is the most important gender issue facing women in the UK today?

Unconscious bias, without a doubt. It’s the most important issue facing women because it’s so ingrained in people and extremely hard to change. I recently posted on Facebook about the issue of unconscious bias, and who replied? 11 women and just one man. So maybe we have a way to go to change perceptions!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given and would give to young women today?

The best piece of advice I’ve ever received is: ‘Don’t be afraid to fail’. Too often in life, women strive to be perfect in every way to fit in with traditional gender stereotypes. But you shouldn’t try and fit in a box that others have created for you.

Do you think that UN Women’s Goodwill Ambassadors such as Emma Watson have helped to change opinion where it really matters?

I think it’s very important for famous figures such as Emma Watson to speak up on gender equality, but I also think we need more role models from across the social spectrum. Businesses need to hire more women in senior and junior positions, which will in turn create more gender trust. Finally, to change opinion where it really matters, we need to raise boys and girls to respect gender equality.

As a successful businesswoman yourself, which women in business have particularly inspired you?

Monica Brand has been a real inspiration. She’s a hugely accomplished investor and entrepreneur, but she’s very down-to-earth and approachable. She’s a great role model and has just started a new fund for investing in start-ups that promote financial inclusion in emerging markets. I have also just read a book about great innovators and there was a chapter devoted to Ada Lovelace, the ‘Countess of Computing’. Her story is fascinating: she was a Victorian pioneer of the computer age and makes a strong symbol for women in tech today.