Leading ladies: Marta Krupinska

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2016, Azimo’s launching a new series for the month of March exploring the gender agenda, from inspirations and success stories to frustrations in the workplace and beyond. And where better to start than by interviewing our Co-founder and Fintech powerhouse, Marta Krupinska.

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

I’m the General Manager and co-founder. I’m originally from Poland, and I still send money back home to my mum every month, but I see myself as a ‘perpetual expat’ – I worked all around the globe before joining Azimo in 2012.

Do you feel women are well represented within the company?

Yes, very much so, except for the development team. It’s traditionally a very male-dominated industry, but we’re keen to change that and are hosting Women in Technology events in our Krakow office. Women can sign up to learn some coding and get advice from our developers about pursuing it as a career. Martha Lane Fox recently said that ‘we need 600,000 people to work in the IT and digital sector. Right now there are 800,000 unemployed women in this country.’ But if we don’t train girls up now for these positions, there’s going to be a major gender talent gap.

And what about within the FinTech industry as a whole?

The finance and tech industries have always had a very low female employee count, so it’s no surprise that when the two combine gender equality is an issue. But I believe the problem starts well before the workplace. It’s a pipeline issue. At school, STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) just aren’t being sold to girls as sexy choices.

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

More women now have access to senior management roles thanks to a major change in public perception – it has become far more socially acceptable for women to be in positions of power. Men have also done their bit. They’ve learned to share more responsibility around the home, which makes a big difference.

And in which areas do you think progress has stalled?

There still aren’t enough women in senior positions in the venture capital industry. As a result, not enough start-ups are being funded or mentored by female backers. Some accelerators, such as Startupbootcamp, Techsters and Masschallenge, are actively looking to back female founders, but more can de done. Women also need to gain the confidence to push themselves to the top.

Why is change slower in the workplace than elsewhere?

This is certainly true in the finance industry, which is traditionally associated with a very macho, ambitious workplace ethos. But in FinTech, and in particular Azimo, that ‘winner takes all’ stance is changing – it’s not just about making big bucks, but also introducing positive change.

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

I was fortunate enough to be a mentor for Girls in Tech, which is a brilliant concept. One of the things that became apparent was that we have to look at how to promote women to more senior positions, but also provide more flexibility so they’re able to balance work and life – just because a woman wants to have children doesn’t mean they’re not brilliantly talented in the workplace and worth nurturing.

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

Dirty socks! I got up the other morning and realised I had no clean socks. My first reaction, despite everything I have achieved in my career and personal life, was an inbuilt guilt for not having done the laundry. Women are trying to do it all perfectly – work, home, family. But it’s an unrealistic ambition and we need to learn that imperfect is fine too sometimes.

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

Don’t try and fit in a box that previous generations have created for you. Also, don’t worry about stuff you can’t change. Instead, try and improve on what you can affect. When I was starting out as a young Polish woman in a foreign country, I felt that the world was against me. But then someone told me to focus on the things that I could actually change and I’ve never looked back.

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

To a certain degree, yes. But we still have a long way to go to change perceptions where it really matters. I recently went to a pitching event at 10 Downing Street as part of FinTech Week and, of the 10 people chosen to stand up and make pitches, I was the only woman. Not only that, the room was probably 90% male.

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

Dame Stephanie Shirley, without a doubt. In 1962, she created one of the very first coding companies in the UK. She employed women almost exclusively, including plenty of stay-at-home mums, and taught them to code on punch cards. She also changed her name to Steve to win early contracts in a very male-dominated world. These same stay-at-home mums ended up programming the Concorde black box. She started the business with £6 and it was worth £2.3 billion at its peak in 2000.